Skip to main content

how internal mobility can drive greater DE&I ​​– diversity, equity and inclusion.


‘When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become a wiser, more inclusive and better organization.’

 – Pat Wadors, former CHRO, LinkedIn

Some aspect of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) seems to be at the heart of just about every conversation in HR – and rightly so. When we make the workplace fairer, act more inclusively, and do more to create diversity of thought, we’re enabling people to produce better results and be more satisfied at work, and better driving career development.

One way we can do all of these things is by implementing an internal mobility strategy that makes the process for internal moves more transparent and democratic. Facilitating greater internal talent mobility has many other benefits, but if you've never considered it as a route to improving DEI, here's the evidence.

how a lack of internal mobility stifles DE&I efforts

Let's imagine a workplace that has an unsophisticated approach to HR and lets internal mobility happen 'naturally,' without being intentional in making internal hires part of the culture:

  • Internal moves – usually promotions – tend to happen as a result of who you know and how well connected you are.
  • Managers largely hire in something that resembles their own likeness, which perpetuates existing biases and skewed demographics.
  • When recruiters do look internally, their focus is on finding someone who has existing experience in the key areas for the role they're trying to fill.
  • Employees don't have access to data or information on who has previously moved internally, and which roles they went from and to.
  • Career development can slow down, or stop all together.

This organization is going to struggle to make any progress in fostering more diversity, equity, and inclusiveness amongst its team members. Thankfully, such an unenlightened approach is rare nowadays – but pockets of these behaviors do exist in many organizations, and holds them back from what they could achieve for their employees on the DEI front.

So how can companies overcome those barriers? By being more intentional with internal mobility. Organizations should put measures in place to facilitate a democratized approach to internal mobility (and leverage the latest tools and technology to do so) to better address these barriers. But that’s just the beginning. 

related content: how organizations can future-proof their workforces by promoting career mobility.

leveling the playing field

Building an internal network is important to career success and career development, and has been shown to improve retention. However, if it’s the primary mechanism by which employees hear of new internal opportunities, or network connections are an important factor in who's likely to get picked for the role, that's unfair.

Introducing a talent marketplace levels the playing field and makes finding and securing an internal move fairer for everyone. Every internal opportunity should be posted, and all employees should be given access to them.

JR Keller's 2015 study provides compelling evidence that employees hired via an internal marketplace posting outperform those who were sponsored by an internal connection on almost every dimension.

related content: how internal networks can help employees reskill and upskill.

minimizing hiring manager bias

A talent marketplace can also dramatically reduce the opportunity for manager bias to negatively impact the scope for internal mobility programs to support greater DEI. A talent marketplace will usually include some form of AI that intelligently matches employees to suitable roles, and presents them in ranked order of fit for hiring managers and recruiters to easily assess the potential of internal hires.This can break old habits and challenge managers to think differently about how employees from more diverse backgrounds can be a good fit for their open roles.

One area where this can have a tangible impact is in moving closer to gender equality in leadership roles. 

SHL recently conducted research into leadership mobility and found 'context' was the key factor in successful transitions into leadership roles. Having looked at nearly 9,000 leaders, 58% of those that were a contextually high fit for their roles were women.

UBS, who developed its own talent marketplace called the Career Navigator, also sees it as an important component in providing more support for women's career development and addressing senior female attrition.

Mercer reports that some organizations can overlook how generally equal representation of all groups across the company can mask an issue with increasing under-representation of some employees as they advance through the levels. Having a good internal mobility program in the workplace can help ensure equal and fair representation is more likely at all levels.

casting the net wider for key skills

Conventional thinking is that someone who's done the job before will be the best fit, but that's not great for internal mobility and encouraging more diverse hires, and it isn’t good for career development. An alternative approach is to look for 'skills adjacencies', as employees with similar skills are likely to be a good fit. But there’s also evidence that people with unrelated skills can successfully transition into a variety of highly technical roles.

Cybersecurity is one area where many companies have a number of openings and are chasing an inadequate supply of skilled labor externally. However, cybersecurity is a multidisciplinary field, and people with knowledge of finance, risk, law and regulatory environments could all transition into this area. And it’s not just cybersecurity – LinkedIn's 2021 Workplace Learning Report also highlighted how the majority of people now moving into data science, engineering, content and sales roles are coming from unrelated disciplines.

By using data analytics to model unconventional career paths people have already taken to move into roles like cybersecurity, organizations can better identify others internally who fit the model and could be supported to develop these skills. And there are other, seemingly small things, that can make a difference. Kat Matfield's Gender Decoder is a great free tool to analyze any internal (or external) job posting for gender-coded language. A few small changes to the wording could encourage more women to apply for traditionally male-dominated roles.

related content: 3 ways to support an employee-first experience through internal career growth opportunities.

changing the narrative

If employees in under-represented groups can't see people like them progressing through the organization, the concept of internal mobility can become very demotivating. In addition to using data from an internal mobility platform to showcase examples of career development from people from diverse backgrounds, other methods can be employed to inspire employees about what's possible in your organization, whatever their background.

'Career storytelling' helps people discover how other employees they can relate to have progressed, or taken career paths that they aspire to. Gartner recommends intentionally focusing internal resource and diversity networks on bringing together people from a particular under-represented group at different levels of seniority and with different skills and experience. Gartner's research found that organizations that were doing this reported greater inclusion and were 1.3 times more likely to be effective at increasing diverse employee engagement.

Research from BCG, surveying 16,500 people worldwide, identified that 'Visible role models who represent diversity in leadership' was cited as one of the top ten programs an employer could undertake to support women, people of color and LGBTQ+ employees in promoting greater DEI.

A good internal mobility program allows a company to do this easily by highlighting the career paths others have taken and showing the skills and work assignments that will help employees follow a similar track.

the case for using internal mobility to improve DE&I

Diversity, equity and inclusion can undoubtedly be improved by implementing a well-thought-out internal mobility strategy. McKinsey's 'Delivering Through Diversity' report showed that top-quartile companies for gender equality on their executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform others on profitability; and companies in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity on their executive teams were 33% more likely to deliver industry-leading profitability.

The mandate from the C-suite appears to be strong: 96% of CEOs agreed that DEI would be a strategic priority for them in 2021. So why is it on the HR agenda so often with gaps still needing to be closed?

One reason is undoubtedly the impact of the pandemic. The World Economic Forum predicted that the pandemic has pushed back the time it will take to close the global gender parity gap by over 30 years. No doubt there will be similar impacts in other areas of under-representation too.

While many businesses are still constrained in what they can invest in due to COVID, the argument for introducing an internal mobility program is strong. Because it benefits all employees – and offers so many other benefits in other areas, like career development, engagement and retention – it’s rapidly rising up the HR agenda.

There are many workplace challenges facing HR leaders at present. Fostering greater diversity, equity and inclusion has been an important one for some time. While progress is still challenging, technology is enabling new solutions that can overcome the complexity of the challenges in ways that are easy to implement and that have a rapid impact on employees.

Our combination of consulting expertise, person-to-person coaching and industry-leading technology could enable your organization to see greater diversity, inclusion and equity in talent mobility initiatives – helping your employees to attain their career goals and your organization to reach its business objectives.