Opening Access to the Fast Track for Career Equity

Understanding employee circumstances that contribute to or block paths to promotion can help managers position women and people of color more equitably.

Reading Time: 20 min 


Permissions and PDF

Davide Bonazzi/

Business leaders tend to focus their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts on addressing bias and discrimination because these practices are pervasive and discrimination is illegal. But in the process, they overlook situational factors that play a leading role — and are easier to address — in determining whether women and people of color get promoted and are among the higher paid.

Career and pay equity are inextricably linked. Women and people of color continue to be underrepresented among managers and executives, and often among senior professionals as well.1 While pay equity is improving for these demographic groups, the raw pay gaps (average and median differences between women and men, and between people of color and White employees) remain high in many companies. These pay gaps will persist until women and people of color occupy the career levels and roles that command the highest pay at a rate that reasonably reflects their representation in the workforce.

Inequity not only hurts individual employees; it also deprives businesses of the talent that is overlooked. If leaders understand how situational factors affect their employees’ prospects for advancement, they can apply proactive career management (PCM) — identifying and removing barriers to employee success — to make their workplaces more equitable and more productive.

To better understand the factors underlying these differences in career outcomes, I examined the results of analyses of multiple years of promotion, retention, performance, and pay data in 20 large and midsize companies that collectively employed more than 700,000 people. The findings confirmed that significant gender and racial differences in promotion probability for women and people of color are attributable to four factors that are consistently consequential to employees’ success: performance ratings, role assignments, reporting relationships, and flexible working arrangements.

With the exception of performance ratings, these factors are related to an employee’s circumstances, not their knowledge, skills, or behavior.



1. R. Edwards, R. Guzzo, C. Jackson, et al., “Let’s Get Real About Equality,” white paper, Mercer, New York, March 3, 2020.

2. H.R. Nalbantian, “The Critical Importance of Roles in Career Equity,” CFO, Dec. 8, 2022,

3. H.R. Nalbantian, “How Flexible Work Can Undermine Career Advancement — and What to Do About It,” Brink, Dec. 12, 2022,

4. H.R. Nalbantian, “The Internal Labor Market Paradigm: A Model for Using Analytics to Evaluate and Interpret Workforce and Business Performance Data,” in the “The Talent Management Handbook,” 3rd ed., eds. L.A. Berger and D.R. Berger (New York: McGraw Hill, 2017), 542-555.

i. See H.R. Nalbantian, “An Employer’s Guide to Achieving and Sustaining Pay and Career Equity at Work,” white paper, Mercer, New York, November 2022.

Reprint #:


More Like This

Add a comment

You must to post a comment.

First time here? Sign up for a free account: Comment on articles and get access to many more articles.