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  1. Blog
  2. Career Development
  3. May 19, 2023

Career Mapping: What It Is & 7 Ways Employers Can Create a Successful Plan

Plus, how to view career maps through a DEI lens

woman career mapping with her boss
Photo courtesy of Surface

How can career mapping, a process that identifies and outlines specific career paths for employees, help employers retain talent? Let’s find out.

The average employee changes jobs 12 times throughout their career. 

Job hopping like this has appeal because of its clear benefits: more money, more respect, varied responsibilities, working on projects in other industries, and so forth. Gone are the days where the majority of employees work toward tenure and grind at the same company for 30+ years. Now, employees moreso value salary satisfaction, opportunities to reskill and upskill, benefits to support their wellbeing (such as mental health benefits and flexible work hours), and visible and measurable diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. 

When employers neglect to offer these things to their workers, they lose out on top talent—which is bad for business, since high retention rates help companies attract new talent and save employers time and money on training new hires. 

According to our data, 57 percent of women say goal-setting is one of the most important skills needed to achieve their professional aspirations. That’s where employers can come in and help employees “map” their careers. Below, learn what career mapping means, what the typical steps are, and how employers can help build effective plans that help employees achieve their goals and grow within their companies.

Read more: Grow Where You’re Planted: 5 Women on Shaping Their Career Trajectories Within Their Companies

What is career mapping? 

Career development is an ongoing, dynamic process that allows individuals to align their career goals with their personal aspirations. Part of that development, career mapping identifies and charts various career paths, positions, milestones, and goals that an employee can pursue. Often, employers utilize it as a retention tool to incentivize employees to stay and grow at their company.

Career maps are useful for outlining the trajectory of roles an employee wants to achieve. For example, a map could show how to move from a junior account executive to account director. They usually determine a starting point and final goal, and in the middle of those goals, include a list of all the steps needed to advance along that ladder. Components of a good map template include: a starting job title and goal job title, detailed job descriptions for each job along the route, including the skills and experience necessary to perform the role, and the resources (tuition reimbursement, professional skills training, etc.) needed to advance to the goal title.

Employers that create career maps can benefit from improved employee retention, higher employee engagement, the ability to identify skills gaps, and more diversity in leadership. 

It’s also an especially important process for retaining women, since they deal with far more known and unknown hurdles than men do when navigating and advancing in the workplace. They might be the only woman on their team or fail to receive credit for their work and ideas. If they voice their desire to have a family, they risk being “mommy tracked.” Or, they might never see a role model who looks like them in the highest ranks of their company, which is significant because women role models set the tone for other women hoping to rise in the company—84 percent of women say it’s important or very important to see women filling leadership roles where they work, and 78 percent of women say it’s important or very important to see women performing the same work as them. Mapping clear-cut paths for advancement demystifies the promotion process and supports equity by creating rules for everyone to follow. 

Read more: ‘You Have to See It to Be It’: Why Women Role Models Are Key to Gender Equality

7 steps to providing successful career mapping

By following these steps, employers can provide effective career maps that guide employees' professional development and support their growth along the map.

1. Establish clear career paths

The first step of career mapping is to define and communicate clear career paths. This involves outlining the different job roles, levels of responsibility, and potential advancement opportunities available to employees. Career paths should be transparent, providing a visual representation of the various progression routes.

Employees should also know the core competencies required for each role, so it’s important managers determine the skills, knowledge, and behaviors necessary for success at the different levels. Clearly defining these competencies helps employees understand the specific areas they need to develop and improve in order to progress along their chosen career path.

2. Conduct individual career discussions

Employers should engage in regular career discussions, like 1:1s, for example, to understand their employees’ career aspirations, goals, and development needs. These conversations allow employers to tailor and align career maps to individual interests, skills, and strengths. It’s also the manager’s job to bring up advancement opportunities, skills to improve upon, and areas for growth so employees can continuously strive to be better.

3. Provide professional development and mentorship opportunities

Once employers have outlined a map, they can offer a range of development opportunities—training programs, mentorship opportunities, job rotations, lunch and learns, etc—to support employees' career growth. 

According to a Deloitte survey, “those intending to stay with their organization for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68 percent) than not (32 percent). In other words, successful mentorship programs can boost employee retention significantly.

4. Foster a culture of continuous learning

Creating a culture that promotes continuous learning and professional development is of utmost importance for company leaders. This can be achieved through providing access to learning resources, encouraging employees to pursue relevant certifications or degrees, and fostering a supportive environment where knowledge sharing and skill development are valued.

Read more: 25 Companies That Offer Learning Opportunities to Help You Grow

5. Speak her name

Leaders should get in the habit of speaking the names of women to increase awareness of their hard work and give credit where it’s due. Sometimes simply saying a name to the right person at the right time can make a huge difference in someone’s career taking off—acknowledgment can lead to even more public recognition or a promotion that aligns with their established career map.

6. Support career transitions

Once employees start achieving goals, employers should support their career transitions, whether it be moving into a new role, department, or even a different career path within the company. Provide guidance, coaching, regular check-ins, mental health support, and any other resources to help employees successfully navigate these transitions.

7. Regularly review and update career maps

Career maps should be regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changes in the organization, industry trends, and individual employee goals. This ensures that the career maps remain relevant and aligned with the evolving needs of the company and its employees.

Career mapping as a tool to promote DEI and gender equity

For years, the share of Fortune 500 companies led by women CEOs has hovered around 8 percent. As of January 2023, that number climbed to 10 percent. Although this is a milestone well-deserving of celebration, we still have a long way to go to reach full gender equity in leadership.

To ensure equitable paths for advancement, employers can use career mapping as a DEI tool to get more women and marginalized employees into leadership roles. 

Lawyer and equality activist Dr. Janvi Patel tells InHerSight that many companies already have a pipeline of qualified, diverse talent, they just need to help them secure their spot at the top. “For most industries and professions, the issue then is less about getting female college grads to join their organization, but about developing and retaining the pipeline after a few levels of seniority,” she explains. “To be able to fix the issue in each organization/profession, it takes listening to women and understanding their drive and needs, but also understanding data.”

Employers need to figure out what drives and hinders women employees, and they need to take a look at their data to understand how many women enter the company and at what level, when the majority of women leave the company, and what the reasons are for their departure.

Using this data, they can be proactive and systematic about ensuring their career mapping process and succession planning is inclusionary, diversified, equitable. 

As part of career mapping, when leaders promote a woman into a leadership position, they should ensure she is surrounded with support to give her every opportunity for success. Also, employers should revise policies and make it known that it’s okay for women to have a family and to spend time with their family while working in leadership. Encouraging no more than a 45 to 50 hour week, allowing for flexible schedules and working from home wherever possible, and judging performance based on results instead of facetime are the perfect place to start. 

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