In the course of our research we identified two novel approaches to advance women. This article will focus on one of the two novel approaches; articulating invisible information.
Articulating invisible information
The second novel approach we identified in this research is the concept of articulating invisible information within the organization. One of the benefits of a high-status network is that unwritten knowledge is passed around. Therefore, a key way to advance individuals not in those high-status networks is to make that unwritten information visible. Put plainly, women need to have access to information about the opportunities within an organization, so they can effectively execute them. As one executive we spoke to put it,
“It’s about being intentional – as soon as you give women the information, they're perfectly capable of being aware and knowing what to do – versus the inequitable [process] that took place in the past.”
However, relatively few organizations made note of this in our discussions, and fewer are taking action to bubble information to the surface and take it out of the informal hallway discussions among closed networks. Perhaps the greatest challenge with this practice is that organizations may not be aware of the information shared in closed, high-powered networks – and may not even have identified the high-powered network. Without this information, it can be hard to figure out what information should be made visible.
To that end, we suggest the following activities:
- Identify critical information in high-power networks
- Identify hidden information in low-power networks
- Document all the steps – both formal and informal – in promotion processes and share that information broadly
- Take steps to ensure everyone has access to critical information
1. Identify critical information in high-power networks
As we’ve noted below, there is a lot of critical information about how to be promoted and specific career opportunities to pursue available within high-power networks. To make this information more visible, organizations need to both identify high-power networks and to determine the critical information within them.
Organizations can use ONA, offered by companies such as Humanyze, Innovisor, Polinode, and TrustSphere, to uncover some of the hidden networks and the key influencers or connectors within those networks. For example, in Figure 1, we can see a network that has been colored by gender. This visual allows us to see the less connected networks (on the edges), who are the network brokers (the single nodes connecting networks) and the centrality of other networks (how central a node is within the map).
Once these networks are identified, traditional solutions (e.g., surveys, quick pulse polls, focus groups) can be deployed to understand what employees know about specific factors. For example, organizations may want to know what might influence career progression such as steps for being promoted, how to build support for promotion, and how to identify and access critical development opportunities. Organizations can identify this information and then take steps to make it visible and accessible to the appropriate levels and individuals across the organization through current technologies (e.g., SharePoint sites). Another approach is to leverage some of the social networking sites (e.g., Guild, Fairygodboss, or Fishbowl, mentioned earlier) to share some of this promotion information more broadly. Finally, interventions that purposely connect people within one network to another (action learning projects, cross-functional projects, internal gig-work, matched mentorship or sponsorship) could help with the sharing of critical information.
There are plenty of other opportunities for technology to be used to make information in high-power networks visible in the future. For example, we have seen prototypes of technology that will automatically flag relevant job posts to employees, highlighting job opportunities that women may not know about from their network or based on their own research. In addition, there are some technologies (e.g., from Visier, Fuel50, and PageUp People) that highlight, given a specific position, career paths people have taken within the organization. We could foresee that technology being focused specifically for women, helping them see the paths of other women in the organization and illustrating how some of the most senior women in the organization rose. We could also see organizations opening internal blogs or videos to leaders to talk more transparently about how they were promoted and the keys to their rise (highlighting broadly previously hidden information).
2. Identify hidden information in low-power networks
Interestingly, another type of “hidden” information in organizational networks is who should be promoted or identified as a HIPO but are not because they are not members of a high-status network. There is relatively new technology available to help organizational leaders uncover this information. For example, SAP SuccessFactors’ has a feature that enables HR and leaders, during the calibration process, to identify if someone has been a high performer for a certain period of time, but not been promoted (see Figure 2). This is especially a challenge for women, because research shows they are more likely to be rated as high performers than men, but less likely to be promoted.
Other technologies can help identify if women are underrepresented within the HIPO pool. As shown in Figure 3, SAP SuccessFactors provides leaders with a way to compare the total representation with the representation levels in the HIPO pools. In this example of photo-less calibration, you can see the overall population is roughly 38% women, but that no women are identified as high-potential. While this may be known (and potentially appropriate) within a certain group, these technologies can make visible this type of trend across broader swaths of the enterprise. It can also provide an opportunity to re-examine the women who are deemed high-performing and understand what is preventing them from also being labeled high-potential.
3. Document all the steps – both formal and informal – in promotion processes and share that information broadly
Once the critical information regarding promotion processes is documented, it is important to share that information broadly so that individuals in lower-power networks can access it. Almost every organization we spoke to highlighted their use of basic technologies (e.g., Skype, SharePoint) to share at least some information about promotion or succession processes. However, the challenge is that sometimes the information is too generic or focuses too much on the formal processes instead of the information activities and behaviors necessary for promotion.
4. Take steps to ensure everyone is receiving information regularly
While this suggestion seems terribly simple, it can still make a big difference. At its essence, this suggestion is to make sure that all the appropriate individuals are being looped into emails, chats, and meetings. It is easier for someone to “forget” someone who needs a communication if they are not perceived as being in the high-power network.
In the course of our interviews, one simple hack to address this problem was shared: to make email lists (e.g., “Senior Leadership Team”) that include everyone, so that women aren’t left off the list when emails are being sent. As one woman stated,
“When the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) email list was used, I would get all the communications. If people added people by name, inevitably at least one of us women would get left off the communication.”
There are technological solutions that can help with this issue of communication equality. For example, one technology, offered by Humanyze, can show who is receiving emails or meeting notifications versus who would be expected to receive those notifications, given the group’s gender representation. For example, in Figure 4, we can see the amount of communications via email by gender. The black line indicates the representation level within the group (e.g., for Finance, approximately 50% of the team is women). However, within that Finance group, 70% of the email communications is between men. This could show that women are not being included in important email communications. This same sort of analysis can be done for meeting invitations or chat interactions.
Another technology, Worklytics, tries to address this challenge by offering email-based nudges for other people to include in a specific email or work event invitation. This technology works by generating a list of the most important work events1 in an organization (e.g., key meetings, shared documents, projects, and email threads) and then scoring each work event for diversity by looking at the relative number of differing demographic groups involved in the event. By tracking the average diversity of the organizations most important work events, Worklytics can provide a sense of the level of access to key opportunities for growth within an organization or sub-group. (see Figure 5).
We’ve mentioned a lot of vendors in this section. Figure 6 summarizes those we included. Please note, a list of all vendors included in this report is in the Appendix.
Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.
- The Oxford English Dictionary defines the Gig Economy as “A way of working that is based on people having temporary jobs or doing separate pieces of work, each paid separately, rather than working for an employer.” Internal gig-work marketplaces take the same concept of temporary jobs or separate pieces of work and make them available to internal employees. See Dan Pontefract’s article on internal talent marketplaces for a nice summary: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danpontefract/2018/02/02/why-your-organization-needs-an-internal-gig-economy-platform/#41c16c5779e2.