Right idea, wrong implementation: Why leadership development isn't boosting diversity

Leadership development and mentorship programs can help organizations bolster their C-suites and improve diversity, equity and inclusion when executed correctly. But few are structured enough to see real results, according to an Oct. 6 article from Harvard Business Review

A recent study from the leadership development platform Torch found that 79 percent of leaders said identifying high-potential leaders is a priority, but only 16 percent have formal processes to do so. Eighty-five percent of leaders rely on manager feedback, delivered informally, to decide who advances and when. 

Biases can seep into promotion practices when there is no structure to guide them. Certain employees — usually tall, "attractive" white men, according to Harvard Business Review — are more likely to be identified as future leaders by those already at the top. White men compose 35 percent of entry-level workers and 62 percent of the C-suite, while women of color compose 17 percent of entry-level workers and 4 percent of the C-suite, the article said. 

Harvard Business Review provided four steps to solidify leadership development programs and pave a more equitable path to the top: 

1. Identify all formal and informal leadership development activities within the organization. 

2. Define what qualifies an employee for each of the activities listed, focusing on performance, not potential. 

3. Communicate opportunities clearly and equally to everyone eligible at the organization. For example, send all leadership development opportunities, along with the required qualifications, to employees one week after performance reviews. 

4. Implement a formal, consistent selection process. 

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