The Next Frontier in D&I: Developing Your Leadership Pipeline

DEIDiversity & CultureCulture RiskLeadershipHuman Resources OfficersDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion AdvisoryDevelopment and Transition
min Report
Yen Ling Shek
June 15, 2020
15 min
DEIDiversity & CultureCulture RiskLeadershipHuman Resources OfficersDiversity, Equity, and Inclusion AdvisoryDevelopment and Transition
Organizations need to set an inclusive tone across all levels to build a culture that celebrates diversity and provides a strong pipeline for top roles.


60% Black employees 

In a UK survey involving 25,000 people, 60 percent of Black employees reported dissatisfactory career development, compared to 30 percent among white employees.1

58% Asian, Black and Latino employees 

58 percent of Asian, Black and Latino employees tend to feel emotionally taxed from the need to be “on guard” against potential bias or discrimination.2

39% women employees 

Each transition up the management rank indicates lower representation for women, with numbers dropping to 39 percent and 34 percent for manager and director levels respectively.3

According to Russell Reynolds Associates’ research on talent management practices, organizations seem to have more difficulty developing diverse talent than they have recruiting or retaining it. After successful efforts to enlist diverse talent, organizations are faced with the challenge of developing this talent through the application of more inclusive development practices. Prior research found that 32 percent of diverse talent leave their organizations due to a perceived lack of inclusion and engagement. As companies strive for sustainable solutions in building their diverse talent pipeline, executive leadership have to create intentional cultural shifts, process improvements, and structural supports to develop diverse talent. Indeed, organizations need to accept the challenge to reinvent the status quo of traditional professional development approaches.

In late 2019, RRA invited fifteen leading companies in the areas of diversity and inclusion to participate in surveys, interviews, and a roundtable discussion to unpack the effectiveness of various talent management practices. Participants included chief diversity officers and executive leaders across industries (e.g. industrial and natural resources, technology, professional services, financial services, healthcare, and consumer). These industry leaders provided key insights and practical solutions for companies to proactively bring inclusivity to the forefront of firm-wide strategic planning and day-to-day operations.

The data gathered focused specifically on the recruitment, development, and retention of diverse talent in organizations, as well as the degree to which each of these components of the talent lifecycle was enabling an inclusive and equitable approach to talent management. The survey results highlight which sub-categories along this talent management cycle were the most and least effective at achieving this goal, showing that Development was the lowest-ranked among the three categories. The roundtable discussion built off these survey findings yielded a rich discussion with industry leaders around the challenges and strategies for developing diverse talent.

List of Interviewees

  • Chris Boyd, Chief Knowledge and Talent Officer, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
  • Amber Boyle, Director, Diversity and Inclusion, VMware
  • Katie Juran, Senior Director, Diversity & Inclusion, Adobe
  • Jean Lee, President & CEO, Minority Corporate Counsel Association
  • John Iino, Chief Diversity Officer, Reed Smith
  • Jorge Quezada, Vice President, Diversity & Inclusion, Granite Construction
  • Sally Saba, Chief Diversity Officer, Medtronic
  • Perika J. Sampson, Executive Director, Sr. Regional Diversity Officer, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management
  • Shawna Shelor, Head of Executive Development, Baker Hughes
  • Jeffrey Siminoff, Senior Vice President, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Perceived Effectiveness of Various Inclusive Talent Management Practices




Source: Effectiveness of ITM practices survey, Russell Reynolds Associates, 2020.

Inclusive Talent Management in Practice

Industry leaders for diversity and inclusion recognize the holistic strategy necessary for creating, building, and sustaining a diverse talent pipeline. The following are five overarching strategies companies can use to improve their inclusive talent management efforts, with accompanying examples of best practices.

Cultural Driver: Set an inclusive tone throughout the organization

To incorporate greater inclusivity into talent development practices, leaders must examine the full employee experience to design ways that ensure all talent is appreciated and supported. To effectively implement changes to talent management processes, leaders must articulate a cohesive strategy that encompasses the interest of all talent across the organization, in addition to the necessary focus on unique hurdles faced by under-represented groups. A clear explanation of the drivers and expected outcomes for the business and all its employees is essential; the risk of people not “buying into” the plan is too big.

Setting an inclusive tone involves consistent communications about the culture and values of the organization; this should underscore the benefit of diversity and inclusion for people across different identity groups. This cultural messaging shapes the environment for onboarding diverse (non-dominant groups) and non-diverse (dominant groups) talent to understand the organizational values that are expected, enforced, and reinforced in their employment. A best practice example is the large-scale communications campaign that is now a regular part of the Adobe company-wide calendar.

“Adobe for All” is a culture-shaping initiative enacted as part of Adobe’s D&I vision. Rather than focusing on diversity alone, Adobe took a personalized approach to bring about meaningful change by focusing on employee appreciation and inclusion. As part of the launch of their new vision, Adobe organized an annual summit focused on empowering all employees to own and drive their careers, inspiring and training leaders to support the success of others, and developing active champions for their “Adobe for All” vision. Extending the live event with Livestream, Adobe’s 2019 summit effectively reached thousands of employees from nearly 50 global sites. Adobe invited a cross-section of employees willing to share their personal stories on the impact of bias, overcoming setbacks, and the power of positive thinking along with external speakers. The program helped to instill a sense of purpose, understanding, and commitment to inclusion across all fronts of work. Adobe’s success speaks to the importance of company endorsement and employee involvement in fostering greater connection and commitment to D&I values at work.

Adobe was able to leverage company-wide resources, as well as active participation and messaging from the CEO to create an explicit culture of inclusion. Participants received action steps they could take after the summit to engage others in intentional conversations about diversity and inclusion. They were able to empower employees throughout the organization by providing personalized stories, visibility, and concrete actions in a massive effort that provided symbolic resonance for company-wide commitment to inclusion.

Process Driver: Examine and redesign processes to minimize impacts of bias

While hiring goals boost diversity numbers, the shift to inclusive talent management requires a deliberate focus on the processes and conditions that facilitate inclusivity. There must be trust that the correct processes will create the desired outcomes in representation. Once gaps in inclusivity are identified, organizations must be cognizant of allocating appropriate resources and implementing structural solutions that can be standardized and applied consistently across disparate groups within the organization. The following two best practice examples focus on intentional process assessments and redesigns along the talent management cycle.

Evaluations along the talent management cycle—from interviewing to performance and promotion evaluations—can be rife with opportunities for implicit bias to shape outcomes. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati addressed this challenge by shifting their interview processes towards behavioral interviewing. Interviewers now follow a standard reporting form involving both qualitative and quantitative data, focusing on behavioral attributes such as results focus and resourcefulness. The intention was to open doors for more diverse associates and according to recent figures, the firm has been successful in its hiring of diverse lateral associates. In 2019, 58 percent of the firm’s 90 lateral associates were women (compared to 48 percent of the overall associate group) and 47 percent were ethnic minorities (compared to 40 percent of the overall associate group).

Recognizing diverse talent was often held to higher standards for promotion compared to their dominant group peers, Reed Smith has implemented a number of programs to explore its firm’s culture and promote its understanding of inclusivity. A notable example is their annual Diversity Summit, most recently held in October 2019. The day-long event provided focused time for all members, clients, and firm leadership to examine the roles, responsibilities, structural capabilities, and capacities to meet their D&I goals. They also engaged in a review of D&I roles and activities within global corporate law departments and law firms. Some of the changes they have implemented include standardizing interview questions and providing mandatory anti-bias training for anyone involved in recruiting. The firm’s comprehensive D&I approach led to increasing diversity firmwide. Over a three-year period, the total number of diverse lawyers rose from 19.2 percent to 24.3 percent and diverse lawyer attrition decreased from 21 percent to 12 percent. Likewise, their efforts towards the advancement of women have been recognized as one of the best law firms for women in the United States.

Relationship Driver: Broaden access to opportunities for connections

Relationships can shape evaluators’ perceptions of employees’ trustworthiness, capabilities, and potential, which can have differential impacts on development opportunities and promotions. Truer now than ever, firms looking to enhance development practices for diverse employees need to leverage technology and take a multi-modal approach to build relationships. Relationship-building needs to happen among peers and with mentors/sponsors/advocates in the organization. The intentionally structured opportunities for diverse employees to build relationships across the organization can ideally counter implicit biases, stereotypes, and misperceptions when decisions around professional development or promotions are made. We provide three best practice examples from industry leaders who have recognized the importance of relationship drivers for inclusion.

Leveraging internal partners and external resources, Morgan Stanley examined existing professional development efforts and identified opportunities to heighten the profiles of diverse managers in order to better position them for promotion and succession planning consideration. These efforts resulted in the launch of a multicultural manager program that now provides employees with developmental tools, as well as access to senior leadership, increasing possibilities for sponsorship and mentorship.

To minimize bias associated with informal mentorship, Reed Smith has piloted work allocation processes that match associates with their desired training. By facilitating utilization across diverse partners and associates, junior members gain broad exposure to different kinds of work and depth of experience across several sectors and client portfolios.

With the expedited pivot towards virtual working environments, Adobe has found new ways of engaging broad employee networks through interactive channels such as Slack and webinars. Through live and recorded webinars, Adobe’s “Virtual Coffee Breaks” with senior leaders garnered significant viewership and was an empowering experience where leaders opened up about their personal struggles and vulnerabilities. Both initiatives highlight how virtual environments can be leveraged to create an open and interactive environment with relatively little investment in upfront planning.

Metrics Driver: Create D&I accountability measures

Building on the momentum of current efforts towards tracking diverse hires, organizations need to develop and implement key metrics for evaluating inclusivity. Creating measurable D&I goals is a concrete mechanism to hold leaders accountable, and the first step toward this implementation is ensuring accurate measurement of diverse representation and advancement throughout the entire organization. It is important to incorporate clear D&I measures into performance reviews as well as implement rewards and reinforcements on a regular basis. These accountability measures demonstrate company-wide understanding and commitment to D&I as a business imperative. We will provide two industry leader examples as an illustration of this driver.

Baker Hughes has integrated key D&I metrics into talent reviews and assessments in order to create leadership accountability towards D&I goals. They measure diversity statistics on representation (general, team leaders, executives), turnover, promotion, promotion of high potential pool, and hiring of diverse employees. In addition, Baker Hughes measures inclusion through an annual employee survey gauging a sense of belonging within the organization. The information, combined into a dashboard, is actively shared not only within the D&I council, executive leadership team, and board, but also embedded into talent reviews and development processes. These measures create accountability throughout the organization and not just at the executive leadership level. They also ensure discussions around progress toward D&I goals are objective; anecdotal examples or excuses will be trumped by hard data around who is progressing.

Another best practice example comes from Wilson Sonsini’s succession efforts. Wilson Sonsini has tracked the number of partners who are externally hired versus internally promoted. Coupled with increased transparency in role descriptions and support for associates interested in the path to partnership, they have seen relatively high diversity among the promoted partners compared to those hired laterally. From 2015 to 2019, 41 percent of internally promoted partners were diverse, compared to 28 percent of lateral partners. The success of such efforts illustrates the significance of implementing key metrics and tracking progress in holding leaders and stakeholders accountable to D&I goals.

Agility Driver: Adapt and respond to the needs of a diverse workforce

During these times of uncertainty, non-dominant groups may face a greater number of challenges compared to their dominant group peers. Examples include increased caregiving responsibilities, unfavorable working conditions, managing the convergence between home and work identities, and societal stressors connected to being in a marginalized community. Faced with conflicting interests and constrained resources, organizations may be inclined to postpone programs and events dedicated to the professional development and support of diverse groups. Yet, to truly bring inclusivity to the forefront of organizations, leaders should not overlook the prioritization of inclusion efforts, remaining vigilant and agile in their approach to supporting diverse talent through tough times. Such efforts may include flexing roles that allow leaders or temporary task groups to tackle specific challenges or adapting D&I strategies within their own teams.

Recognizing the significance of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) in supporting and developing communities within the organization, Baker Hughes hosted a series of forums on the future of work to explore ways in which ERGs can continue to support the new reality of working from home. In advocating for the continuation of these groups, leaders can effectively support, develop, and engage their teams from afar, while bringing inclusivity to the forefront of their organizations.

Looking Ahead

Intentional systematic and cultural approaches to D&I, particularly in times of uncertainty, will yield long-term benefits for companies interested in developing diversity in their leadership pipeline. Cultivating diverse talent will require strategic planning, continued investments, and visible commitment to leveraging internal and external resources. While this paper focused on development strategies, organizations need to continue to infuse inclusion into all aspects of recruitment, retention, and development to accomplish their goals of a sustainable and diverse leadership pipeline.

1. Catalyst, “Day-to-Day Experiences of Emotional Tax Among Women and Men of Color in the Workplace”, 2018
2. McKinsey, “Women in the Workplace 2018”, 2018.
3. Russell Reynolds Associates, “Diversity and Inclusion Pulse: 2017 Leader’s Guide”, 2017
4. Business in the Community, “Race at Work: 2015-2017 Survey Insights”, 2019