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Promotions, development and succession planning

Having clear and transparent processes for promotion and development means they are more likely to be structured, followed more consistently and auditable. Being able to audit processes enables organisations to better understand potential inequities

Employer recommendations

Establish inclusive and equitable promotion processes

  • Be transparent about all available opportunities to avoid opportunities being handed to 'those in the know' or 'more connected' people or to people 'who look like me' increasing opportunities to a more diverse group of employees. Make all opportunities (promotions, vacancies posted externally, secondments, stretch assignments, international assignments) easily visible so that assumptions aren't left to managers about a person's 'readiness' or appetite for progression or stretch assignments.
  • Ensure there is a strong support structure for employees returning from parental leave to find the right positions and opportunities so they can continue to have an impact and progress in their careers based on their skills.
  • Create built-in career option touch points to make it easier for employees to experience career options to boost their confidence in careers at the organisation. Using technology to crowdsource diverse career routes to provide examples of the many ways employees can progress their careers beyond vertical, in-role opportunities. Expanding the scope of career support beyond existing internal role options so employees can create careers that achieve their personal and professional goals', 'Career Pathing Should Be Like Satellite Navigation, Not a Map', 2022, Gartner.
  • Publish criteria and process for promotions (and development opportunity) decision making. Publishing criteria and the process forces managers to make evidence-based decisions and means they can be held to account. Include the criteria for making hiring, promotion, salary decisions, who makes these decisions and the steps or processes used to arrive at a decision. 'Transparency means being open about processes, policies and criteria for decision-making. This means employees are clear what is involved, and that managers understand that their decisions need to be objective and evidence-based because those decisions can be reviewed by others. Introducing transparency to promotion, pay and reward processes can reduce pay inequalities', Govt. 'Actions to close the gender pay gap report'.
  • Adopt a skills-first approach to development and promotion.  A skills-based approach to development allows organisations to create deliberate pathways based on the skills an employee already has and bridge the skills gap to the next role. Employers can proactively prepare for that progression: if employers know which skills are needed for each role in their organisation, they can identify the skills gaps and overlaps between lower-level and higher-level positions and create training and transition plans to help employees progress internally. Learn more on this in 'The rise of skills-based promotion' and in the Skills-Based Internal Mobility Playbook, a resource built by members of the US Multiple Pathways Initiative. 

    The US based Multiple Pathways Initiative is a multi-year targeted effort to reform companies’ hiring and talent management practices to emphasize the value of skills, rather than just degrees, and to improve equity, diversity and workplace culture and has nearly 80 Business Roundtable member companies participating (including Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Accenture, American Express etc).

  • Use a formal process for selecting employees for promotion to increase fairness and transparency for all employees and specifically to those who lack a strong network across the organisation.

  • Is performance evaluation and promotion criteria objective?  'Do these include references to subjectively defined “potential” or “fit”? Do they include preferences for a specific work style (e.g., teamwork)? When criteria other than outcomes are considered, the most marginalized are the least likely to be similar to the rater and most likely to be negatively impacted by the similarity bias', An Intersectional Approach to Inclusion at Work, HBR, 2022.
  • Advertise promotion opportunities and track and monitor who applies for promotion opportunities. Is the percentage of applications from underrepresented groups proportionate to applications from majority groups (% applications from Women vs % of applications from Men, % applications from disabled employees vs % of applications from non disabled employees etc)?. Leaders can monitor for this within their teams. Reporting on this data can be done retrospectively and consider a number of opportunities within a specific timeframe to ensure anonymity.  🔦At KPMG UK, when a promotion is advertised, line managers are encouraged to check whether their high potential women colleagues have applied and if not ask why. Martin Blackburn, former People Director at KPMG UK explains: ‘Where the men would apply for a role if they had 80% of the [required] skills, women would think they were missing 20% and not bother’.
  • Compare the promotion rates of part-time employees against the promotion rates of full-time peers and investigate discrepancies.
  • Enact a "fair work allocation" policy that ensures team members are being given the opportunity to undertake their fair share of tasks that would set them up well for recognition or promotion, for example client facing work or high visibility projects. Failure to delegate high-value work fairly can otherwise result in certain employees, such as part-time workers, being denied the same opportunities of their counterparts to progress. Similarly, the viral article "Being Glue" by Tanya Reilly, highlights that women may be taking on the bulk of highly valuable but 'non-promotable tasks', such as updating documents and roadmaps, onboarding junior team members, responding to requests from within the business or from users. The time spent on these activities is of huge benefit to the business but may unfairly hinder the employee's ability to make a case for their promotion.
  • Train and appoint people (in the business, not in HR) to take on the role of 'bias buster' for all meetings where the purpose is discussing readiness, performance or potential.


Australian research has debunked the myth that competing work-home priorities are the reason women are less likely to secure senior management roles. Instead the research found that many senior leaders do not value the different attributes that women are perceived to bring to a team and are more likely to promote individuals similar to themselves; and that the leadership attributes perceived to be more likely to be demonstrated by men are more readily acknowledged and rewarded by most organisations.

  • Publish examples of commonly used (unhelpful) phrases used to describe people during talent discussions showing how these phrases impact decision making. An example table is on page 6 in 'In the eye of the beholder: avoiding the merit trap' report from Male Champions of Change.

Make succession planning inclusive

  • Establish a continuous, inclusive succession planning process that begins far in advance of a succession event, outlines future-focused selection criteria and supports the development of internal candidates from underrepresented groups.
  • Prime leaders on unconscious bias and use accountability to increase inclusion. For example, assign all senior leaders a role to hold each other accountable for broadening the talent pool and ensuring all talent is equitably considered. Read Case Study: Embedding D&I Into Succession Management, Novo Nordisk & Gartner.
  • Ask senior leaders to document (as formal prework) the critical skills and qualifications required before discussing individual candidates. Questions like, “As you think about the strategic plan of the organisation, how do you see your role fitting in and how will it change?” nudging senior leaders to think more clearly about the objective criteria required. Once the succession conversation begins, senior leaders agree the identified skills and qualifications before considering potential successors. By distinguishing the successor from the role, senior leaders are encouraged to focus on the objective skills and qualifications needed for the role rather than letting their biases influence their decision making.
  • Refer to BITC's Inclusive Succession Planning: A Toolkit for Employers, developed to support employers to develop inclusive talent pipelines.

Further information and resources