McKinsey program advancing racial equity expands to early career professionals

Building teams that reflect society’s diversity is now at the top of many companies’ agendas, and not just because it’s good for business. Yet, diversity without equitable and inclusive work environments leads to challenges for people of color, often hidden to managers and colleagues, that can inhibit performance.

When an employee is the only, or one of few, from their identity group, they carry a daily burden of representation on top of systemic inequities they face in their broader careers. These can hinder advancement and take a personal toll.

After George Floyd’s murder, McKinsey announced 10 Actions toward racial equity. This included creating Black Leadership Academy, which comprises leadership development programs with customized content relevant to Black leaders, to support leaders and equip them with skills, capabilities, and networks to accelerate their trajectory.

A year later, based on participant feedback, the program expanded to create content relevant for Asian and Latino and Hispanic leaders and became Connected Leaders Academy.

“We created a program that takes a 360 view of support and advancement,” says senior Michael Park, who leads McKinsey’s People & Organizational Performance practice. “We’re supporting the individual directly, through their organization and through an alumni network.”

Targeting support across career levels

CLA started with two levels: Executive Leadership Program, for senior executives, and Management Accelerator, for mid-career managers.

In July, we added Leadership Essentials for early career leaders. This program addresses the broken rung, the juncture before manager where women and people of color tend to lose ground, making advancement more challenging.

“Organizations see leaders of color and women dropping off in their first move from entry level to manager,” says associate partner Ankur Kumar, who is a leader of Connected Leaders Academy. “This is a chance for us to support talent pipelines end to end.”

To date, more than 850 organizations have participated in the no-cost, virtual programs, enrolling upwards of 35,000 employees over the last two years. Ninety six percent of participants rated the program as a high value, and 95 percent said they would recommend it.

Collaborating with organizations

The academy is dedicated to a driving a major shift toward building more diverse talent pipelines. The program is open to organizations whether they are McKinsey clients or not.

headshots of Ankur Kumar and Ingrid Millan
Ankur Kumar and Ingrid Millán
headshots of Ankur Kumar and Ingrid Millan

“We want to move beyond the organizations that typically know McKinsey and support progression of leaders across an ever-expanding universe of companies and people,” says partner Ingrid Millán, who leads the Hispanic and Latino Leadership Academy.

Participating companies identify a program champion, usually from DEI or HR teams, who works on nominations and applications, supports their employees, and liaises with Connected Leaders Academy.

“We’re counseling organizations and ideating with them to build the surround sound’ support leaders need as part of the experience,” says Ankur. “It’s a deep collaboration.”

Creating psychological safety

It takes ongoing work to be inclusive. Sometimes that means giving identity groups their own space and opportunities to build community.

“One thing is true for Black professionals—you are almost always at a table where few people who look like you have sat,” says partner Sara Prince, a leader of Connected Leaders Academy and our global 10 Actions lead. “Connected Leaders Academy brings professionals together to address executive leadership concepts without requiring they translate their personal identity for others and that is powerful—and can accelerate careers.”

Professional development with customized content relevant to identity-based experience gives participants a rare freedom in learning.

“You’re in a group of leaders who look like you. The vulnerability, the authenticity, the psychological safety, those are things that pop from the beginning,” says Ankur.

Building long-term change

The psychological safety built into the sessions is hard earned. To keep program graduates on track for upward mobility, the academy created a robust alumni network called NEXT.

For Ingrid, the network is perhaps the most vital part of the program.

“The word we hear most often to describe the alumni network is ‘unparalleled,’” she says. While too many Hispanic and Latino professionals are still the ‘only’ at work, the CLA alumni network makes sure they aren’t growing and stretching alone. This is especially important for those who may be the first in their family to be a business leader.”

The shift is happening before our very eyes, and it’s a privilege to be part of it.

Ankur Kumar, McKinsey associate partner

The program works to ensure lasting change isn’t just on these leaders to deliver—the organizations are there with them. Ankur spends time counseling the program champions around building inclusion lessons into the broader organization.

“The dedication from the companies collaborating through CLA is palpable. It gives me a lot of hope, seeing this change in hundreds of companies and thousands of individuals,” Ankur says. “The shift is happening before our very eyes and it’s a privilege to be part of it.”

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