In the context of professional development, learning should offer a full spectrum of possibilities tailored to learners’ unique needs, circumstances and preferences. So, how do social constructs – such as race, age and gender – affect how learning leaders develop programs to effectively engage and advocate for diverse learning communities?

Breaking Barriers

A 1997 study found that race and gender play a role in how quickly minority employees move up in their organizations. The study found that, “determinants of promotion were systematically different for Black and White employees.” Armed with this research, learning leaders can begin to fully understand and evaluate the level of support needed to break barriers to equitable promotion.

As a learning leader, it’s imperative to build development that is inherently equitable. And, in doing so, learning leaders must look toward mitigating obstacles and boundaries present for minority groups based on race, age and gender.

Ageism in the Workplace

Age is one facet to consider within diversity, equity and inclusion. Reviewing data regarding the age range of executive leaders and management will reveal whether this is an area requiring attention in your organization. The assumptions that youth equals less experience or knowledge and senior equals unchanging or less technically savvy should be frequently and overtly challenged.

Learning leaders can combat age discrimination against early and senior employees in many ways. Highlighting biases and stereotypes in training curriculum can assist in shifting your workforce’s thinking around ageism, and learning leaders can support the shift in organizational culture through targeted training, education and outreach.

The Intersections of Gender and Race

Gender equality is a hot topic in the fight for social justice and spans decades of activism. Gender equality within the workplace is a priority for many organizations. A 2020 report by LeanIn.org and McKinsey shows steady improvement in representation of women in senior vice president and C-suite roles. However, they note that women “remained drastically underrepresented, particularly women of color.” With so many efforts dedicated to securing equal pay, affordable childcare and harassment-free work environments, it can be difficult to understand learning and development’s (L&D’s) role in these changes. However, learning leaders can shape their organizations through consistent training, targeted messaging and strategic curriculum. 

Focused development strategies on gender-related differences in leadership can be helpful. Creating a women’s leadership development program specifically for women of color or hosting a virtual women’s brunch can enhance network opportunities for up and coming leaders, as well as provide coaching and mentoring opportunities. Learning leaders have the unique ability to assist in opening dialogue around distinct cultural topics that affect engagement and foster a sense of belonging for employees.

Employee Resource Groups

If there is notable lack of racial diversity in leadership roles at your organization, it may be time to engage with employee resource groups (ERGs) to support equitable leadership development efforts. ERGs are groups of employees working together to build strong networks, align future leaders with organizational goals and engage specific employee subgroups.  

By meeting with minority groups directly and accounting for their specific needs, learning leaders can design targeted development opportunities. Additionally, building relationships that harbor two-way communication will open the door for frequent feedback to modify programs and generate innovative ideas. Being an ally for diversity, equity and inclusion is a role that requires more than offering services and should also encourage relationship building and targeted actions for improving overall organizational culture.  

Learning leaders have a great opportunity to reinvigorate their programs and refocus their efforts to boost engagement and positive culture change. In 2021, L&D can elevate social consciousness into strategic cultural change and upward mobility for underrepresented groups. 

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