No matter what industry you are in, employees are talking about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). While the acronym varies (JEDI - Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion; IDEA - Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) most workplaces have or are developing DEI initiatives. These initiatives are not new - the push for DEI advancement has been happening for decades, although we saw an increase in the corporate push for equity following several high profile crimes against black lives in the United States in 2020.
Even with recent events in mind, most people tend to come to the DEI conversation for one or more of the following reasons:
- The moral sense of doing good
- Legal obligations (human rights and employment law)
- The business case for DEI
Executives and senior leadership face an additional risk of damage to professional reputations or even dismissal for conduct on and off the job. We are seeing a growing fear amongst executives, a fear of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing or not saying the right thing or doing the right thing. Whichever angle you use to approach DEI, the need for DEI initiatives is profound and crosses all industries.
The Business Case for DEI
The business case for DEI has been researched and strengthened over the past 20 years. Many companies around the world are keen to take advantage of these benefits. Understandably so, as the return on investment for inclusion is significant. Research shows that companies with high diversity and inclusion have:
- Higher attraction and retention rates
- 8x better business results than companies with low diversity
- 2x more likely to achieve financial performance
- 6x more likely to be innovative and agile
Companies that have embraced diversity and inclusion have seen gains across the board financially and in performance. So what’s the challenge companies are facing when they try to launch successful DEI initiatives?
There are a number of common barriers companies face:
- A lack of senior leadership buy-in
- No budget
- No follow through
- Band-aid solutions
The real challenge behind DEI initiatives is figuring out what to do and how to do it. Often, companies turn to training sessions, hoping that if everyone receives base level training on Unconscious Bias or Inclusion that will level the playing field and all will be well. The reality is that workplaces are complex and DEI cannot be addressed overnight. Barriers for marginalized groups take on all sorts of shapes and forms, from systemic barriers (e.g., only hiring from Ivy League schools without considering others) to biases at the hiring stage (e.g., thinking that a candidate is not the right fit for a role because they are ‘different’ from existing team members). Fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace is complex and requires a plan. DEI should be considered a journey, not a destination.
No one has “finished” DEI. It’s a complex journey that requires planning. Often we refer to this planning as a strategic plan or roadmap. Whatever you name your journey, it needs measuring so you can track your progress.
Measuring DEI Plans
Measuring your DEI plan is key: it will track what you are doing and how you are doing it. Within your DEI plan, there are small steps you can take - the easier and quicker ones to implement (signage, land acknowledgement) and larger steps that may require more time (succession planning, hiring) or a budget (training, policy audits, in-house skill building). The key is to find out how the plan has impacted your team: you must ask them to truly measure your plan.
Tracking your progress allows you to act with purpose and intent, leading to your success. It also allows you to evaluate your initiatives - what’s working, what could be improved. Importantly, it keeps you accountable to your team. When DEI initiatives are tracked and progress is reported back to the workforce, leadership is demonstrating accountability and transparency, two key tenets of successful DEI plans. This is where measurement comes in.
So how do you measure your DEI progress? There are a few essential points to consider:
- What questions are you asking? Why?
- What will you do with the results?
- Where do you store the data?
- How are you protecting employees' privacy and following privacy laws?
- How are you measuring the results?
Our Notion of Success
The importance of managing expectations and success is essential to your DEI plan - remember there is no ‘end’ result. Success in DEI means a few different things. Firstly, it means acknowledging that there is work to be done. Secondly, it’s committing to do the work. Third, and importantly, it is doing the work. The point to focus on here is that the results for doing the work can vary. For example, if inclusive hiring is an item on your DEI roadmap, success may mean the continual improvement of the inclusive hiring process. You may have created the ‘best’ job posting that is language appropriate, barrier free and seeking the best talent no matter how the person identifies. However, doing that work - going through that process - may shine a light on other issues. Perhaps it wasn’t the job description or posting that was failing to attract diverse talent. Could it be the company’s reputation, or online presence (what do your Glassdoor reviews say? Does your company promote DEI on the website? Have you had negative publicity?).
In the above example, even though the work you are doing isn’t giving you the results you hoped for, you may find other issues that need to be addressed - and that counts as a success because you are actively engaged in your DEI journey. You are not ‘ticking boxes’, you are invested in your journey and ideally, demonstrating that to your workforce.
Doing It Right
Engaging with the workforce is key: Be accountable and transparent about the DEI plan you are committing to. Share your challenges and successes. Our surveying has shown time after time that employees see employers investing and engaging in DEI as a success in and of itself.
The challenge for employers is to determine what needs to be done and how you plan to do it.