September 15, 2023 - Written By Trenae M. Thomas, Manager of Workforce Equity, Markle Foundation | Blog Archive
Equity is at the forefront of many necessary conversations today. It has been the foundation for change within organizations, a call to action in communities, and a rallying cry for marginalized groups. However, as widely as equity is embraced theoretically, its application leaves many wondering where to start.
What is equity?
Equity, in its most simplistic form is a basic human desire to be seen and valued. Equity is formally defined by Merriam-Webster as justice and fairness or freedom from bias or favoritism. The methods for achieving equity, however, must be examined and contextualized for every essential life domain including education, healthcare, home ownership and workforce. Calls for equity—no matter the context—are a plea to understand that all systems are not created equal, and a clarion call to action.
Career navigation and workforce equity
The Markle Foundation—whose primary focus is workforce equity through the Rework America Alliance—focuses on driving the adoption of more equitable practices for job seekers. Often when equity is discussed in relation to employment, people consider workplace equity, which focuses on the work environment however, the pathway toward getting a job at an equitable workplace is riddled with barriers and challenges for marginalized talent groups. From access to education, training opportunities, the recruitment and interview process, and every aspect that comes before achieving the prize of quality employment. This doesn’t just impact individuals, the inequitable processes and implicit bias during this phase negatively impact opportunities for organizations to benefit from diverse perspectives that lead to improved innovation, increased productivity, and stronger organizational commitment. The processes associated with job searching and recruitment are where strategies to create an equitable workforce should be concentrated and can be most impactful.
Creating an equitable workforce is not a charitable endeavor but instead a key driver of American economic growth, organizational productivity and innovation.
The importance of equity for America’s shifting workforce
Workforce equity is more than a social justice initiative that benefits marginalized groups. History has demonstrated that economic growth can increase by as much as 25% when there were intentional efforts to reduce occupational barriers for Black people and women. Diverse organizations are better at optimizing processes, solving problems, and creating a broader range of access to influence, and information, ultimately leading to an increase in productivity.
As President John F. Kennedy often stated, “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Workforce equity is an essential component of a thriving society locally, nationally, and globally. It is undeniable that the composition of the American workforce is shifting. By 2030 people of color will make up more than half of the national workforce. To unlock the potential of a workforce that is representative of the richness and diversity of our society and ensure justice and fairness that benefits all, it is imperative that we create an ecosystem that is equitable in its entry, engagement, elevation, and earnings.
Occupational segregation and the wealth gap in America
The byproduct of inequitable systems may be obscured by perspectives, optimism, or reluctance to recognize how unjust systems negatively impact millions. However, workforce data indicates the job seeking and career navigation experience is not favorable for marginalized talent groups who consistently encounter interpersonal discrimination, occupational segregation, and limited access to advancement opportunities. White men dominate the top ten highest paid professions while most women are concentrated in lower-paid occupations— highlighting the negative influence of gender stereotypes on the career navigation process— however, white women have had greater success with entry into new professional experiences. One in five Black women are concentrated in domestic care occupations such as home health aides, childcare workers and personal aides, while the top three professions for Hispanic and Latina women are maids/housekeepers, cashiers, and janitors with an annual average wage of $23,000. The disparity in representation is a phenomenon known as occupational segregation defined as a discriminatory practice where individuals are underrepresented and are intentionally ignored by others in authority the ill effects of which lead to feelings of invisibility, and diminished overall well-being.
Another inequitable outcome as a result of occupational segregation is the creation of the wealth gap. The oversaturation of minorities in low-quality jobs create a wealth gap, or disparity of assets. According to census.gov in 2021 the median income for white families was $74,262, Hispanic families, $57,981, and $ 48,815 annually for Black families. This disparity highlights the growing wealth gap which has increased 1.2% between 2020 and 2021. It is estimated that closing the wealth gap could create a 4-6% increase or 1.5 trillion-dollar boost to the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2028. According to John Rice, CEO & Founder at Management Leadership for Tomorrow, 75% of the wealth gap is based on actions by employers including hiring practices, benefits, development and advancement opportunities. Due to a lack of health insurance, retirement plans, paid sick leave and other benefits the overall health of individuals and communities are negatively impacted and resources are depleted. Systems and processes must change.
A skills-based approach to improving workforce equity
Understanding the benefits of creating a more equitable workforce on multiple levels is why Markle has focused its efforts on advocating for and supporting the development of effective skills-based talent management practices. A skills-based approach is a method for leveling the playing field by reducing the opportunity for bias in the decision-making processes. Markle strives to have an impact on the ecosystem by focusing on both those who provide support to job seekers and employers, by providing resources, training, and best practices through the creation of expert sourced curriculum and tools. These include the Skillful Talent Series training to help employers apply a skills-focused approach to hiring and talent management, Hiring Toolkits with interview guides to reduce implicit bias, tools like the Job Posting Generator to reduce bias in job postings that may deter marginalized talent groups from applying and strategies for career coaches to help job seekers lead with their skills. It is the efforts of organizations like Markle and its Alliance members, and others – including employers – that can create a change in systems and processes that lead the charge in impacting workforce equity. It is paramount for organizations to begin establishing, committing, and following through with clear actionable goals around equity for the work to continue and have the necessary impact.
What systems or processes can you influence?