I believe the workforce is ready for systemic change. The pandemic brought an unprecedented acceleration of digital transformation that had a disproportionate impact on minorities. As we return to work, whatever form that takes—hybrid, remote, onsite—we have an opportunity to reinvent. What if instead of attempting to return to normal, we can strive to be better?

In this second year of the pandemic, businesses are having a tough time filling skill gaps. Yet, there are millions of unemployed and underemployed people looking for work. Our latest research, Hidden Worker, conducted in partnership with Harvard Business School, shows that many non-traditional workers have the skills or the capacity to develop additional skills. Yet, they are overlooked in searches, many of which have been automated, screening these candidates out based on rigid job descriptions.

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A case for systemic change

Yet, there is an opportunity for change. We work with many organizations, providing readiness assessment, change management and coaching, so they can focus on creating an environment for candidates to thrive. For example, one client I work with was seeking to transform their workforce. They understood that the pandemic exacerbated intersectionality in the pool of workers they were targeting. Intersectional discrimination happens when groups of people are experiencing multiple forms of discrimination at once, such as race, gender, or sexual orientation. Or, in addition to being discriminated based on one of these several factors, they can also be discriminated due to challenging life circumstances, such as gaps in employment, lack of formal education, or criminal records. The client set itself the task to provide equal employment opportunities, and they chose to focus on women.

Women workers were hit hard by the pandemic

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$1T

Wage earnings foregone in the economy by women “missing” in the labor force, as reported by the  Aspen Institute.1 

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740M

Women work in the informal economy per the  ILO.2 Their income fell 60% during the first month of the pandemic, as reported by UN Women.3

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5.3M

Estimated jobs lost by women since Feb. 2020, which accounts for 54% of the overall net job loss. Two-in-five of the jobs lost have not returned since the pandemic, as reported by NWLC.4

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We assessed the organization’s future needs and developed a road map that focused on identifying skills that the company would require more and more as it grew. Instead of starting with a rigid set of job descriptions that focused on finding candidates the traditional way, we imagined roles based on the foundational skills that we had identified.

Among skills vital for future growth, digital literacy skillslike data analytics and cloudproved to be in the highest demand and the most difficult to find. So, as a result, we took a wider, more creative approach based on training. We identified prospects from a wide worker pool that was targeting women, looking to be inclusive of individuals that may have been forced to choose between work and personal responsibilities, like caregiving. As long as they possessed the right skills, these candidates have the potential to become valuable workers that will accelerate growth for the company.

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Create belonging

Filling today’s skill gap is an opportunity for systemic change: as we focus concurrently on diversity and development, we are forced to assess how we welcome people into our organizations. When it comes to essential people skills, organizational and individual factors, there are four categories that influence people’s sense of belonging: 1) decision autonomy; 2) respect from peers and managers; 3) psychological safety, feeling comfortable speaking up; and 4) opportunities for advancement and growth. According to  Pipeline research, the return for adapting our hiring strategy is directly correlated with growth: companies experience a 1- 2% increase in revenue for every 10% increase in intersectional gender equity.

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3 steps to take now

To create an equitable, diverse pool of workers, here are three actionable steps I propose you take today:

1. Elevate the skilling agenda to the CEO 

The CEO is the visible and vocal business leader shaping the future of work and underscoring how critical skills are to be linked to business outcomes. There is an opportunity to lift skilling and building a future workforce to the CEO’s agenda to shape the future of business. Working in partnership with the CHRO to design a recruiting strategy for current and future skill gaps and to align benefits, the CEO will play an instrumental role in securing permission within the organization to do things differently.

2. Commit to skills-based hiring

Recruiting based on skills is focused on developing worker pools with various skills that drive business outcomes, not necessarily on filling jobs. It is a holistic view of workers, which weaves together talent, skilling and diversity and inclusion. The four need to be interdependent and should not be approached separately.

3. Offer ongoing learning and development 

Leadership commitment to learning and development of workers is no longer a nice-to-have. It is what workers want and what leadership needs to offer to stay competitive. Skilling is not about reaching a finishing line, but it is a durable, long-term approach to staying relevant, today and in the future, by constantly acquiring new skills. It is a great driver of retention and an opportunity to “re-recruit” existing workers by creating opportunities for them to acquire new skills or enhance current ones.

When we pay attention to what belongs, and reevaluate our beliefs around what doesn’t, we’re building the future workplace to be more welcoming and innovative. I know implementing systemic change requires breaking habits, cycles and even legacies. Yet, there is no going back to the business-as-usual of a few years back. So, better seize opportunities for building a more inclusive future to leave both business and people net better off.

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See more on Workforce Insights

1 Aspen Institute
2 ILO
3 UN Women
4 NWLC

Kristen Hines

Managing Director – Talent & Organization / Human Potential, Inclusion & Diversity, Global Lead

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