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Report Hints at Potential Mass Exodus of Minority Executives

The good news to come out of a recent DDI report is that minorities in senior executive roles are being promoted in growing numbers.


A not-so-encouraging nugget to emerge from this research? These same leaders are much more likely to leave their current organizations in search of advancement opportunities.

And, according to DDI, this exodus could be coming within the next year.

In a study including data from 15,787 leaders and 2,102 HR professionals, the Bridgeville, Pennsylvania-based HR and leadership development consultancy found minority executives actually climbing the ladder at a higher rate than non-minority leaders.

For example, the average number of promotions among senior-level minority leaders in the past five years stood at 1.34, compared to 1.17 for non-minority executives. In the C-suite, the average for minority executives over that same span was 1.52, compared to 0.95 for non-minority executives.

These senior-level respondents were also asked if they expect to change companies in order to continue progressing to higher levels of leadership. And it appears that more minority executives are eyeing the exits. More than half of minority executives in the C-suite (52%) answered that question in the affirmative, versus 39% of non-minority C-suite executives feeling the same way.

At the senior-leader level, 41% of minority leaders indicated they plan to search for advancement opportunities elsewhere, with 31% of their non-minority counterparts saying the same.

Executives in this group intend to seek out greener pastures sooner than later: 26% of minority leaders at the senior level intend to make a move in the next year, as do 19% of minorities in C-suite roles.

Overall, the DDI report does see progress being made toward a more diverse and inclusive workforce, and offers evidence of a clear link between diverse leadership teams and better organizational performance.

For example, organizations with above average gender, racial and ethnic diversity had at least 30% of women and 20% of leaders from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds in leadership roles, according to DDI. These companies were eight times more likely to be in the top 10% of organizations for financial performance.

But there’s still work to do, and the number of minorities in leadership positions considering career moves isn’t a shock when considering a few other DDI findings. 

For example, the study saw fewer than one in four leaders reporting that their organization consistently recruits and promotes from a diverse talent pool, and just 27% of leaders saying they believe inclusion is a key component of their company’s culture and values.

Providing a Path Forward
Ultimately, an organization that fails to prioritize diversity and inclusion at every level of its ranks could very well feel the impact in the form of sagging retention rates, said Stephanie Neal, director of DDI’s Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research.

“We’re at an interesting time for retention, because, with the shift to more remote and flexible work arrangements, we’re going to see an explosion of mobility — within organizations and also in terms of where talent will go and be recruited from, including competitors,” she said.  

“Leaders are becoming aware of this. We found that, although minority leaders are advancing, they don’t feel like they have a real chance of getting to the next step [within their current company], which is why they’re so much more likely to leave.”

This often comes down to factors like feeling a sense of belonging within the executive team, as well as receiving the coaching and development opportunities their non-minority peers are getting, said Neal.

“[Minority leaders] need to know the company is investing in them, and that they have a path forward. If not? They’re going to look elsewhere, including at competitors.”

It doesn’t have to turn out that way, though. And HR leaders can help mitigate the risk of minority executive departures by helping leaders understand the part they play in reinforcing hiring, development and inclusion practices, added Neal.  

“It’s a multiplier effect. The companies who are best at developing and retaining diverse talent have a stronger internal hiring focus, and they make this clear to leaders, through encouraging formal mentoring, especially of underrepresented groups, and emphasizing that developmental conversations take place, not just performance conversations.”

Leaders at every level should be practicing the skills of inclusion on a daily basis, such as when choosing candidates for key assignments and opportunities with profit-and-loss responsibility, she said.  

“They also need to make sure that minority senior-level leaders know that they are being invested in. Those leaders need to see what it’s going to take to get to the next level, and they need HR to help provide them with the insight and feedback about what they need to do to get to that next level.”

About the Author

Mark McGraw Bio Image

Mark McGraw is managing editor of Workspan.

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