“Potential” and the Gender Promotion Gap | Working Paper from Yale, MIT, and University of Minnesota Researchers

Talent Management

A firm’s ability to accurately identify and develop high-potential employees is a key outcome of talent management. Simultaneously, fairness and objectivity are critical to all talent practices, and organizations place priority on diversity, equity, and inclusion. In a study by researchers from Yale, MIT, and the University of Minnesota, assessment and promotion records for nearly 30,000 employees from a large retail chain were analyzed. The study found that while women got higher performance ratings than men, they were consistently—and incorrectly—judged as having less leadership potential. Women are 14% less likely to be promoted at the company each year, and differences in potential ratings account for 30-50% of the gender promotion gap. As HR leaders and their teams refine 2022 priorities, one area of focus might be to revisit their high-potential selection criteria. They can use people analytics to determine where assessment biases disproportionately and unfairly affect certain employee groups, including women. And while refining assessment criteria is one solution, I have posted previous research showing that women get less honest performance and development feedback than men. HR teams should consider this feedback component as they develop holistic strategies to address barriers to women’s career advancement.

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