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To Make Real Progress on Diversity and Inclusion, Move Past Vanity Metrics

Creating a more diverse and equitable organization involves hard work to confront brutal facts and thoughtfully navigate emotional issues. In 2020, many organizations had honest but difficult conversations and implemented new management tactics related to diversity and inclusion. But to create meaningful change, we must back up these initiatives with data.

Using data in diversity and inclusion initiatives can help organizations move beyond perfunctorily exercise to take an honest look at where things fall short.

Here are steps that companies can take to use data-backed efforts to work toward a more equitable workforce


IDENTIFY DATA GAPS: Historically, people analytics have been barely an afterthought for many enterprises. But the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic, which has set a decade, have created a new sense of urgency around the need for more equitable workplaces. As board rooms, management teams and employees demand better visibility into diversity and inclusion metrics, people analytics must now a priority. The reality, however, is that company are lack when it comes to tracking anything beyond gender diversity. To rectify the situation, start by identifying data gaps in your human resources systems. Determine the relevant information you have and what you’ll need to understand the makeup of your employee base.

TRACK LEADING INDICATORS ON INCLUSION: Many large companies have employee engagement platforms where teams can acknowledge their peers' contributions, set goals and complete surveys. Think creatively about how these and other tools can shine a light on employees’ day-to-day experiences while revealing earlier signals and sentiments on inclusion and marginalization. Look at quantitative data from surveys and include text analysis on written comments that may show hidden biases or signs of frustration. Splitting the data into groups such as age, gender and ethnicity can help you identify patterns and spot opportunities to effect change. If certain groups are consistently talked over, talked down to or ignored, they are unlikely to stay employees for very long, and the workplace will quickly become less diverse.

MAKE THE DATA CONSISTENT AND ACCESSIBLE: Use the data you’ve collected to build a single repository that is honest, transparent and accessible to managers and employees. Your HR team also needs a simple tool that allows them to interrogate the data once it’s collected. Modern analytics platforms enable people to query and visualize data such as demographics, retention rates, promotions and employee recognition.

ONFRONT BRUTAL FACTS AND SHARE THESE FACTS TRANSPARENTLY: When data reveals a problem, there may be a tendency to manipulate numbers to present a rosier picture; this is known as vanity metrics. Don’t let your data lie or hide the real issues. Only brutal honesty and alignment of incentives can lead to meaningful change.

Once you’ve collected and analyzed employee data, share the findings widely and transparently with employees and external audiences; don’t restrict it to diversity committees and senior leadership. Make sure to include concrete commitments, measurable goals and clear next steps. Honest, accessible metrics around your progress and remaining gaps are critical to ensuring the work is measurable, targeted and influential.

Data-backed efforts to boosting diversity are now more than just a business imperative; they are also a social requirement. In the ideal future of work, we’ll no longer need diversity and inclusion programs; diverse and inclusive workforces will simply be the norm.

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