Promotions Best Practices for Federal Contractors

The following are best practices that contractors may implement as part of their efforts to ensure equal employment opportunity. While the practices described below can assist with overall equal employment opportunity compliance efforts, they are strictly voluntary, and contractors will not be cited for violations if they choose not to adopt them.

Promotion Practices: Contractors should consider whether their policies and practices provide development and promotion opportunities at all levels of the company. Contractors should periodically examine their promotion policies and practices to consider whether stereotypes may be affecting their provision of equal employment opportunity.  

Contractors should consider whether stereotypes such as the following may affect promotion opportunities and decisions:

  • Men are assumed to be breadwinners and not caregivers, and as such are assumed to be more interested in or available for promotion opportunities.
  • Women who take advantage of flexible work schedules, telework, and similar programs are assumed not to be interested in or available for promotion opportunities.
  • Women and minorities are assumed to be less adept in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and thus are less likely to be considered for promotions in those fields.

If a contractor’s assessment of its own policies and practices evidences these or other stereotypes, the contractor should take steps to eliminate potentially discriminatory barriers to promotion opportunities. For example, contractors should broaden opportunities for employee advancement by providing mentoring programs. If a contractor provides caregiver leave, they should ensure that promotion opportunities are communicated to all eligible employees regardless of caregiving responsibilities. Further, when comparing applicant or employee work histories for promotion openings, contractors should focus on work experience and accomplishments and give the same weight to cumulative relevant experience that would be given to workers that have not taken leave for caregiving responsibilities. To accompany any changes in existing policies or the adoption of new policies, contractors should train decision makers on its policies and practices with express reference to the goal of reducing stereotypes that may affect promotion opportunities and decisions.     

Development Opportunities:  Inequities in promotions, and resulting compensation inequities, may arise from a less-diverse internal pool of candidates for promotions. Contractors should evaluate their outreach, recruitment, and training programs to ensure that they are free from stereotypes that might limit development opportunities. For example, to counter the stereotype that women and minorities are less interested in or less qualified for STEM jobs, a contractor should target its recruitment to educational institutions and programs that are focused on developing STEM skills. Contractors should also work with educational institutions such as historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to recruit more diverse pools of initial applicants, who will subsequently become candidates for promotion opportunities. A contractor may also participate in nontraditional apprenticeship programs for women and minorities to increase their representation in applicant and candidate pools.     

Promotion Pathways:  Contractors should examine whether promotions at lower and middle levels lead to viable promotion opportunities at higher levels. In reviewing pathways to higher-level promotion opportunities, contractors should examine whether, and at what level(s), the pools of candidates decrease in diversity.

Stereotypes based on sex, race, disability, or other prohibited characteristics may be one cause of decreasingly diverse candidate pools for higher-level promotion opportunities. Where such a pattern is found, the contractor should reassess the entire pathway to the higher promotion opportunity with the goal of eliminating the effects of any stereotypes.

The pathway to a promotion may also be affected by an employee’s extended absence from work due to illness, pregnancy/childbirth, caregiving responsibilities, or educational reasons. When considering individuals for promotion opportunities, decision makers should focus on the entirety of candidates’ work experience and accomplishments, giving the same weight to the cumulative, relevant experience of these employees that is given to the experience of employees with uninterrupted time in the job.

Support Programs:  There are a variety of employee support programs that facilitate discussion of employee concerns, provide for sharing of information that can be used to reach resolution of issues, and offer networking and training opportunities for participants. Contractors are encouraged to develop and support these programs.    

Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives:  Employers can use diversity and inclusion initiatives to build a more diverse workforce and to help meet their compliance obligations. In developing such initiatives, a contractor should form a diverse and inclusive body of employees and managers to solicit and provide input on issues of concern to employees, including promotion opportunities and resulting promotions. A formal program, with a responsible manager assigned and formalized policies and procedures in place, is a best practice evidencing contractor commitment and accountability. 

   Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and Affinity Groups:  Consider creating ERGs and affinity groups led by, or with input from, employees that encourage those who have an interest in advancing in their field to join and participate. The following are examples of some affinity group objectives relevant to promotions:

  • Developing programs that encourage professional development and career advancement through mentoring, partnerships, and development and training opportunities;
  • Promoting network building through formal and informal group activities and interaction among affinity groups; and
  • Providing a supportive environment where members can openly share their concerns and issues about possible barriers to promotions and recommend best practices to broaden opportunities for employee advancement.

Additional Resources:

Best Practices for Employers and Human Resources/EEO Professionals from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):  This resource from the EEOC provides best practices to organizations on how to prevent race and color discrimination in the workplace. Tips for recruitment, hiring and promotions best practices are provided.

Best Practices of Private Sector Employees from the (EEOC):  This resource from the EEOC provides a catalogue of best practices from employers that may be especially useful to smaller and medium-sized employers without professional personnel and legal staffs. In this document you will find resources on policies, programs, and practices for all employment areas, including promotion and advancement.