Diversity & InclusionLearning & Development

Inclusive Upskilling

New research shows women and people of color are often at a disadvantage when seeking learning and development opportunities at work. Here are ways to reverse that.

By Veronica Calderon

Women and people of color represent vital segments of the talent economy. They are widely recognized as a key driver of innovation and continued growth for organizations looking to stay nimble in a fluctuating labor market. Despite this, women and people of color continue to face multiple personal and professional disparities. These challenges extend beyond salary and hiring issues and into access to professional development opportunities.

Recent research conducted by Reputation Leaders and sponsored by DeVry University shows that workplace bias and discrimination, familial priorities, and time constraints continue to  impact women and people of color in their pursuit of learning at work. Moreover, these factors contribute to a now evident “say/do gap,” wherein employers and employees view upskilling as essential, but employees are not participating in it. This gap, coupled with daily challenges faced in the workplace, keeps women and people of color at a disadvantage in achieving their career goals and being satisfied in their roles.

An overwhelming majority of employees value companies that prioritize diversity in the workforce, giving those companies a competitive advantage when it comes to recruitment and career satisfaction. Diversity leads to better decision-making, innovation, and financial performance at work—with studies showing that companies with more diverse leadership teams outperform their less diverse peers on financial metrics. Additionally, when people from different backgrounds collaborate, they are also more likely to challenge assumptions and generate new ideas through a combination of varying perspectives and experiences. This can drive success for an organization and break the echo chamber that could exist in any industry. 

As job roles take on different forms to meet new industry needs, upskilling is more important than ever to create a workforce adept at meeting these expectations head-on. Overall, companies that invest in upskilling their entire employee base are likely to see a direct and positive impact on their business outcomes, leading to greater success and innovation.

Time management and family demands present significant obstacles to upskilling, with 41% percent of women reporting there is not enough time in the day, and 35% reporting family and other priorities take precedence.

Barriers to Access

For women and people of color, there are barriers to accessing upskilling. According to the survey, men are more likely to report having access to upskilling (73%) than women (56%). Time management and family demands present significant obstacles to upskilling, with 41% percent of women reporting there is not enough time in the day, and 35% reporting family and other priorities take precedence. For people of color, the barriers are equally pervasive as 37% of Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, and AAPI workers cite workplace bias and discrimination as barriers to their upskilling goals. Additionally, only 42% of these groups say they have access to and use skills development resources offered by their employer.

Upskilling creates greater opportunity for career advancement, satisfaction, and retention, all of which are key differentiators for companies vying for the same talent. Employers who do not work to remove these barriers and offer the right opportunities for their female and diverse talent are putting themselves at a disadvantage.

Prioritizing Advancement

Women and people of color are being left behind in the sprint toward upskilling a future-ready workforce. Employers have a responsibility to solve this by creating equitable professional development programs. Organizations can offer flexible scheduling options to make it easier for employees to participate in upskilling programs as well as a variety of learning formats including online courses or self-paced, asynchronous learning. 

What’s more, employers can take a more integrated approach to upskilling by aligning learning and development to their organization’s diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments. In doing so, companies can assign measurable goals and outcomes that act as a benchmark for success, adding another layer of accountability to their efforts.

There is no doubt that the U.S. workforce will continue to transform as new employee priorities and technology advancements shape the future of work. Upskilling provides a clear path forward for supporting business growth and the ongoing advancement of the workforce. This is especially critical for women and people of color who represent two of the most important talent demographics an organization can employ for continued success. Companies must take the necessary steps and assume the responsibility of engaging their entire talent network in upskilling opportunities. Businesses and their talent will be all the better for it.

Veronica Calderon is the chief inclusion, belonging, and equity officer at DeVry University.

Tags: November 2023

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