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Ensuring that people from all backgrounds are able to progress should be a key area of focus for every organisation’s diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. Variation in progression rates for different diverse characteristics can often be an indicator of barriers that need to be identified and removed to allow your best talent to flourish. The top of an organisation can have a huge influence on the culture, ways of working and ideas of a whole organisation. When this leadership is not diverse and representative it can negatively reflect your organisation’s commitment to its employees, customers and wider society. The benefits and opportunities of having diverse representation across all levels of your organisation are well documented.

There are two major causes for lack of progression of diverse groups. The first is bias in talent management processes. Those involved in the talent management processes can overlook talented employees in favour of those who share their own characteristics or views. The second cause is lack of role models at senior levels. When there are no visible role models, individuals are likely to move to industries where they see more opportunities for progression or self-select out of progression opportunities that seem out of reach. ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ means that the possibility of progressing to leadership roles seems impossible.

Analysing data across the employee lifecycle is important to address as well as predict issues that may be disproportionately impacting diverse employees. During periods of staff changes, it is more important than ever to use data. When making redundancies, analysing data can help to ensure diverse groups are not disproportionately affected, leaving your organisation without diverse representation and the innovation that representation brings at crucial times.

There are huge gains to be made by making progression fairer. Employees care deeply about opportunity and fairness, not just for themselves but for everyone; they want the system to be fair (McKinsey, 2019).


Progression & Development


Gender Pay figures in the UK are a key indicator of lack of progression of women. The Gender Pay Gap for engineers is largely due to under representation of women in senior roles (Royal Academy of Engineering, 2019). Overall 23% fewer women than men feel people of different backgrounds have an equal chance of being promoted (McKinsey, 2019). Two-thirds of young female engineers feel they do not enjoy the same opportunities to progress as male colleagues and almost two fifths feel they are not treated equally by managers (IMechE, 2017).

This is not unique to the sector; in most organisations internal data will show that women progress at slower rates. It is common for structural barriers and bias in progression systems to prevent women progressing into senior roles. This results in less representation of women at the top of organisations, meaning that companies lose out on the benefits of having gender balance in decision making roles.

In addition, women are more likely to work flexibly or part-time, this can disproportionately impact progression if senior roles are not created as flexible or part-time opportunities.


Internal data can often show that in organisations, ethnic minority representation declines in senior roles. Across all industries in the UK, around 12.5% of the UK population are Black, Asian and minority ethnic yet they hold just 6% of top management positions (CMI, 2017). This can create a long-term cycle of challenges whereby underrepresented ethnic minorities fail to see themselves in role models at higher levels of the organisation and choose to leave organisations, or even industries, to go somewhere they feel they have more opportunities to progress. 69% of Black Britons say they have less opportunity to succeed professionally than White people (CNN, 2020). Individuals can also self-select out of progression opportunities that seem out of reach. ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ means that the possibility of progressing to leadership roles seems impossible.

Data may also show that Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees’ performance ratings may be lower, meaning that they are less likely to be promoted. Across the UK, Black, Asian and minority ethnic employees are less likely to be rated in the top two performance rating categories compared to White employees. Ethnic minority employees are also much less likely to be identified as having high potential (The McGregor-Smith Review, 2017).

Ensure transparency of opportunities and internal promotions

Provide access to internal or external mentoring

Provide leadership training and development programmes

Use diverse shortlists for all levels

Share progression and performance data by demographic group with line managers

Enable progression for part-time workers

Track relevant progression data by demographic group

Create transparent and clear pathways for progression and pay rises

Remove bias in talent management processes

Ensure diverse talent is sponsored



Progression & Development - Talent Management

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