By Veronica Calderon, Chief Inclusion, Belonging and Equity Officer, DeVry University
Women and people of color play a vital role in the U.S. economy. They are acknowledged as catalysts for innovation and organizational growth, especially for businesses seeking to remain agile in an ever-changing labor market. However, women and individuals from diverse backgrounds still grapple with numerous personal and professional inequities. These inequities go beyond pay parity and unfair recruitment practices, extending into their opportunities for continuous learning in the workplace.
DeVry University's Closing the Activation Gap: Converting Potential to Performance by Upskilling the Workforce report found how barriers like familial priorities, time constraints, and workplace bias and discrimination affect access to professional development for women and people of color. These barriers contribute to a newly obvious 'say/do gap,' where both employees and employers recognize the necessity of upskilling, but there is a lack of employee engagement in such resources. This gap, compounded by the daily obstacles they face personally and professionally, creates drawbacks for women and people of color in pursuing their career aspirations and being satisfied in their job roles.
Barriers to skills development for women and people of color
Diversity fosters improved decision-making, innovation and financial performance in the workplace. As an example, research indicates how companies that boast diverse leadership teams financially outperform their less diverse counterparts. From a worker perspective, a vast majority of employees value employers that prioritize workforce diversity – giving these employers a competitive edge in talent acquisition. Moreover, when individuals from diverse backgrounds collaborate in an inclusive environment, they are more inclined to foster innovation and question assumptions through their distinct experiences and insights.
Upskilling has become increasingly important as professions transform in response to evolving industry demands. However, for women and people of color, there are significant hurdles to accessing skills development opportunities in the workplace - potentially hindering the positive business outcomes that can result from an advanced and diverse workforce.
According to the report, only 56% of women report having access to upskilling compared to 73% of men, and only 37% of women say they used upskilling resources offered by their employer. In terms of barriers, a lack of time (41%) and family obligations (35%) present the largest obstacles for women in their pursuit for upskilling. Concerningly, this lack of access to upskilling leaves women twice as likely to leave their jobs compared to men.
For people of color, only 42% say they have access to and use skills development resources offered by their company. This could be due in part to workplace bias and discrimination with 37% of Black or African American, Hispanic, or Latino, and AAPI workers citing workplace bias and discrimination as limitations to their own upskilling goals. However, people of color who do not have upskilling are eager to use it as Black or African American (80%) and Hispanic or Latino (71%) workers who currently do not receive learning benefits would be more likely than white workers (62%) to use them.
Advancing skills undoubtedly opens the door to career advancement, satisfaction and retention. Companies that eliminate these barriers and offer accessible learning opportunities for their female and diverse talent are bound to see improved outcomes.
Actionable solutions to increase learning and development opportunities
The path to building a future-ready workforce includes diversity. Employers that offer inclusive upskilling programs will be at an advantage in creating a talent roster that is prepared for industry and labor market shifts.
As actionable solutions, employers can integrate upskilling programs in their organization's diversity, equity and inclusion goals to create accountability in ensuring the advancement of their diverse and female talent. In addition, providing flexible scheduling and tailored learning formats makes it easier for employees to engage in and complete upskilling programs. This could include bite-sized learning opportunities, self-paced online courses, or dedicated time for employees to upskill during the workday.
Elevating diverse talent through skills advancement will not only give employers a competitive edge in talent acquisition and retention, but it will also contribute to the success of their organization and diverse employees. However, this is only possible with the right upskilling programs in place. Working with an education partner like DeVry University, including its DeVryWorks division, can help companies tailor learning opportunities, identify skills needs, and deliver flexible upskilling solutions that improve participation and engagement.
To read the full Closing the Activation Gap: Converting Potential to Performance by Upskilling the Workforce report, click here.