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Using career paths as a great equalizer

“I don’t care what color you are or your gender or age. I just care that you are the right person for the job.”

When it comes to hiring or promoting, this is a common opinion. It’s a good one. Except…

Why is it, with such a common opinion, that a disproportionate number of promotions go to a specific color, gender etc.?

Are people lying? Some are.

But the problem is far bigger than a few people being disingenuous with their equitable intentions. Part of the challenge lurks in the fact that candidates competing for positions are not all aware of the rules.

For example:

A great promotion becomes available with a raise in pay, responsibility, and prestige. The favorites for the promotion have been on the biggest projects, presented in front of management, and talked at conferences. They are probably known beyond and above their department because of special projects, initiatives, and volunteer groups.

Sound familiar?

But… how did those favorites know to spend their time on special projects and initiatives rather than focus on being great at their specific job? How did they get the biggest projects or opportunities to present in front of management or those speaking engagements?

Were they more innately talented? More observant? More worthy of the opportunities that led to the impressive collection of accomplishments? Or did they have help – people advising them on what to focus on, what opportunities to chase, and how.

Consider those who are first generation educated or first to pursue a certain field. They likely did not have access to a network of people before them. They may not know what to expect, what gets you noticed and what is valued when it comes to promotions. For some, they may not even know such promotion or career paths are an option at all.

In other words, some know the rules of the game and others don’t even realize they are playing a game. If you were playing poker or go fish or tic tac toe with someone who didn’t know the rules, who would win? Does the win have anything to do with intelligence or skill?

To truly be equitable, we must all know the rules of the game.

A great place to start is with a defined career path.

Step 1 Define the paths

Career paths are like maps; a collection of destinations connected by paths (roads). Some destinations have many paths to and from it, while others may have just one. Knowing the map makes it a lot easier to get where you’re trying to go. And so it is with career paths.

Build a career path map so that anyone, employee and future employee, can navigate. Each destination is a job, and the paths are the most common ways to get from one job to the next.

To do this:

  • Start with the destinations: Identify each job or job family within the organization.

  • Evaluate organization / industry promotion data: identify the most traveled career paths, either internally, or within the industry.

  • Draw the paths: connect the jobs based on how people move or are promoted.

How do you do this? Here are a few tips to help:

  • Actually draw it. Sticky notes and string, whiteboard and camera, slides – pick your method. Just make sure it’s easily editable until you have it all done.

  • Work with a team. Chances are, there is no individual who knows all the paths of promotion and internal mobility, or all the jobs for that matter. Work with a team to decrease the risk of missing some. Better yet, work with a diverse team so together you see more angles.

  • Note what should be but is not. Once you draw out the destinations and paths, there may be a few that should be there, but aren’t. Add them using a different color or path type to separate them from the ones that already exist. Note why it should be there (industry standard, obvious progression, etc.). Use the exercise as a way to create a career path to do list

Step 2 Define the destinations

When selecting where to go on a map, it’s a lot harder if you know nothing about the destinations. Without knowledge of each place, how do you know which ones you may like or dislike, which meet your needs or fit your interests? The solution – a destination guide.

Once you have your map full of connected destinations, create a destination guide. Describe each job – the purpose, responsibilities, and experiences. Include the required skills, knowledge, abilities, and how to thrive. This should sound very familiar to anyone who has ever been part of the hiring process. It is a job description.

How do you write compelling job descriptions that inform, excite, and empower? Here are a few tips to help:

  • Start with an interview. Work with those who understand the job (those who have it, manage it, and/or have done it) and interview them. Focus on the story – what they achieved, how they achieved it, and the experience throughout the process.

  • Show not tell. Rather than just listing responsibilities and descriptors (‘fun’, ‘high energy’, etc.), demonstrate it. Use examples of what someone does on the job and what they achieve. Include examples of the experience, day-to-day work, and team culture.

  • Be explicit, accurate, and inclusive. The more details you can include, the better employees and future employees can identify if this is a destination of interest. Avoid downplaying the challenges (or the benefits) – accuracy will attract and excite those who will likely thrive while giving a clear message to those who will likely not thrive.

  • Avoid proxies. To maximize equity and inclusion, replace proxy requirements with core needs. For example, in many cases, it’s not how much education someone received or at which institution – it’s the skills and abilities they got from that education. By focusing on those skills and abilities, not how they were accumulated, the requirement is more accessible to those who acquired those skills by work or military experience.

Bonus tip: one investment, two goals. To maximize the investment in this effort, use these descriptions for both for career path equity and in the hiring process.

Step 3 Define how to travel

You have your map of destinations with paths that connect them. Now, all people need to do is take the right paths to the destinations of interest.

Unfortunately, unlike a road where travel is generally trains, planes, and automobiles (any Steve Martin fans out there?), career paths are a bit more nuanced. Define the steps one must take to travel the paths. This can include things such as:

  • Performance goals: How well one must perform in the job they are currently in (for example, key metrics, customer satisfaction scores, product revenue, etc.).

  • Special projects & work experience. What type of ‘above and beyond’ work or experiences should the person prioritize or seek out (for example, speaking engagements, project leadership, task force participation, international work rotation, etc.).

  • Skill Gaps: What additional skills and abilities must the individual fill in and the available resources for doing so (for example, training on specific languages, certifications, mentorship programs, etc.)

Step 4: Communicate

Even the best and most accurate maps are only impactful if they are used. Show off the career map! Publish it in an accessible location using easy-to-use formats. Advertise the amazing resource internally and externally through multiple channels and formats (email, social media, monthly meetings, etc.).

Not only will this ensure employees and candidates are empowered by the great work, it will also act as a ‘show not tell’ illustration of your employee engagement, internal mobility, and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

Bringing it all together

For internal mobility, promotions, and new hires, driving out demographically driven exclusionary practices is an excellent step toward equity, but it is only a step. Continue to build systemic equity within your internal and external hiring and promotion processes by ensuring everyone is aware of the game and the rules. Create a career map with destinations and paths. Provide details so employees (and future employees) are empowered to navigate their own paths. And empower each individual with the tools they need to reach their desired destinations. #NoBias #diversityandinclusion

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