Knowledge Center

Break the Cycle—Senior Leaders: Self-Assessment and Action Plan

Catalyst research shows that gender bias can seep into talent management systems, affecting every employee at every level in a vicious cycle. Senior leaders’ influence on the talent management process can yield new senior leaders who mirror their own traits and biases—creating a biased talent management cycle. Senior Leaders: learn more about setting the right tone with your behavior by downloading this Supporter-only tool. 

As you use this tool, also consider taking the following five actions:

  1. Expose Unwritten Rules: “Unwritten rules” about what it takes to be successful in the workplace are often communicated through informal networks that are not equally accessible to all employees, especially women and underrepresented groups.* For example, if you share advice and discuss opportunities over drinks or on the golf course, employees outside of your immediate networks will be excluded from that essential information. In order for everyone to have a chance to succeed, hold formal sessions with new and promoted employees where you and other senior leaders can share the unwritten rules and create an open forum for questions.
  2. Hold Yourself and Others Accountable: Set targets or goals to increase the representation of women and other underrepresented groups throughout the pipeline. Link the achievement of these goals to performance criteria and/or compensation for you and all other senior leaders. 
  3. Dispel the Myth of Meritocracy: Research shows that when we believe everyone is evaluated only on merit, we don’t think we have to interrupt our own unconscious biases because we assume the system will take care of it. This actually leads people to behave in more biased ways. Close that accountability gap. Openly acknowledge that inequalities exist for women and other underrepresented groups, and stop making meritocratic statements. Be transparent in employee evaluations and promotions, and check that outcomes are fair.
  4. Send the Right Message: When profiling new hires and promotions, highlight the strengths and skills you’re looking for with words that both women and men can relate and aspire to. Speak to the importance of diversity and inclusion in your organization by sharing your own personal story and asking others about theirs.
  5. Your Behavior Matters. Your team is looking to you to set the tone. Role model and highlight behaviors that welcome diverse talents and build inclusive teams. Widen your network when choosing talent, and actively champion and sponsor people who look different from you. 

*This could include veterans, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.

How to cite this product: Catalyst, Break the Cycle—Senior Leaders: Self-Assessment and Action Plan (Catalyst, 2018).