Work/23: The Big Shift
Even organizations that specifically focus on advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) struggle with improving representation in a sustainable way. Women and people of color continue to face obstacles advancing to more senior roles and are frequently not positioned to succeed in the same ways as their White male counterparts.
That was the message from Haig R. Nalbantian, cofounder and coleader of the Workforce Sciences Institute, during Work/23, an MIT Sloan Management Review symposium held in May 2023. Nalbantian helps organizations apply evidence-based, empirical methods to strengthen their DEI efforts and retention strategies and asserts that “the surging use of analytics in the HR domain to inform work and workforce management” is a big part of the future of work.
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While talent and drive are important in shaping careers, situational factors profoundly affect what happens to employees at work. They include employees’ access to “accelerator” roles, such as customer-facing jobs; how employees navigate flexible work arrangements, such as part-time status; and employees’ reporting relationships, such as whether they report to higher-level or high-performing supervisors. Nalbantian noted that these easy-to-identify circumstances, which he called explained differences, are prevalent.
Many organizations also have pervasive and sizable unexplained disparities regarding who gets chosen for promotions. Nalbantian said that in both his own studies and others, “women are actually more likely to be highly rated” by their managers at elite, large employers — all things being equal — “but in the majority of companies, they’re less likely to be promoted.”
He said it is critical that companies address the explained differences and explore the unexplained disparities.
Nalbantian wasn’t able to get to all of the questions from attendees during the event, so he answers some of them below. (Questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity.)
Does your research address intersectionality in its analysis? You talked about women and people of color, but what about women of color and other people with multiple intersecting minority identities?
In many of the client cases covered in my study, we did indeed examine intersectionality directly. We’ve done this quite a bit in larger U.S.-based organizations that have adequate populations of these demographic groups for modeling purposes.
One of the areas of particular interest to client organizations is intersectionality with respect to reporting relationships.