Report

How Clear Career Paths Strengthen Retention—and Diversity

How Clear Career Paths Strengthen Retention—and Diversity

Well-defined, clearly communicated pathways for advancement can encourage employee satisfaction and retention, especially among diverse and underrepresented workers.

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Report

How Clear Career Paths Strengthen Retention—and Diversity
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Transparency is critical in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. The companies that excel at retaining and advancing diverse talent will not only report talent management outcomes but also relentlessly demonstrate that all processes are fair and equitable.

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Written in collaboration with

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One way executives can establish a culture of transparency is by disclosing skills- and competency-based career paths. Leaders clearly articulate how talent can move from entry-level to higher-wage roles within the organization. Creating strong career paths starts with determining the required skills and competencies to reach various roles or career stages. Next, the leadership team can identify available training and professional development resources for employees to gain those skills. Finally, clearly and consistently communicating that information to employees enables them to make informed decisions and pursue growth opportunities at the company.

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Why it works

For all employees, the opportunity to advance and earn higher wages is a key factor in satisfaction and an indicator of job quality. Clear career paths are particularly important for diverse and underrepresented workers, who disproportionately feel more isolated and uncertain at work compared with their white peers. When an organization documents its career paths and the skills needed to advance, making the information transparent to all, there is less room for racial or gender bias to inform promotion decisions.

The adoption curve

Many employers believe they have strong career paths. They are often proud of the growth opportunities they offer to their employees. But very few companies make this information explicit and transparent. Based on a survey of more than 500 companies, we observed that only 28% said they communicate pathways for promotions and salary increases and that they hold managers accountable to conduct career progression discussions with direct reports regularly. And only 35% of young adult workers, most of whom were Black or Latinx, said their employer provides information about career advancement and promotion opportunities.

Senior employees—who, in most companies, tend to be white—implicitly hold much of the knowledge about how to advance in an organization. Similarity bias may make them inclined to offer their guidance and sponsorship to people who resemble them. Although managers can play a critical role in coaching and supporting their direct reports in career growth, clear documentation of pathways can help mitigate the inequitable distribution of information and also ensure that the responsibility for acting as a resource on advancement does not rest solely with managers.

Even when career paths are articulated, few companies disclose the skills and competencies needed to advance. Again, leaders can’t assume that all employees implicitly understand what it takes to receive a promotion. Instead, they should make the information as clear and accessible as possible.

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How Is Your Company Doing on Its DEI Journey?

To assess your best opportunities to advance, explore this demo version of the DEI Opportunity Identifier built by Bain & Company and Grads of Life.

How Verizon took action

In response to its employees’ stated desire for more career development resources and opportunities, and to empower employees with control over their own careers, Verizon launched Talent GPS in 2021. Talent GPS is a comprehensive tool that provides visibility into available jobs at Verizon, along with the skills and competencies needed for each role. The tool democratizes access to career information by making it universally available to all employees, and skills-based role requirements ensure that growth opportunities are equitable. Verizon plans to roll out Talent GPS in phases over several years, with the initial phase focusing on a market-driven job architecture with consistent job families and titles.

When Talent GPS is fully rolled out, Verizon employees will be able to determine how their role fits into a broader career path at Verizon and understand the most effective paths to work their way up. It will also help employees determine if their current career path is a good fit for them and offer options for pursuing new career directions.

Christy Pambianchi, chief human resources officer at Verizon, said, “We really want to empower employees so they can realize their greatest ambitions, and Talent GPS will put them in the driver's seat to own and build their future at Verizon.”

About Grads of Life

We work with leading employers to create inclusive talent strategies that deliver both social impact and business benefits. Through our data-driven approach, we help companies understand their current positioning and create customized engagements to help them achieve their goals.

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