Equitable Development Strategies

This resource forms a part of Illuminate Opportunity: Equity in the Workplace, a set of HR tools developed by EHRC for Alberta electricity and renewables employers.


Applying a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) lens to development can help to achieve a more inclusive workplace by helping to:

  • Build a more robust pool of diverse talent–including in roles where diversity is traditionally under-represented.
  • Address common barriers for under-represented groups in the workplace.
  • Support individuals to build their readiness for future roles.
  • Improve retention.
  • Attract more–and higher quality–talent from all backgrounds.

Ensure developmental activities are inclusive

  • Design training with the needs of employees from all backgrounds in mind (e.g. for those with caregiving activities, training that requires travel or takes place after hours could be a barrier. Consider on-the-job or virtual training as more inclusive methods).
  • Ensure all employees are aware of needs for new skillsets for any upcoming reskilling programs and how to achieve them.
  • Stay informed about any potential barriers under-represented groups may face in accessing opportunities and related development (e.g. organizational culture, access, time constraints, sponsorship). Conversations with employees and Employee Resource Groups, engagement surveys, stay interviews, and good practice literature are useful sources.
  • Give inclusive access by providing development in different ways, in various locations, and at times that accommodate those working outside normal hours or in field locations.
  • Be cognizant of the demands that added learning and development activities (stretch assignments, training programs, mentoring, etc.) can place on a participating individual’s time, possibly leading to new work-life challenges. Prioritizing time off for development by re-allocating tasks or adjusting deadlines can help address this.

Offer tailored programs to level the playing field

Effective programs to develop diverse talent include:

Career management: Builds skills on the job.

  • Temporary assignments, job rotation, high-profile projects.

Coaching: Builds skills for specific issues or situations.

  • Leaders can support the development of soft skills that can help address common barriers for members of new talent groups, such as presentation and communication skills for newcomers.

Networking: Provides access to career-related social supports to address isolation and build confidence and connections.

  • With leaders and influencers in your organization, professional associations, and cross-departmental committees and project teams.

Mentorship: Facilitates knowledge-transfer to build skills and productivity, and provides career guidance.

  • One-on-one mentoring for a specified duration, reverse mentoring with a senior leader, mentoring circles where one senior leader mentors a group, “speed mentoring” or “group mentoring” events.

Sponsorship: Facilitates exposure of high-potential employees to high-visibility assignments, promotions, or jobs for leadership positions.

  • Influential senior leaders support access to promotions, stretch assignments or other experience in areas where the employee could develop.

TIP: Leverage employee resource groups and networks to inform programming and encourage uptake.

Embed opportunities to increase DEI awareness in program design

  • In knowledge transfer or mentoring, pair emerging leaders with seasoned leaders, and arrange programming in a way that encourages emerging leaders to collaborate and interact with other generations.
  • To demonstrate that DEI is a priority, ensure mentors/sponsors/buddies from a range of backgrounds are available to support new hires.
  • As part of developmental opportunities, encourage employees to volunteer for programs with community partners to build leadership skills–such as mentoring youth, newcomers, or university students from a range of backgrounds.
  • Integrate demonstration of inclusive teamwork into individual goal setting and evaluate these behaviours during performance reviews.

Gather data to assess equity—and share it

  • Track distribution of work to ensure learning opportunities are equitably allocated (e.g. women are not mainly responsible for support roles).
  • Track participation and falloffs in development activities to ensure inclusive distribution of stretch opportunities, acting roles, and project team leadership to qualified candidates. Monitor the impact on career progression, movement into cross-functional roles and increase in compensation, and act as needed.
  • Demonstrate to employees from all backgrounds that they can advance in your organization. Gather metrics on the demographics of all levels and occupation groups and report them regularly.

How to Start an Employee Resource Group

Set up a framework

  • Create a business case and tentative mission statement aligned with company values.
  • Formulate goals and a tentative plan to reach them.
  • Develop a budget/funding model (e.g. membership fees, fundraising options), and guidelines for finances, meetings and selection of leaders.
  • Consult with and learn from existing DEI groups (on activities, decision-making, obstacles, etc.) to build upon and expand existing DEI efforts.

Engage an executive sponsor

  • Clearly define the sponsor’s term and role (e.g. advocating for the group publicly and with other leaders, mentoring members, securing funding and opportunities to be visible and contribute expertise).
  • The sponsor can be chosen by the Employee Resource Group (ERG) or assigned as a volunteer.
  • Rotate the sponsor to a different group at the end of their term to both allow a group to benefit from a different executive’s expertise, and to expose the executive to the experiences and needs of a different employee group.

Engage members

  • Once appointed, ERG leaders/early members should work together to reach out to and engage staff.
  • Develop materials highlighting the ERG’s objectives and how to take part.
  • Advertise the ERG throughout the organization (intranet, events, through other groups, etc.).

Work together to formalize and begin activities

  • Name the group in line with the group’s mandate.
  • Refine the ERG’s mission and goals and flesh out an action plan with timelines and responsibilities for critical tasks (e.g. recruiting members, engaging executive support, securing funding, keeping members engaged).
  • Decide on an organizational structure and meeting schedule.
  • Develop a unique focus to ensure the ERG’s sustainability (e.g. partnering with HR on recruiting, mentoring or learning; leading community involvement; serving on boards and committees).
  • Track and communicate progress towards goals.23