Create Confident, Diverse Leaders

Efficacy programs could help underrepresented groups advance through the ranks.

It’s one of the most vexing realities in workplaces around the world. While plenty of firms are putting efforts into diversity programs, there isn’t much headway at the top.

In 2016, only 130 of 3,400 publicly traded companies had women CEOs, according to investment bank Credit Suisse. It isn’t much better in the boardroom, either. Of the 100 largest publicly traded firms in the United States, among the directors appointed in the proxy season ending May 1, 2016, 29% were women, 7% were African American, and 5% were Hispanic.

Companies may be tempted to increase diversity training aimed at entrenched managers and executives to improve those statistics. There’s a growing body of research that shows firms with a diverse group of senior leaders outperform more homogenous companies. But companies might be better served by devoting resources to Efficacy programs, which focus more on developing the confidence and competencies of women, African Americans and other members of underrepresented groups, says Andrés Tapia, Korn Ferry’s global practice leader for Workforce Performance, Inclusion, and Diversity. “People with an efficacy mind-set don’t allow fear to paralyze their efforts. They are confident they can learn complex new skills and capabilities,” Tapia says.

“The effectiveness of Efficacy programs,” a new report written by Tapia and four colleagues, traces the development of Efficacy as a discipline back to the mid-1960s. Jeffrey Howard, then a graduate student at Harvard, wondered why, with each successive year, fewer students of color were entering student leadership or exhibiting other hallmarks of on-campus success. Howard’s model theorized that the negative expectations minority individuals experience early on become internalized and can negatively impact their own self-belief. However, through intensive training, those same individuals can arm themselves with confidence, clear professional goals and actionable workplace strategies.

Efficacy programs focus on training an individual’s ability to efficiently solve the challenges he or she faces. The programs encourage people to take risks and pursue opportunities no matter the circumstances. There will be obstacles along the way, but Efficacy programs also teach that those obstacles can be managed. Indeed, instilling a sense of confidence that an individual can make gains even in unwelcome settings is key, Tapia says.

Efficacy programs can also show results. A 2016 Korn Ferry study looked at the careers of more than 200 alumni of corporate Efficacy programs. It showed the alumni saw their career trajectories accelerate compared to their cohorts who didn’t go through the training. 

Download the PDF