Recruitment and the workforce as we know them have dramatically evolved in the last couple of years, largely because the coronavirus pandemic changed our collective reality. It forced us to reassess how we confront an old demon that’s taken on new meaning. It’s an adversary that goes by many names: the “Great Resignation,” the “War for Talent,” the “Skills Shortage” and even the “Great Reshuffle.”

Whatever we may call it, this shortage of skilled talent can be attributed to our own “Great Neglect.” Neglect of what? In a nutshell, neglect of everything related to building a great company culture that enables everyone in even the most diverse workforce to grow. Take, for example, attempts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). A McKinsey study centered on DEI reported that diverse employees, including women, people of color, LGBTQ+ employees and parents, are struggling the most during the age of COVID-19 and need more from their employers.

On the other hand, companies that are feeling less pain from The Great Resignation are the ones who cultivate a true culture of growth and opportunity for their employees. They understand that DEI is not up for debate and that training and growth are not just for the executive suite or those who have “proven themselves.” Professional development is for everyone.

It’s Not All About the Bottom Line

Even before the pandemic, Glassdoor’s 2019 Mission & Culture Survey of adults across four countries (the U.S., U.K., France and Germany) reported that 77% would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job. Slightly more (79%) would consider a company’s mission and purpose before applying. Over half of all respondents said that culture is even more important than salary.

Maybe, way back then — two years ago — we were too busy to pay these subjective company-culture concerns any mind. But the consequences of inaction are playing out in real time now. While hindsight is 20/20, it still feels like the writing was on the wall. We shouldn’t be surprised that motivated professionals value culture, growth and self-improvement.

The  World Economic Forum found that wide-scale investment in upskilling has the potential to boost GDP by $6.5 trillion by 2030. Thus, it’s no secret that many companies realize it’s time to make development more accessible. Couple this with DEI remaining a top-tier issue for talent, and it’s clear that there’s an opportunity for companies to see the benefits of bringing these two concerns together.

Here are three ways you can give every employee equitable access to paths for advancement and growth:

1. Accessible Learning That’s Tailored at Every Level

People learn differently, and one size does not even begin to fit all. It never did. Organizations must first address accessibility for their diverse workforce when offering learning, whether it’s by providing internet access, physical access, or closed captions in training videos. Accessibility is an immutable. It shouldn’t be contingent on or granted to those of a certain level or tenure.

Organizations often have decreasing representation of diversity as we go higher up the organizational hierarchy. Employees from underrepresented groups drop off the career ladder at a certain point, and companies may not stop and wonder why. Instead, they may continue to reserve the most effective development tools — personalized learning and coaching — for the managers and “high potentials.” This leaves a lot of potential behind. And it will drive a lot of potential out the door, too.

The process of advancement is often rooted in bias, rather than giving every employee a fair and equal opportunity to develop and grow. Now’s the moment to replace antiquated processes with ones that bring forth talent that’s often hiding in plain sight.

2. If You Build It, They Will Come, but Give Them Time and They’ll Thrive

Setting up the right tools and granting access is an exciting start, but it needs to be followed with the right behaviors. And behaviors change over time, not overnight. It’s an investment in creating true skills. So, it’s important to be patient.

People need uninterrupted time to learn. Working from home brings its own set of challenges and blurred lines. The best support a company can offer is to provide the time to learn. Whether it’s one hour a day or one hour a month, setting aside time for learning can make a difference in a person’s focus, ability to retain information and level of engagement.

Unfortunately, learning and development (L&D) tends to fall to the bottom of the list for employees, and there’s often pressure for them to take care of this outside of working hours. This is where employers can impact real change — by providing learning opportunities at work and promoting a culture that prioritizes growth.

3. The Power of Positive Reinforcement

When learning a new skill, like when we learned how to ride a bike, we’re focused on balancing ourselves rather than watching the road. If we were lucky enough, someone else was making sure we had a clear path while helping us to balance and encouraging us along the way. Positive reinforcement sure went a long way there! It told us we were on track. It’s not so different for employees growing within a company. This is where company culture comes into play.

After providing equitable access to learning and adequate time in a learning environment, it’s imperative that leadership and management reinforce the behaviors they want to see. Growth can be uncomfortable, but putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone is one way we upskill. Having recognition from a manager goes a long way in building confidence.

On the other hand, a lack of recognition can make employees feel there’s no real point in trying at all. It may even drive some to quit. Leadership support plays a huge role in translating small behaviors into long-term skills that elevate the entire team, one employee at a time. When a manager or leader acknowledges the time and effort employees are putting into their own learning and development, it will further motivate your people to stay on course — and stay with your organization.

The Great Nurturing

The antidote to the Great Resignation has been right here all along. The future of work calls for a more nurturing and human approach to work. Now is the time for organizations to unlearn the old ways of thinking about talent and build a more equitable and scalable vision that gives everyone the opportunity to thrive.