Great L&D is about everyone – and it’s key to business success

Managers themselves should be developed to create new opportunities for their team to learn, Stephen Frost says 

Diversity in the workplace isn’t just an ideal any more – it’s a reality. It can take many forms; ethnic diversity, gender diversity and age diversity being just a few. But when designing an L&D process, the key thing to think about is inclusion. Inclusion is not synonymous with diversity; it’s a choice; it’s a conscious effort to upskill your whole workforce rather than a select few performers. It’s about getting the absolute best from your people and about everyone having a chance to contribute to the success of the business.

So, why is it important for L&D professionals and how can this influence the agenda? Take any organisation; in an increasingly globalised environment, businesses face a constant battle to stay relevant. If they don’t, they become homogenous, distance themselves from reality and fail to create value in the marketplace – and ultimately, the business will die.

It would be easy to focus our efforts on developing only the organisation’s extroverts or top performers, and to overlook those who haven’t rushed to put themselves forward for training or whose output isn’t in the top 10 per cent. But if L&D professionals miss these people out, then we bypass an enormous number of people with untapped skills who may be key to developing business.

The Japanese government have recently realised this. Entirely male-dominated until recent years, they introduced ‘Womenomics’ in 2012, an initiative intended to harness female power as a driver of economic growth. “Corporations have so far been driven by men’s ideas”, said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “But half the consumers are women. Introducing ideas by women would lead to new innovations, and present new values to corporations and eventually throughout society.” The same rings true when designing an L&D programme – if certain types of people aren’t pushed to develop, how can they add value for their counterparts in the market?

Here at KPMG, we’re working with the 30% Club ( to ‘balance the pyramid’ and work towards gender parity at all levels. That’s why we’ve commissioned new research to update our understanding of what helps women to succeed in their careers and what constitutes a gender intelligent approach to widening our talent pool. We found that many organisations need to revisit their approach to selection criteria for development programmes, and redirect their investment into developing individuals rather than cohorts if they’re to see the maximum return on investment from their team.

A simple step we can all take is to challenge our own subconscious bias. Everybody’s biased in some way – the beliefs and values gained from family, culture and a lifetime of experiences heavily influence how we view and evaluate both others and ourselves. Evidence shows that women typically receive less developmental feedback than men, and that their feedback is often less constructive and more personal, whereas feedback for men is often geared more towards suggestions for skills development. Developing a fully inclusive L&D strategy with ‘smart’ development plans and regular, clear, constructive and fair feedback can lead to much greater team effectiveness.

Many organisations are currently stuck in what’s known as the ‘compliance paradigm’. This means that they’re only inclusive because they have to be – perhaps to meet a set quota –this is often the case among FTSE companies seeking to increase female representation on their boards. This is arguably not genuine inclusion, as gender diversity is as much about culture as it is about numbers, although developing a diverse team of people to hit targets is better than doing nothing at all.

Others are stuck in the ‘marketing paradigm’. They’re making efforts to become truly inclusive but this is only for good press, or their annual review, for example, rather than a concerted effort to include all their people in development.  

The ultimate goal then, is the integration of L&D, talent management and true, systemic diversity and inclusion to create a high-performing culture. L&D practitioners need to work closely both with managers and HR at the point of recruitment and ensure that proper checks are in place to ensure that everyone has the best possible chance of succeeding. Managers themselves should be developed to create new opportunities for their team to learn and to recognise when individuals haven’t taken up development opportunities. Pushing your business further means pushing your people further – all your people. 


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