Want to advance DEI? Drive progress through data

Over the past year, we’ve seen a mounting of tension driven by recent racial injustices and the pandemic’s inequitable impact across different marginalized groups. These events have led to increased calls for change, as employees demand greater action from employers in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within the workforce and continue to pay close attention to culture and social responsibility. The investor community is holding businesses accountable as well, with ESG investing on the rise. Evolution is imperative or organizations will risk losing top talent and prospective candidates as well as potential profit loss and decline in market share value.

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To evolve and advance measurable progress, employers need to build a DEI strategy rooted in data. Approaching what is an incredibly emotionally driven issue with a mindset primed for problem-solving can help businesses better define the gaps they need to close. By employing a pragmatic approach–“The Scientific Method,” in effect–employers can tailor their strategies based on what their specific people analytics are revealing. Blending this scientific approach with the art of communication and culture-building can drive true change and lay the foundation for a more inclusive and equitable world of work.

Revisit the Scientific Method

Many people likely remember the scientific method as a time-honored technique for problem-solving, learning the basic principles in their early educations. Its application, and its practice of developing and testing informed solutions, is a powerful tool to employ for this use case. Its very existence is rooted in helping people gather knowledge about the world around them, improve upon that knowledge, and attempt to explain why and/or how things occur, often with the intention of enhancing those processes.

Related: Connect your DEI with EX with these 4 strategies

Many organizations have the best intentions for DEI, but don’t know where to start–they can lack the right data, resources and strategy. This simplified, step-by-step approach can be used to tackle this critical business issue and drive measurable outcomes.

Leverage the Approach using People Data

Author Bob Lockett

To foster an inclusive culture, companies must start by asking questions and doing the research required to understand the current state of their workforce. An organization’s people, and the unique ideas, beliefs, skills and experiences they bring to work with them, form the very fabric of a company’s culture. Without understanding their people, companies cannot affect meaningful change. Once equipped with that data, the next step includes identifying the gaps and implementing the right strategies to close them. It’s critical to track progress, as it will allow companies to optimize and improve over time, a core component of the method’s cyclical nature.

This data-driven approach must also be paired with a robust training program to influence behavioral change. Unconscious bias training, for example, is core in helping the workforce understand their own assumptions and behaviors and how to address them.  The best strategies account for these two components and leverage an established maturity model to help organizations understand how mature their processes and behaviors are comparatively.

Gather the Right Data

People data has never been more important. This past year has underscored the notion that a business is only as strong as its people. Insight into your workforce–from its racial and cultural makeup to turnover, retention and compensation rates by demographic–is critical in understanding employees’ experiences and the change that needs to happen.  Companies can leverage data to answer questions like:

  • How diverse is my workforce and leadership team?
  • How is my recruiting process driving diversity?
  • What termination reasons are affecting diversity the most?

From the information you gather, you can begin to identify areas that need attention. When it comes to building a diverse workforce, there are two levers leadership can pull. They can either hire more people or retain more people. If the focus is on improving leadership representation, there is a third lever as well. Leaders can promote more people to ensure diversity throughout each layer of the company. If there are discrepancies in how the numbers align across each tactic, you can better identify the actions you’ll need to take to right the course.

Uncover and Address the Gaps

Once you’ve analyzed the data and clearly defined the opportunity, the next step in the process is taking action. How successful companies are in doing so relies heavily on how thorough they are in understanding the state of their workforce. Getting granular and narrowing in on the specific, measurable outcomes you’re looking to achieve will ensure your action plan is effective.

For example, gaps in retention or under-representation in leadership might lead you to focus on DEI-centered development initiatives and sponsorship. Alternatively, pay equity gaps and turnover data might lead you to restructure compensation models. Or perhaps you determine that you have strong representation in leadership but a discrepancy on the front-line; this discovery might lead you to improve your recruiting processes. Building your strategy around the insights you’re gleaning will better focus and advance your efforts.

Another important consideration is putting in place a realistic timeline to action against and being thoughtful about the milestone dates and targets you’re working toward. Defined timeframes help hold teams accountable for progress and put structure around regular checkpoints. If you’re not hitting your goals, you then have the opportunity to gather new data and refocus to drive the change you’re working toward. Communication is another critical piece, not only in holding teams accountable but in cultivating an inclusive culture rooted in trust and transparency.

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Continue Building on Progress

Advancing systemic, sustainable change requires companies to remain committed to improvement. Being narrow in pinpointing and targeting gaps doesn’t mean narrowing the bigger picture. Taking a methodical approach helps companies build on the progress they make without fixating on the enormity of the issue. Companies must track their progress to help reassess and use it as a stepping stone. It’s just as essential they socialize that progress with their employees, constituents and other stakeholders to help them understand the importance of your efforts and how you’re tracking against your goals. Communicating progress helps maintain accountability as well, setting new goals to advance toward. As you revisit workforce data, implement regular touchpoints with employees through surveys and engagement pulses. The more data you have, the better able you’ll be to retarget your efforts and continue building on progress.

Related: Is your DEI program missing this key element?

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To advance the impact you’re making, ask more questions and analyze your people data, identify gaps that might still exist, implement targeted initiatives to close them and evaluate new outcomes. This cyclical method will help ensure you’re continuously tracking forward.

What’s next?

As the post-pandemic world of work takes shape, the focus on inclusivity and employee wellbeing is one that will only intensify. Workers are searching for better opportunities, financial freedom, and more fulfilling lives after a year that took a substantial and inequitable toll. To affect the changes they’re demanding, companies will need to build a DEI strategy that can evolve as they do. The Scientific Method’s strength is in its proven ability to problem-solve. By heeding its example and starting with the data, companies can forge a better, more equitable path forward.

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