Promoting from within is one of the key ways to build organisational commitment and employee growth. But historically, these promotions have largely been awarded to employees whose demographics skew white and male.
As a result, many leadership teams become a boy’s club. In fact, women make up just 21% of C-suite positions, and that number drops to 5% for women of colour. Meanwhile at an individual contributor level, Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) employees are half as likely to be identified as having high potential than their white peers.
But the tide is turning, and many companies are reflecting on the fact that they need to be more proactive about increasing diversity and inclusion at all levels. While this can mean confronting some uncomfortable truths about previous bias, it’s time for HR teams to develop equitable internal promotion initiatives, and to intentionally champion diverse internal mobility.
What is internal mobility?
“Internal mobility refers to the movement of employees up or across a company’s leadership ladder,” said Anthony C. Hood, PhD, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at First Horizon Bank.
In short, internal mobility is a recruitment strategy where organisations focus on filling roles by identifying opportunities and skills from their internal talent pool, rather than looking externally. It encompasses promotions to manager and leadership positions, as well as instances when an employee changes role or career direction.
Why does internal mobility matter for DEIB?
Many organisations have an untapped pool of internal talent just waiting to be nurtured — and learning to harness it can have a huge impact on their profitability.
Research by Gartner estimates that employee turnover caused by a lack of career opportunities costs an average-sized company $49 million per year. And during shortages of top talent, existing team members might be your biggest potential source of qualified hires — especially when new employees typically take six months or more to ramp when joining a company.
Internal mobility also helps improve retention, boost employee engagement, and accelerate the hiring process. So why isn’t everyone doing it?
Over three quarters of C-Suite execs see internal mobility as important, with 20% rating it as one of their organisation’s top three most pressing issues. But according to research by Josh Bersin, only 6% rate themselves as making the most of this process.
LinkedIn identified there are three main barriers to internal mobility:
- Managers don’t want to ‘let go’ of good employees
- A shortage of qualified candidates
- Hiring from within makes it more difficult to diversify the workforce
DEIB has become a top priority on a global scale, and many organisations have focused their part of their strategy on increasing their hiring from underrepresented talent pools.
But this approach alone won’t embed inclusion or diversity long-term.
When employees don’t get enough opportunities for growth and progression at work, they’re more likely to quit. Yet employees from underrepresented groups are disproportionately passed over for promotions.
A report focused on one mid-sized law firm found that leadership was only mentioned in performance evaluations for people of colour only 9.5% of the time. Meanwhile, a 2020 report by Mercer found that the representation of people of colour, women, LGBTQ+ and those with disabilities decreases as we move up the career ladder.
These patterns are known as ‘broken rungs’ — and they harm underrepresented employees’ chances at internal mobility.
“Positions on the leadership ladder where some employees, but not others, are able to ascend are referred to as ‘broken rungs’,” explained Dr Hood. “These broken rungs can hinder internal mobility and drive employee turnover.”
Identifying these broken rungs means organisations can understand where they’re missing opportunities to nurture talent internally, and take action to support career development.By monitoring metrics like these, employees from underrepresented groups can be encouraged to apply for positions they’re qualified for.
But for an internal mobility strategy to be truly effective, it needs to be formalised. Without structure, organisations are more likely to use informal promotion routes, which entrench existing unconscious biases.
Driving impactful change on internal mobility requires clear goals, structured processes, and data-driven insights to measure their success.
Why You Should Use a DEIB Dashboard to Measure Internal Mobility
Shifting to a data-driven internal mobility strategy needs good data. But the key is being able to collect data in the first place.
“The DEIB efforts needed for one company may differ drastically from another,” said Brooks Scott, executive coach and CEO of Merging Path. “Data allows us to take an informed approach to where we need to focus our efforts, starting with addressing themes we see in our culture. For example: Do you have a high level of Asian employees in your organisation? How many of those employees are in management positions? How many Black employees are in your company overall? How about on your leadership team or board?”
Sacha Thompson, founder of The Equity Equation, agrees: “DEIB analytics can give a more holistic view of who is going where within the company, and if there are any barriers hindering mobility. But companies also need to be firm in their focus on equity (providing what individuals need to be successful) versus equality (giving everyone the same resources).”
Thompson recommends considering the following questions when analysing your internal mobility:
- Who is being promoted by demographics at intersections of identity?
- What are the common barriers some intersectional groups face that are not hindering others?
- Is there bias in the process?
- Are mentoring or leadership development programs designed to remove these barriers connected to succession planning?
When collecting employee data, bear in mind that under GDPR regulations, consent is needed to collect specific categories of personal information, including race, ethnicity, and health data. As such, it’s important to communicate to your employees that their participation is voluntary and anonymous — and that they can withdraw consent at any time if they do choose to participate.
Once your data has been collected, you can start to make informed decisions and set specific goals for underrepresented groups. The results can be used to help track improvements over time and increase transparency — something that stakeholders, employees, and prospective employees are all starting to expect as standard.
The Benefits of Using DEIB Analytics to Measure Internal Mobility
Using DEIB analytics to measure internal mobility means organisations have clearer insight on how well their processes are working. But even more critically, it means that they can identify when they’re not.
Understanding this data in context leads to a few key benefits:
- Decrease turnover. If employees don’t feel that they’re growing, they’re more likely to quit. When organisations know which employees are less likely to be considered for internal mobility opportunities, they’re better poised to take action and prevent this regrettable turnover.
- Identify broken rungs. Analysing internal mobility data by dimensions of diversity helps organisations identify the employee populations that are offered fewer opportunities. Segmenting this data by seniority, tenure, and other metrics adds further nuance on where bias or broken rungs are most likely to occur.
- Increase engagement. Growth is essential to keeping employee motivation high. With a data-driven approach, organisations can identify under-promoted employee populations, and offer additional resources in the form of career development conversations and mentorship opportunities.
- Create more equitable processes. When organisations understand how their processes are contributing to inequity, they’re better able to make positive changes. For example, if one department has lower levels of internal mobility, it could indicate biased processes at a team level.
How to Promote Internal Talent Mobility Long-Term
Data is an important first step, but what’s just as important to long-term and sustainable success is how you communicate and promote equitable internal mobility practices.
Building an internal mobility programme helps formalise this process, demonstrate your commitment, and leads to better results over time. Using a company platform to connect employees with potential roles is a good start but on its own, it’s often not enough. Adding strategies like assigning mentors and focusing on upskilling can also help employees connect the dots between where they are on their career path, and where they want to be.
“We are intentional about highlighting the internal mobility of associates through company newsletters as well as via spotlights on social media,” said Dr. Hood. “Increasing the visibility of internal hires helps to promote retention of current associates as well as attract new ones.”
Exit surveys can also offer insights to any mobility issues. “Employees may report leaving for better opportunities — such as with organisations offering better opportunities for professional development and advancement,” said Dr. Hood.
How to Use the Lattice DEIB Analytics Dashboard
Looking for a way to track your internal mobility data? We’ve just launched the Lattice DEIB Analytics Dashboard.
Our real-time dashboards automatically monitor the internal mobility rate of your employees by tracking job title changes. You can add demographic information including gender, race, sexual orientation, and age, to better understand and compare the internal mobility rates of specific employee groups.
Using the Representation dashboard, you can get an overall view of representation within the company, and see how this changes over time. By filtering through different DEIB data points, you can gain a deeper understanding of the representation of specific demographics within different company levels.
The Performance Equity dashboard can be used to monitor that processes and programs like performance appraisals are delivering equitable outcomes for all employees. For each program, it’s possible to filter by demographic and highlight any differences in scoring or advancement.
Data Helps Internal Mobility Become Intentional, Not Accidental
Using the Lattice DEIB analytics dashboard can help People teams and leaders fix the broken rungs of internal mobility. By making sure opportunities are being offered to employees equitably, and that employees from underserved backgrounds are fairly considered across all levels of the organisation, it’s possible to create a truly anti-racist and inclusive workplace where diverse teams are championed at every single level.
To learn more about how Lattice can help transform your organisation into a more equitable workplace, request a demo.