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The Diversity Experience of Transferable Skills

Estimated reading time ~ 4 min
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Post George Floyd’s murder, companies have amplified their diversity, equity, and inclusion programs to increase representation and to cultivate a more authentic work environment. Through this focus, companies have been challenged to invest in potential, perspectives, and skillsets that have previously been excluded, which created an underrepresentation of communities of color. Underrepresentation in the workplace is a result of value placed on educational outcomes, opportunity structures, and career paths that are more accessible to [overrepresented] white employees. Ultimately, the biases that Black, Native, and Latinx employees experience are because of the value employers place in personas that non-white candidates and employees typically have had limited access to develop. However, less access does not mean underdevelopment. Different combinations of skills, at varying degrees of competency are produced through every journey. The ability to recognize value outside of measuring methods that have overrepresented white talent begins with first understanding transferable skills.

Transferable skills are technical and essential skills that are applicable across all roles and professions and can be pivoted from one role/profession to another. Examples of transferable skills are customer service, attention to detail, graphic design, or leadership. Technical skills are the experiences and competencies needed to complete a job-specific task, such as software coding, copywriting, healthcare marketing, or financial modeling. Essential skills are an outcome of emotional intelligence as it relates to work-related activities, and can include empathetic communication, active listening, intellectual humility, or social awareness. Transferable skills are necessary for every job function. However, recruiting teams often struggle to value transferrable skills because their imagination is often limited by stringent categories dominated by white overrepresentation. This has led many companies to an overrepresentation of skills, perspectives, educational backgrounds, racial identities, and/or companies that recruiters pull talent from. Imagination beyond this limitation allows companies to better recognize the right combination of performed competencies and what is trainable. To get to this stage, companies have to make a commitment to sustainable efforts to challenge traditional ways of thinking and being to better align with DEI best practices–this is also a commitment to place a higher value on transferable skills.

Understanding how to value transferable skills offers more meaningful categories to measure competency when assessing new and existing employees. Transferable skills, like sales or project management, are applicable across many roles and industries. But, once companies begin to specify ‘software sales’ or ‘financial writing’, candidates become underqualified, despite having the basics needed to succeed in the role. Skills from journalism pivot into marketing in the same way that experiences in research set up success in building data-informed strategy. Imagine sourcing candidates from Instagram using the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonth. You may find a particular candidate that is over-qualified in most categories, but has no experience selling financial derivatives (or another product). Rather than consider the candidate underqualified because of not meeting that requirement, you are able to recognize that the candidate has a strong background and has demonstrated success in their field of: event sales. Your decision to hire places value in this candidate’s transferable skills by recognizing that the sales skillset is transferable across any sales role and the financial derivatives knowledge can be taught.

Hiring underrepresented talent with transferrable skills can add to your existing team’s culture, lead your team to pursue new ideas, and springboard your company to another level of success. Oftentimes, underrepresented talent have unique experiences that allow them to continuously develop core competencies like adaptability, communication, and negotiation that can be applied to any role. By increasing the presence of underrepresented talent on your team, you are providing your team with opportunities to learn, grow, and embrace “diversity of thought” by creating a diversity of race and gender experience. When this is combined with other types of transferable skills, this also broadens and deepens the pool of ability that companies can tap into to support their goals.

Recognizing transferable skills goes alongside your diversity efforts. Connecting the two begins with asking questions:

  • Are Black, Latinx, and Native underrepresented in our industry, our company, or the open roles we are trying to fill?
  • Are there other industries (or roles within another industry) with higher representations of underrepresented groups that can pivot into the role that we have open?
  • Which skill sets, perspectives, competencies align with the company’s aspirational goals?
  • How have underrepresented groups existed within those categories listed?

The answers to these questions will identify spaces where there is an opportunity for growth in your company. This socratic process also enhances your ability to recognize transferable skills. Skills that can transfer from one industry to another also expand the team's competencies by tapping into knowledge, practices, and processes from other industries. Placing value on transferable skills goes beyond categories like years of experience, academic outcomes, and other overly used categories that are poor indicators of ability and potential. Transferable skills extend the range of creativity, personal and professional maturity, empathy, intellectual humility, and even emotional intelligence in ways that define both potential and success. Personal and professional experiences shape thinking and knowing. When we shift how we place value in transferable skillsets, we enhance our ability to challenge convention. This can only be done if, and when, companies are committed to that in action, and not just words.

Underrepresented talent experience career trajectory challenges that shape learning agility and competencies. However, an inability to recognize those competencies also means that the measuring rod for corporate success is molded from patterns of success that white people disproportionately have access to. Imagine if companies have just as much of an ability to change society as a society can change them. Placing value on the lived experience of racialized groups, along with the underrepresented talents and career paths, adds breadth and depth to existing skillsets. When value is simultaneously placed on transferable skills developed from lived experience and that pivot knowledge from one industry into another, companies also tap into solutions and outcomes of other industries. Companies are becoming more complex and demand more specialized talent. The recruitment of Black, Latinx, and Native employees responds to this pressure by expanding available skillsets and experiences to pull from. Being able to recognize this begins with placing value on transferable skills.

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