The social justice demonstrations of summer 2020 awakened something in everyday Americans. Many people and companies vowed to do better — but if creating more diverse and equitable workplaces were as easy as making a lofty public pledge, the demographics of our workforce would already reflect those of the world around us.
Instead, Black employees comprise less than 5% of almost three-quarters of tech companies’ staff. Moreover, even though nonwhite racial and ethnic groups grew in size over the 2010s, Black (13.4%), Hispanic (18.5%), and Asian employees (5.9%) still make up just a fraction of the American workforce.
Inequity in Education
This, of course, is the direct result of decades of systemic inequity — particularly wherein education is the defining factor that enables candidates with university degrees to secure jobs. At the same time, companies often overlook candidates with the same or even more specific skills simply because they lack post-secondary education.
Historically, people of color are less likely to hold a bachelor’s degree compared with their white peers. The harsh reality is that leaders are struggling to diversify their organizations because they’ve stacked the deck against marginalized candidates with their hiring practices from the beginning.
Accessible Education Will Be Your Equalizer
Leaders must prioritize a shift in this way of thinking to dig themselves out of a hole in their own creation.
Education is a powerful mechanism for eliminating imbalances between individuals with different backgrounds, opportunities, and resources.
One study even found that 65% of American workers believe education benefits will help advance racial and gender equality at work. Here are three strategies you can embrace to cultivate and support educational opportunities that fuel diversity in your workplace.
1. Lay Nontraditional Pathways
Employee education opportunities don’t have to exist solely within your four walls — and in fact, they shouldn’t. Instead, you’ll find that employees hold industry-specific panels, symposiums, and training facilitated by in-field experts in high regard.
These experts bring valuable outside perspectives and experiences to light.
And when you encourage your employees to network in the fields they represent, you ultimately gain access to a broader pool of candidates across various demographics.
Your in-office education opportunities don’t have to follow the standard “lunch and learn” formula, either.
Encourage employees to tap into the expertise of their colleagues in different departments to learn new skills.
As a result, they’ll not only gain a better understanding of how your business works, but they’ll also be able to identify ways to increase cross-team collaboration and productivity while advancing their individual careers.
According to one survey of American adults, 87% believe that learning new skills through these nontraditional pathways directly impacts their future success. When it comes to Black (90%) and Hispanic workers (91%), those numbers are even higher.
2. Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of
Remember all those companies that promised to fight systemic racism and inequality? But unfortunately, many have fallen short of making actual changes.
One 2021 report estimated that about 80% of companies are merely “going through the motions” of DEI work and disregarding educational opportunities altogether. Perhaps even more alarming?
It’s your turn to prove them wrong. First, be more apparent in the language you use. Diversity means different things to different people, so be clear about the specific outcomes you’re trying to achieve.
If equity and diversity are your goals, be upfront about the ways you are working to meet them.
Then, identify relevant metrics, measure your progress, and regularly report the results. You also must ensure employees have a pathway to advancement within your organization.
Encourage them and support them financially to seek out opportunities to develop their skills further—whether through a certificate program or an educational course.
Show employees that you’re serious about education by allocating a per-employee educational or professional development budget to encourage teammates to seek out opportunities that suit their goals.
3. Examine Impact, Not Intention
In the world of DEI, good intentions are, unfortunately, not good enough.
Instead, you need to be deeply intentional about your DEI work.
For instance, you must ensure the tools you leverage to eliminate longstanding inequalities aren’t inadvertently augmenting them.
Conclusion: Changing the Status Quo
Requiring a degree or supporting only costly education opportunities will push lower-income employees out of the program altogether. That’s likely not the effect you intended, but it is the outcome nonetheless.
The takeaway? Examine all your policies to ensure they’re not fundamentally reinforcing the status quo.
Featured Image Credit: Photo by Jason Goodman; Unsplash; Provided by the Author; Thank you!
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