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Why A Skills-First Approach Supports Organizational Diversity

The majority of business leaders see Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) as a priority, but many are struggling to translate their goals into meaningful action. Only 23% of people surveyed in our Talent Index (Sixth Edition) agreed that the business they were in “promotes acceptance of diverse cultures and beliefs among employees.” Just 11% said that their business “prioritizes DE&I through the introduction of leadership-level initiatives.”

A challenge facing most organizations is that their approach to DE&I is not holistic or joined up: they are perhaps focusing on Diversity or Inclusion in isolation, or they are only focused on hiring, not other stages of the talent lifecycle. To better attract, retain and engage diverse talent, and truly create a representative business, leaders need a new approach.

A comprehensive DE&I strategy requires more equitable, personalized experiences across the entire talent lifecycle. A critical first step is for organizations to look at talent through the lens of skills.

Skills & fairness

In an HBR study, 80% of business leaders said their Applicant Tracking System (ATS) was filtering out half of high-skilled, qualified candidates because of system parameters such as gaps in work history or missing credentials. In other words, good hires were being overlooked because the process emphasizes things like experience, education and location over competency. This won’t encourage true diversity in a team or company.

But there is a slow but steady trend towards evaluating people based on what truly matters: the skills they bring to the task(s) at hand, and their potential. According to the FT, “we may be moving towards a more fluid market where workers leverage their specific skill sets, rather than focusing on a linear path of increasingly senior job titles. This would mean employers adjusting their recruitment and career progression mindsets and being much more open to assessing transferable skills so that workers can change direction and try new things.” They note that the number of recruiters who are using LinkedIn skills data to fill positions is up 20% in the last year — with those who follow this method seeing good results.

Organizations are starting to see that, by taking a skills-first approach, you introduce a more objective assessment of talent, and remove the subconscious (or conscious) bias that inevitably exists inside a company. It is the basis for more equitable processes, from hiring to development to promotion.

A study by Deloitte finds overwhelming support for the ‘fairness’ of a skills-based approach: 80% of business executives say making decisions about hiring, pay, promotions, succession, and deployment based on people’s skills (rather than their job history, tenure in the job, or network) would reduce bias and improve fairness.

What has changed? Businesses increasingly understand that by focusing only on qualifications and experience, they may be missing out on candidates – including existing employees – who already have most of the necessary skills to do the job. But, more crucially, technology has emerged that allows employers to map skills (between people and roles) with a granularity, consistency and accuracy that’s simply not been possible before.

The role of data and technology

Understanding your talent as a fulsome set of skills and capabilities will help you remove bias, in each part of the talent lifecycle. But how is that achieved, at scale?

The first stage is, of course, data. Skills data is famously hard to manage: an individual’s skills will continually evolve; systems don’t use the same terminology around skills; and your various HR tools don’t always talk to each other to help you join the dots.

You will need to establish a holistic view of all skills across disparate systems, to connect skills to each other and all your talent data. Using up-to-date data and accurate skills insights when evaluating internal and external talent, you can start to make better hiring and talent mobility decisions – and improve the diversity of your organization.

The second stage is applying AI and machine learning to your data sets. Algorithms trained with the right data can ensure that ‘hidden gems’ are brought to light, from within your talent pool. People that are ideal for a role – but may otherwise have been overlooked – are ‘suggested’ as matches based on the shared understanding of the skills they have and the skills needed for a particular job, task or development opportunity. While humans are kept ‘in the loop’ to help assess the recommendations, ethical and Explainable AI speeds up and democratizes a range of HR processes.

Introducing AI to your recruitment and internal mobility initiatives could help you reduce unconscious bias and get better representation, efficiently. Widening your pools by considering potential, as well as people’s existing skills, will undoubtedly have a further positive impact on representation. This means you won’t inadvertently overlook talent that could, with the right training, make a fantastic contribution in at least one area of your business.

Retaining diverse talent

When we talk about using skills data and technology to widen the talent pool and thus improve representation in your business, we are not just talking about external recruitment. Skills data about employees is just as important as skills data about candidates, when it comes to increasing fairness, and reducing bias, across the whole talent lifecycle. If your pipeline is diverse, and your new hires are diverse, but you can’t engage and retain different types of employee, you are not going to see the full, myriad benefits of diverse teams.

For example, when you are looking to fill a role, start by looking within. Identifying talent in your organization, and developing those with potential, is likely to be more cost effective than buying in highly-qualified recruits… as well as ensuring that people from all walks of life are considered for lateral moves and promotions. A Talent Marketplace is a useful solution. This matches employee skills with open roles, as well as with mentors, learning opportunities, and short-term gigs – and ensures everyone in the organization feels they have a (transparent) path towards success.

We know people are so much more than their protected characteristics. Thinking of your colleagues as being, individually, a unique blend of skills, potential, desires and preferences will help take your DE&I efforts from performance to action, and help remove unintended bias from each part of the talent lifecycle.

Beamery’s Talent Lifecycle Management platform helps businesses take a more purposeful approach to DE&I by enabling a more holistic, human, and bias-free talent experience across the talent lifecycle. Read our case study with VMWare to learn more.