Investigating the theory and practice of inclusive talent management

Lenton, Agnieszka (2021) Investigating the theory and practice of inclusive talent management. (DoBPsych thesis), Kingston University, .


Inclusive Talent Management (TM) has been of interest to academics and practitioners in the last decade as an alternative to exclusive TM. Evidence-based approaches to managing talent in an inclusive, transparent, and ethical way are not widely known and require urgent attention to enable employers to create inclusive workplaces, which are demographically representative of the local communities. Ethics and fairness in TM, while overlooked in the early research on TM, have gained interest in recent years. A growing body of writing suggests that “responsible TM” interventions that effectively incorporate ethics, inclusion, and sustainability may positively impact individual and organisational well-being (Anlesinya & Amponsah-Tawiah, 2020). This thesis presents two studies that together aim to contribute to our understanding of inclusive talent management approaches. The first study, a systematic literature review, seeks to consolidate empirical research on ITM to understand the business case, features, and outcomes of ITM interventions. This review was carried out using a systematic approach as outlined by Briner and Denyer (2012). The review identified seven studies that met the inclusion criteria that together demonstrated unclear evidence for ITM delivering improvements in the inclusion of women or other groups or other positive outcomes for individuals and organisations. While TM definitions and measures lacked rigour and consistency, two case study organisations met the fully inclusive TM definition (but did not report outcomes), and two met the partially inclusive TM definition (Swailes et al., 2014). The majority of the empirical ITM studies explored partially exclusive TM programmes aimed to deliver inclusive outcomes for underrepresented groups (and which have been classified as inclusive TM by virtue of inclusive outcomes). Five of the seven studies were derived from the public sector (two in the UK). The methodological quality was generally low, with limited conclusions drawn on the outcomes of effective ITM interventions. The second study in this thesis was focused on a partially exclusive TM programme with inclusive outcomes (increased representation of women in senior roles) in the UK public sector. The talent programme paired participants with senior sponsors, whose role was to help sponsees increase their visibility and make important connections and open doors to opportunities to move up the career ladder (e.g., Ehrich, 2008; Hewlett, 2013). Responding to the research limitations identified in the ITM literature, this study employed semi-structured interviews carried out at three time points throughout the ITM intervention programme. The research participants (n=12) were drawn from TM programme participants (“sponsees”), senior “sponsors,” and members of the working group involved in programme implementation (“stakeholders”). The analysis identified a range of positive individual outcomes: promotions, opportunities to raise visibility, new skills and confidence (for sponsees) and increased commitment to diversity and inclusion, prompt for self-reflection, and own development (for sponsors). Both sponsees and sponsors reported a broadening of personal networks. The research participants also noted organisational outcomes such as new organisational processes, organisational conversations on talent and inclusion, more comprehensive universal development programme offer to all staff, inter-organisational collaborations, sharing learning from the programme within the organisations and wider industry, and negative responses from other staff groups excluded from the programme. Insights were also gained into mechanisms involved in sponsorship relationships in the context of a formal sponsoring scheme in the UK public sector. These findings suggest that effective and ethical sponsorship is contingent on 1) the ability to tailor the intervention to the individual needs and readiness 2) the assessment of talent, which reassures the sponsor that the sponsee has been accepted into the TM scheme “on merit” and 3) the organisational context in which the intervention is deployed, including clear business case, stakeholder engagement at all levels and integration with other organisational strategies. The implications of the study findings, including risks and challenges involved in utilising an exclusive TM intervention to deliver inclusive outcomes, are also discussed. The positive outcomes of the intervention in this study exceeded those reported in other ITM studies. This study offers promise for inclusive talent management. If delivered effectively and with ethical considerations given to different stages of the TM process, sponsorship can be a valuable tool within a wider talent strategy that has the potential to deliver improvements in the representation of women and other minority groups at the senior level. Further reflections and recommendations are shared in the final section.

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