Posted on Tuesday, August 16th, 2022 at 6:00 AM
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Understanding the need for a DEIB–PA partnership
Why focus on the partnership between DEIB and people analytics (PA) leaders?
In the summer and fall of 2020, companies made big promises to improve diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in their organizations. At the time, one of our first questions was how organizations would show the progress made on those commitments. While DEIB metrics—measurements designed to understand DEIB—are the obvious answer, how to select, collect, use, and maintain those metrics isn’t so clear.
Thus, our research initiative on DEIB metrics and analytics was born. The first article in this series, “DEIB Analytics: A Guide to Why & How to Get Started,” provides leaders with a plan for how to begin using DEIB metrics and analytics. The second article, “DEIB Metrics: An Essential Guide,” provides definitions of what DEIB metrics are and how they can be used.
This third article in the series focuses on how DEIB and people analytics leaders should partner to identify, measure, maintain, and distribute those DEIB metrics.
Why write an article on this DEIB–PA partnership? For several reasons. As shown in Figure 1, the way that DEIB and PA leaders partner (or not, as in the early days) has changed substantially. PA is increasingly at the center of DEIB metrics efforts as organizations ensure that they have consistent data sets, analysis approaches, and contexts across the board. However, PA leaders shouldn’t do this work without the support of DEIB leaders—since DEIB brings an essential level of theory, nuance, and context to the data. By DEIB and PA leaders partnering, you can clearly and consistently:
- Define terms
- Identify consistent data sources and analysis approaches
- Appropriately interpret data
- Develop targeted and appropriate action steps
- Create ongoing accountability
The combined expertise of DEIB and PA leaders enables you to make all these things happen.
“People Analytics leaders can help answer questions that DEIB leaders didn’t even know how to ask.”
—Hallie Bregman, Owner, The Bregman Group
PA is increasingly central to organizations' DEIB metrics efforts
Despite challenges, there is a known path to partnership
While you should (in theory) collaborate, it doesn’t always seem intuitive for PA and DEIB leaders to work together in practice. Why is this?
- First, many DEIB and PA leaders have historically come from different perspectives, such as social justice for the former, and math or statistics for the latter.
- Second, your individual responsibilities often have very different. Many DEIB leaders, for example, are charged with creating community and connection—and taking a data-driven approach may not be prominent on your radar. By contrast, PA leaders primarily focus on data and measurement; your only experience with DEIB may be through their participation in DEIB-related initiatives.
- Third, your reporting relationships are often very This can result in a poor alignment of priorities and little insight into each other’s work, especially if either DEIB or PA is outside the HR reporting structure.
- Finally, the data used by DEIB in the past hasn’t necessarily been the same as that used by PA—making it more difficult to create alignment on even simple reporting.
All of this culminates in the challenges outlined in Figure 2.
A look at the causes and effects of challenges to DEIB analytics work due to differences between PA and DEIB leaders
Yet, our interviews revealed that common approaches could enable a strong DEIB / PA relationship to develop and thrive.
This article is designed to help DEIB and PA leaders better understand each other—and create a partnership that will enable you to succeed. We identify 3 components of an effective partnership in this article, outline the responsibilities of DEIB and PA leaders and provide specific examples of how to make this relationship more effective. We also provide a series of exhaustive checklists in the appendix to help you get started.
As always, our research is designed to accelerate good ideas within the people management field. Some of the concepts in this article may fit your organization’s unique circumstances, while others may not. Even better, some of these ideas may inspire new insights and approaches.
Whatever your reaction to the work, we’d love to hear about it. Please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] with any insights, questions, or feedback.
“One of the biggest challenges to a successful DEIB and people analytics partnership is that most DEIB leaders don’t have technical backgrounds. As a result, there is a disconnect between diversity leaders and people analytics leaders.”
—Sean Fay, Co-Founder, The Context Factory
What is DEIB?
Before we dive into the heart of this paper, let’s start by defining what we mean when we say diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (see Figure 3). Everyone in your organization should be on the same page when it comes to understanding DEIB—which starts with a single, common set of definitions.
What are DEIB metrics?
Building on the information on the previous page, defining what we mean when referring to DEIB metrics is essential. Figure 4 provides specific definitions for, as well as examples of, metrics for each DEIB area. Everyone in your organization should be on the same page when it comes to understanding DEIB. After introducing a single, common sets of definitions for DEIB, you then need to define and differentiate the metrics for each of the 4 aspects of DEIB.
Building a DEIB—PA partnership
3 practices for building a DEIB–PA partnership
Our interviews with DEIB and PA leaders revealed several things they’re doing to build a successful partnership. We grouped our findings under 3 broad practices, with specific areas that leaders should consider when developing the partnership (see Figure 5).
- Understand your partner’s context. When starting a new relationship, you must understand how the other team operates. This involves becoming familiar with each other’s reporting and governance structures; specific concerns; priorities; and, responsibilities.\
- Form a DEIB–analytics partnership by aligning your objectives, responsibilities, and expectations. A partnership built on clarity around who is responsible for what, along with the overall goals, allows you to achieve greater alignment. This becomes easier with both of you supporting each other in your work, as well as among your teams and throughout the organization as a whole.
- Work together effectively within your organizational network. A successful DEIB–PA partnership is also a result of you both working together with other functions, teams, and leaders within the organization. Remember: You need to be strategic and tactical in building relationships with IT, business leaders, marketing, finance, and other functions to help ensure the success of your work and your partnership.
3 practices for DEIB and PA leaders to adopt to build a successful DEIB-PA partnership
Practice #1: Understanding your partner’s context
DEIB leader’s context: A primer
Before beginning any partnership, you must understand your partner’s circumstances. Let’s start with the DEIB leader’s context.
To start, you need to have a good understanding of the environments in which your DEIB leader works. For example, DEIB leaders typically have up to 5 different stakeholders: employees, customers, suppliers, communities, and shareholders.
Further, in many global organizations, DEIB leaders operate within a complex and demanding governance structure, an example of which is shown in Figure 6. All of these different groups require time with your DEIB leader and their teams. Note: HR—where PA teams often report—is just one of many constituents.
To help you understand your DEIB partner’s context, you should ask them the following:
- To what extent is working with DEIB your full-time or part-time responsibility?
- How big is the DEIB team?
- To whom do you report? How strong is that relationship? What other reporting relationships exist?
- What other resources (e.g., budget, indirect reports, external resources) do you have?
- What experience do you have in collaborating with PA teams on DEIB data?
DEIB leaders operate within a complex and demanding governance structure
PA leader’s context: A primer
Similar to DEIB, PA leaders also work in complicated situations.
As shown in Figure 7, PA leaders interface with various organizational stakeholders, while managing a team of technical experts. Their organizations also tend to have different governance structures (see Figure 8), impacting how they will work with DEIB.
To help you understand your PA partner’s context, you should ask them the following:
- To whom do you report? What other reporting relationships exist?
- What types of services and support does your team offer?
- How is your team structured? What are the types of expertise of the people within that team?
- How long has your team been doing their work?
- What other resources (e.g., budget, indirect reports, external resources) do you have?
- What experience do you have in collaborating with DEIB leaders on DEIB data?
“Our DEI group has great people, but I just don’t know if they are doing what we need right now and don’t know that they even have the skill set to do it. I don’t know how numbers-focused they are or how numbers-focused they should be. Right now, our DEI team is more like project management, focusing on things like benefits. They handle a lot of other stuff versus looking at data.”
—Global people analytics leader, international consumer packaged goods company
PA leaders interface with several organizational stakeholders while managing a team of external technical experts
Organizations often have one of these two types of governance structures for PA—impacting how PA and DEIB interact
“The combination of qualitative and quantitative data is ideal, but at the end of the day there is nothing that data will tell us that we don’t already know as Black people. I know what my experience was as an African-American man who worked for 16 years in roles that weren’t related to improving diversity. It’s as much heart as head in this work.”
Appreciate each other’s concerns
It’s one thing to understand each other’s contexts—but it’s another entirely to appreciate your partner’s concerns about working together.
Given the different silos DEIB and PA leaders often work within, it’s easy not to understand your partner and where they’re coming from. Based on our research, we’ve identified some common concerns each can have about the other (see Figure 9).
Be aware: This is a prime opportunity for you to lean in and address those concerns directly with your partner.
In some instances, it can require creating specific protocols or practices to address the concern, such as a standard expectation that new analysis will be reviewed by both partners. In other instances, it may need both groups to engage in certain situations together, such as when interpreting results with a senior HR business partner.
Some of these concerns will likely be addressed when you and your partner align on goals and objectives (we discuss this next). For other concerns, you both may need to acknowledge these exist, and then decide to address them on a case-by-case basis.
Some of the top concerns we heard from DEIB and PA leaders alike were regarding the work, as well as each other
Understanding your partner
One of the keys to building a good partnership is understanding the context within which your partner operates.
According to a PA leader we interviewed: PA leaders need to be aware that most DEIB leaders don’t have analytical training. Similarly, PA leaders often don’t understand the nuances and challenges associated with DEIB work. He recommends DEIB leaders be wary that the work can become all about the data—losing sight of the ultimate goal to drive DEIB—a potential danger if there’s no shared vision or established foundation for working together.
“ A lot of that came down to communications and getting clear on priorities and responsibilities.”
—PA Director, a global technology company
A similar sentiment was echoed by the global head of PA at a large tech company, according to whom the entire relationship boils down to communication. One of the things he did when he joined the company as PA Director was to identify why the existing partnership between the PA and D&I teams wasn’t working successfully. This was followed by trying to understand the goals they were trying to achieve together. Ultimately, the teams worked on:
- Gaining clarity around priorities
- Obtaining the help they needed to drive those priorities
- Defining the specific responsibilities on both sides
“The biggest challenge to building a partnership between PA and DEIB is understanding what you expect from the partnership. A lot of DEIB leaders call on PA when something is broken or needs to be explained to the senior leadership. PA needs to build on this dependency and get to a point where we are able to work together from the start.”
—Manager of PA & HR M&A, global logistics company
Some DEIB leaders, for their part, are often worried that the drive for statistical precision may overcome the intuition side of DEIB. Some of these leaders expressed concern that people in underrepresented populations might understate or purposely inflate information provided to focus groups because the level of trust is too low. In those instances, the data aren’t very helpful.
“Analysts must challenge the traditional minimum confident n, pushing themselves to look beyond the limited hard data. They don’t have to prove that the difference in performance ratings between blacks and whites is “statistically significant” to help managers understand the impact of bias in performance reviews … We may have to place a higher value on the experiences shared by 5 or 10 employees—or look more carefully at the descriptive data, such as head counts for underrepresented groups, and average job satisfaction scores cut by race and gender—to examine the impact of bias at a more granular level.”
—Maxine Williams, Global Chief Diversity Officer, Meta
Practice #2: Forming a DEIB–PA partnership by aligning on objectives, responsibilities & expectations
Identifying clear objectives
From the start, perhaps the most crucial item for DEIB and PA teams is to shift their mindsets from being 2 separate teams to being 1 integrated alliance—the DEIB–PA partnership.
While there doesn’t have to be any sort of official creation of a team (or even the naming of one!), these 2 groups must:
- Align around common objectives
- Share insights and learnings freely
- Think of themselves as each contributing equally to the DEIB metrics and analytics effort
To do this, start by ensuring everyone understands the organization’s people priorities for the year— and how those translate into DEIB and PA strategies and objectives.
From there, identify the common objectives and / or where enough overlap exists to articulate new common goals. Share this information broadly within and outside the partnership to enable a broader alignment of stakeholders.
While objectives aren’t always set or aligned at the beginning of the calendar year, it’s still essential for the PA and DEIB leaders to align—even if it means the 2 leaders discuss some hard questions about priorities.
Developing partnerships with new colleagues at a manufacturing organization
One PA leader we interviewed works for a leading electronics manufacturer. This leader shared with us how her company’s new D&I function hired an external consultant to look at the company’s people data—only to realize that it caused more questions than answers!
Switching into consulting mode, the leader and her team worked closely with the new D&I team to help them clarify their objectives, based on both the numbers and the organization's talent strategy. As this leader related to us,
“Take a step back. You have limited resources. You've got limited time to play the diversity numbers games. First, get your numbers right. Then figure out:
- Are we going after diversity?
- Are we going after inclusion?
- Are we going after equity?
What of these 3 things are you after because they are all very different.”
The leader and their team then aligned their DEIB efforts around those clear objectives. This helped everyone understand what was and wasn’t possible.
A stray red thread …
One of the more interesting trends we observed through our interviews is that many PA and DEIB functions started within their organizations around the same time or within a few years of each other.
We discovered an unexpected benefit of this: The functions could “grow up together” or lend insights to each other around how to navigate being a new function within the same organization.
This situation creates a cohesion and openness between the 2 functions. It also means that they’re more forgiving of mistakes each function makes, as they’ve recently experienced similar missteps.
If your DEIB and PA functions are about the same age, then some questions to consider include:
- How might my team share what we’ve learned about growing our influence within this organization?
- How can we help the other function with prioritization and growth?
- What can we learn from the other function about their journey to date?
Clarifying specific responsibilities
Another important part of the process of forming the DEIB–PA partnership is to clarify the specific responsibilities of the constituent teams. Figure 10 shows that some responsibilities belong to each group, while others are shared. Note: There may be more responsibilities than those outlined in Figure 11 and some of them could belong to different groups, depending on your organization’s structure.
After identifying the respective responsibilities, next you must put in place those practices or approaches that’ll codify how the shared responsibilities will be executed. For example, will the PA team first develop a list of data-related DEIB definitions and then run it by the DEIB team? And how will new data definitions be added?
Some of these process decisions may be determined by how the PA team supports the DEIB team (see the Uber Real-World Threads for an example). But many of these decisions won’t be, so you need a plan to make sure that all responsibilities are clearly delineated.
Breakdown of responsibilities for DEIB and PA teams individually, as well as those responsibilities shared by both teams
“But to discover the effects of bias in our organizations—and to identify complicating factors within groups, such as class and colorism among Latinos and others—we need to collect and analyze qualitative data, too. Intuition can help us find it. The diversity and HR folks described using their “spidey sense” or knowing there is “something in the water”—essentially, understanding that bias is probably a factor, even though PA doesn’t always prove causes and predict outcomes. Through conversations with employees—and sometimes through focus groups, if the resources are there and participants feel it’s safe to be honest—they reality-check what their instincts tell them, often drawing on their own experiences with bias.”
—Maxine Williams, Global Chief Diversity Officer, Meta
At Workday, the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), Carin Taylor, understands that the PA team is uniquely positioned to help the organization in many ways.
It all starts with data and insights. Specifically, the PA team can help by providing insights that lead to actions, followed by outcome measurements to track if the actions result in changes.
For example, Taylor shared that—through data collected via their belonging index—the PA leader helped her identify that the female Asian population was having a different experience at the company, as compared with other populations. By having access to these insights, the CDO and her team could act on them.
By creating a unique Journey for this population, Taylor and her team could see the difference that the actions made through improvements in the belonging index.
Having done this, the diversity team could then go back and ask themselves what else they could do to improve the experience of their female Asian population—making it an iterative and, equally importantly, an intentional process.
Creating a service-level agreement between partners
As part of identifying relevant responsibilities, the PA leader should put in place a formal service level agreement (SLA) for how PA will work with DEIB. It’s important to align expectations on what and when the PA team can deliver specific services.
Typically, SLAs should include:
- Services offerings. This describes the services provided, the conditions of the service availability (such as time window standards for different levels of service), responsibilities of each party, escalation procedures, and cost / service tradeoffs.
- Management approaches. This defines measurement standards and methods, reporting processes, and contents and frequency.
Some SLAs also include delivery metrics that are reported monthly or quarterly. While this is more common with external vendors, it can be useful for internal relationships—by creating a clear set of standards for the metrics that both parties can refer to if they’re dissatisfied with how things are going.
“When I took on the role of people analytics leader, the feedback we got from our D&I team was that the partnership was not working. The SLA was broken and there was difficulty understanding what the priorities were. The relationship was damaged on both sides, and we had to work on fixing that. Fast forward 3 years and it is one of our strongest and most collaborative relationships. Our D&I team is doing leading-edge work and has played a major role in our culture change at the company, and this has been driven by some really incredible analytics and tools from the PA team. Both our CDO and I would agree that we could not have done it without the other.”
—RJ Milnor, Global Head of People Analytics, Uber
How a global DEI director developed a solid partnership with PA
At a European multinational lighting corporation, the Global DEI director has built a partnership with the PA team founded on mutual respect and acknowledgment of the importance of the work. The
DEI team considers the PA team as the owner of the data—and the ones who can guide DEI on getting the most meaningful insights and usage from the data. In addition, the DEI team always publicly acknowledges PA’s contribution as DEI relies on their expertise in analyzing and synthesizing the data.
For their part, the DEI team acts as guide and coach for PA on such items as from where PA can get the relevant data and the value of integrating different data. The DEI team shares with PA the context around their request and how the data will be used.
Creating a system for ongoing alignment
DEIB and PA must have a system for ongoing alignment, particularly around requests made of the PA team.
In organizations with a centralized PA team, often a single location exists where requests are recorded before they are triaged to the relevant team or individual, according to the SLA.
“Alignment on the outcomes that you are trying to drive is one of the most critical components that make the partnership between people analytics and the Global Diversity & Inclusion team successful. Our CDO always appreciates insights the people analytics team provides.”
—Dawn Klinghoffer, Vice President of the HR Business Insights, Microsoft
In organizations for which a PA team member sits with the DEIB team, it’s still important to make requests transparent and formal. This enables broader insights into what analysis is being requested—and consistently requested analysis can be systematized. Additionally, the PA person can stay aligned to the broader goals, even if they don’t necessarily have complete visibility into them.
Whatever the exact scenario, PA and DEIB leaders should discuss requests and changes regularly. This communications flow between the partners supports the ongoing alignment of efforts to the highest priority work.
“You cannot get to decision-making without aligning on the basics first. It took 18 months to get us aligned on the definition of ‘headcount’. Unless there’s a single definition, we could not move to the next level of conversation.”
—Product Manager, a large technology company
Wayfair creates alignment between PA and DEIB
Wayfair—a U.S.-based e-commerce company that sells furniture and home goods online—was able to build a system to enable ongoing alignment between PA and DEIB.
The company hired a person for the role of DEI analytics at the same time as the first global head of DEI came onboard. This way, the company could ensure that the DEI strategy was data-driven from the start—and would underpin everything around DEI with deep insights.
Having set ambitious goals for 2019-2020, Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat noticed that representation numbers stayed largely the same with underrepresented U.S racial groups in leadership roles. There was only a marginal increase from 13.1% to 13.6% among leadership roles. In fact, other areas, such as the number of Asian employees in leadership roles, saw a decrease in representation from 16.5% to 14.3%.
To improve its DEI numbers, the company began capturing an inclusive dataset from its team members.
The company leads with the belief that DEI needs to be weaved into everything it does. Additionally, Snap leaders see data as an essential tool to drive its DEI goals in the right direction.
However, with data collection come data privacy and security challenges, especially when gathering sensitive employee data. The company realized it needs to be thoughtful about the data it collects depending on the different contexts in varied geolocations.
The PA team partners with the DEI team, along with external cultural experts, to understand what demographic categories or groups they should consider in countries outside the U.S. That way they can ensure they’re being thoughtful when describing an “underrepresented” group, that’s actually underrepresented in that jurisdiction. Snap also includes information about LGBTQ+ status and first- generation college graduates in the Diversity Annual Report; previously these questions had only been asked in the U.S. The company recently started sending out the survey to those in Canada and Australia.
Due to the access to DEI insights, the company has built additional plans and created greater empathy around the work. It has also helped them to drive accountability mechanisms to create a more inclusive and diverse organization.
“There is a little bit of difficulty with collecting information in specific countries, and we have to be really careful about which questions we ask. We report on gender globally, but we report on race/ ethnicity only in the U.S. at this time. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve kind of slowly started to add on additional countries where we’re collecting that information, because we want to make sure that we get it right.”
—Kami Tillman, Head of Data Science and People Analytics, Snap
Supporting each other publicly
Another critical component of the DEIB–PA partnership: The 2 groups publicly support each other.
DEIB metrics are sensitive and subject to scrutiny. So, if DEIB and PA teams don’t present a united front with the data and insights, then it’ll be even harder to get other leaders to act on those metrics.
Some of the ways in which the DEIB–PA partners can communicate their cohesiveness to the organization at-large include:
- Presenting together at large-scale events (e.g., town halls and / or business unit-specific meetings)
- Writing internal articles, blogs, and / or participating in videos on DEIB metrics and progress on them
- Writing external articles and / or presenting together at conferences
- Collaborating on discussions with senior HRBPs and business leaders
Remember: DEIB and PA leaders should defer to their partner when questions are outside their expertise and / or responsibilities. In other words, both partners must have a clear understanding of each other’s strengths in order to be (and appear) collaborative.
In the beginning, even though the PA team members at Workday were involved in the DEIB work, they didn’t see themselves as the owner of the work. Over time, this changed.
The CDO is responsible for putting in place the VIBE (value, inclusion, belonging, and equity) strategy. The PA leader helps by providing the data, and measuring inclusion, belonging, and equity.
The back and forth between these 2 leaders has created a dialogue that allows them to explore ideas—so they are clear about where they currently are with the VIBE strategy and what progress they need to make. As a result, this successful partnership between DEIB and PA is less about the strategy they put in place—and more about the conversations and dialogues that allow them to explore ideas that make a real difference.
As Carin Taylor, Chief Diversity Officer for Workday, explained,
“Earlier it was all about the data, instead of the insights. The insights are so critical to be able to pull out stories and key points from the data to understand how we need to think about this. Our people analytics leader does a phenomenal job of thinking about the insights and piecing together information, which helps me be a better business leader.”
Aligning on priorities and creating a plan for working together
In the past, the PA team at Uber was built on a model that included a D&I-dedicated analyst as part of the team. Key challenges with that model included:
- The team couldn’t prioritize requests across the entire enterprise
- The work was tied to the capabilities of one individual
The company then adopted a new model by which the PA team is organized, based on 3 pillars (see Figure 11):
- Data & Product Strategy team handles information governance and product building
- People Science team comprises industrial organization (IO) psychologists and data scientists
- Decisions Science team acts as consultants / business partners and focuses on problem identification
The new model allows the D&I and PA teams to collaborate more effectively and efficiently. Once the PA team understands the priorities of the D&I team, they can leverage the 3 pillars to assign the appropriate resources to the work and to parallel process requests—which they couldn’t do with a dedicated analyst.
While the Data & Product Strategy team helps the D&I leader gather the correct data and insights, the other 2 teams work to ensure that the insights are turned into actions.
Another reason the DEIB and PA teams are aligned on their priorities: They’re part of the same people leadership team and report to the CHRO. This allows them to connect frequently and gives them visibility into each other’s work. The PA leader and Chief Diversity Officer work together to develop priorities by first identifying the org’s overall goals.
All of these factors have played a significant role in building a solid partnership between the two teams.
The new PA model enables better alignment of PA with the D&I function, allowing both to work together more smoothly and effectively
Practice #3: Working together effectively within your organizational network
A complicated web of relationships
While it’s incredibly important for DEIB and PA leaders to be aligned and work together effectively, they must also work well with the rest of the organization.
As shown in Figure 12 at least 8 different types of organizational stakeholders could be involved in the work of the DEIB and PA teams. Given this significant number of stakeholders, DEIB and PA leaders must be aligned to reduce confusion and conflict.
From our interviews, we have prioritized these relationships based on the impact and frequency with which DEIB and PA leaders need to work with these groups. Roughly speaking, we have put them into the following categories:
- Top priority. HR, and legal & privacy teams
- Critical priority. Business leaders, IT / centralized data teams, finance, and compensation
- Important priority. Corporate social responsibility, external communications and marketing, and external vendors and consultants
For the rest of this section, we discuss these different stakeholders and why they’re critical. We also outline how DEIB and PA teams can work with each group.
There are various stakeholders for DEIB and PA at differing levels of priority as represented by each stakeholder group
Top-priority relationship: HR
The most crucial relationship that PA and DEIB partners must navigate is with the broader HR function (see Figures 13 and 14).
When PA and DEIB both report to HR, the partnership is much easier—because both functions are aligned with HR’s overall goals.
Further, leaders of both functions have an opportunity to align themselves, so they can achieve those common objectives.
Conversely, it’s far more difficult when PA and DEIB report into different functions—because it becomes much easier to lack upward and horizontal alignment (between DEIB and PA).
In this situation, there’s a significant onus on the PA and DEIB leaders to understand the overall business and talent strategies—and then align their teams’ work to those broader strategies as well as to each other.
Regardless of the reporting relationship, DEIB and PA leaders must understand:
- The overall business and talent strategies
- The CHRO’s responsibilities when it comes to DEIB
- The needs of business units and functions that result from working with individual HRBPs
- How to collaborate with COE leads to integrate DEIB metrics into their work on talent practices
- What support is needed from HRIT to access critical people data
- How DEIB metrics and analytics can help HR operations teams be more effective
When it comes to driving the relationship with HR, both PA and DEIB teams should take equal responsibility.
PA teams should be responsible for identifying the metrics and processing requests, while DEIB should take the lead in influencing talent strategy and practices.
More than 80% of chief diversity officers (CDOs) report either directly to the CEO or CHRO
More than 75% of PA leaders report one level below the organization’s CHRO
Top-priority relationship: Legal & privacy teams
Another critical relationship for the DEIB–PA partners is with the legal and privacy teams, a relationship for which they have equal responsibility in building and maintaining. It’s essential to collaborate early and often with these groups, especially given the sensitivity of DEIB data and variances of privacy laws among different countries.
Based on our interviews, we identified 3 different archetypes of legal and privacy teams (see Figure 15):
- “The less said, the better.” These leaders see their job as eliminating—as much as possible—any potential risk to the business. An effective way to get them to move on DEIB metrics and analytics is to work with senior business leaders to help these leaders see why this analytical work must be done.
- “I say no until you convince me to say yes.” These leaders see their job as shutting down any bad or poorly thought- through However, once DEIB and PA leaders develop a clear data collection, analysis, and distribution plan—with a clear business objective, these leaders can be swayed to support DEIB metrics and analytics plans.
- “I want to help you do this work safely.” These leaders are the ones that all DEIB and PA leaders hope they have. They understand the need for this work, may already have some experience doing it, and collaborate and brainstorm on safe, legal, appropriate solutions.
For example, while PA takes the lead in ensuring appropriate data are collected and shared, DEIB might educate and provide broader context around why it’s important to share the information
We’ve discovered 3 common types of legal and privacy teams that DEIB and PA teams find themselves working with in their organization
Critical relationship: Business leaders
While the DEIB and PA team may be responsible for driving the quantification and interpretation of DEIB metrics and analysis—business leaders must be involved in this work since they (see Figure 16):
- Influence the practices that impact DEIB
- Need to understand the underlying logic of how DEIB is measured so they can encourage it
- May be held accountable for meeting DEIB metrics
- May be fearful of being held responsible for meeting DEIB metrics
Given this situation, DEIB and PA leaders must work with business leaders to understand their perspectives on the current state of DEIB in their part of the business.
Some business leaders are very interested in making progress on DEIB metrics, while it can be a bit of a “check-the-box” activity for others.
Understanding business leaders’ levels of interest in DEIB metrics is essential, so that the analysis and insights can be tailored to what they care about most. Some of our interviewees worked with those more passionate business leaders and developed truly insightful metrics that business leaders used to drive significant changes.
The point is: The person with the strongest relationship, who is most likely to get the business leader's attention, should lead the conversation.
When determining which team (DEIB or PA) will take the lead with business leaders, the decision will be very organization- and leader-specific. In some organizations, PA has the strong data-focused relationship with the business leaders, so bringing DEIB data into the conversation will be very natural. In others, the DEIB leader has a stronger relationship, so it might make sense for the DEIB leader to begin the conversation and then pull in the PA leader when necessary.
In other situations, it may be that the DEIB and PA leaders work with the senior HRBP, as that person has the relationship with the business leader regarding all “people topics.”
“It’s unlikely that a C-suite leader will come to people analytics with a tactical question. Most often, it’s a strategic question based on a business need. It is up to us to translate that into a research question, find out the answer through data, and translate it back into a data-driven story that provides clarity on the larger strategic issue.”
—Jeremy Shapiro, Executive Director, Workforce Analytics, Merck
Several reasons exist as to why business leaders are integral to DEIB analytics
“There is often a hesitation or reluctance on the leader’s part to open their doors to analytics due to fear that it might reveal some unpleasant findings about their business, which makes it hard to establish a good working relationship.”
—People analytics practitioner
Critical relationship: Compensation & finance
Let’s talk first about the compensation team, as this relationship especially matters when looking at pay equity issues.
Pay equity is one of the more approachable DEIB topics to address—meaning that it’s something the centralized organization can influence directly—and different geographies are enacting laws that require pay equity transparency.
Therefore, many organizations address it relatively early in their DEIB journey.
If DEIB or PA already has a working relationship with the compensation team, then it makes sense for that team to lead.
In terms of the DEIB and PA teams’ relationship with the compensation team, a few critical items of focus include:
- Ensuring the compensation data and other DEIB data are consistent
- Being able to put the results of the pay equity analysis into the context of other DEIB metrics and priorities provided to business leaders
- Collaborating with business leaders, compensation, and finance to determine the highest priority compensation adjustment actions
- Working with compensation and finance to identify and align any metrics that’ll be used in compensation decisions
Again, which group (DEIB or PA) leads the relationship with the compensation team will depend on the existing relationships in place.
Turning to the relationship with finance, it’s almost a certainty that the PA team will have experience working with that team due to their other responsibilities.
However, if neither has such a relationship in place, then it makes sense for PA to lead the discussions—as PA leaders are often already well-versed in compensation technicalities and will probably be able to get to the appropriate analysis faster.
“ We were reporting to the C-suite when the CFO made it clear that they did not see any value in our report. Once we walked them through it, the CFO was amazed at the insights and told us that it was a rich discussion. Once we were able to show the value, they became highly engaged in our work.”
—People analytics practitioner
In this vein, the PA team should (with input from the DEIB team) focus on actions, such as:
- Aligning on critical data sources and ensuring data / analysis consistency
- Showing the financial impact of DEIB when needed
- Putting a monetary value on DEIB events / initiatives
“For our CFO, is gold. He is using people analytics to understand what’s on the horizon and if they can forecast better, based on the human capital data. We actually built a CFO dashboard for him. It’s a great relationship to have because he does not see people analytics as a service function. It’s very much a partnership of equals.”
—Head of global people analytics, multinational consumer products company
Critical relationship: Centralized IT & data operations
Centralized IT and data operations teams are important to the DEIB–PA partnership because they can help:
- Access centrally managed technologies and data
- Identify and provide access to novel data sources
- Troubleshoot technical or data-related difficulties
- Share novel data collection, analysis, and distribution practices
From our interviewees, we heard 2 common challenges when it comes to working with centralized IT and data operations (see Figure 17):
- Trust. Many organizations haven’t historically had a data-led PA or DEIB function, so they’re not accustomed to accommodating requests for access to centralized systems or data. Therefore, requests for support are usually met with suspicion.
Typically, organizations get around this by leveraging senior leaders who can provide a rationale, or by showing the type of work done in the past and how it was used. In addition, providing information on data privacy and security often help.
- Time. Many IT projects were put on hold during the pandemic, and centralized IT and data teams were overwhelmed. Teams have been managing this by reducing project scopes to the most necessary items, finding other resources who could do some of the work, and / or leveraging senior leaders to help with the reprioritization of work.
PA leaders should take the lead—with DEIB’s input—when it comes to driving the relationship with IT and data operations.
The PA team should:
- Share information on how data and technologies will be used to reduce hesitations and fear about data sharing
- Showcase the broader impact of the work on the business overall
- Find additional resources when IT lacks the bandwidth
Time and trust are 2 common challenges experienced by DEIB and PA teams when working with IT and data operations
Important relationship: Corporate social responsibility
The next set of relationships concerns how DEIB metrics and analytics are shared outside the organization. Many companies include DEIB efforts within their corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. As a result, communication with that team on appropriate DEIB metrics—some of which may end up in an annual CSR report—is essential.
But there’s more to it than that. As noted in this article by Dr. Rohini Anand, the well-known former Chief Diversity Officer of Sodexo, DEIB and CSR are often working toward similar goals but from different perspectives:
“… We sometimes approach the same goal from different starting points. Take gender equality. We both want it, but D&I might focus more on recruitment and leadership, whereas CSR might focus more on community empowerment. These can seem like different goals, but they are, in fact, merely different approaches to the same end: improving quality of life.”
To that end, it’s essential for DEIB to take the lead in driving this relationship to understand CSR’s goals, and to align the DEIB metrics and analytics approach to support those goals as much as possible. For many organizations, this relationship will likely build over time, with some initial, relatively “easy” shared metrics at the beginning and more complex metrics with time.
The point is to work across organizational silos and to align on a standard set of measurements and approaches. Without this, CSR and DEIB will look poorly in front of business leaders.
The PA team can serve as a subject matter expert (SME) on the appropriate metrics that’ll serve the purpose of both CSR and DEIB. Also, as the relationship between DEIB and CSR matures, PA can be brought in to identify the next-level or more complex metrics, and how they should be shared.
An example of a successful partnership with the CSR function comes from Portland’s professional basketball team, the Trail Blazers. In 2016, the team’s leadership made a commitment to advance DEI within and outside its organization. The team’s leadership understands that DEI should inform not only their internal culture-building initiatives, but also their external community engagement efforts.
To that end, the organization inaugurated an Equity Team that, over the course of 18 months, convened 7 executive-led strategic planning committees to craft a new approach to their DEI and CSR initiatives.
“Both D&I and CSR, fundamentally, are about reaching out to disenfranchised communities, bringing new market insights to the table, and driving collaborative solutions to business challenges. They are also both skilled at helping the business to understand new, broader definitions of success that will be relevant for the evolving marketplace.”
Important relationship: External communications & marketing
While your organization’s CSR team may share some DEIB metrics externally, it’s fairly certain that your external communications and marketing teams will be very involved in any external communication efforts (see Figure 18).
Some organizations release a dedicated DEIB report that needs to be developed in conjunction with the external communications and marketing teams. Others involve the external communications and / or marketing teams when communicating about DEIB metrics in financial reports or other situations.
While these are very pragmatic ways the DEIB–PA partnership may well engage with the external communications and marketing teams, much more possibility exists in this relationship. These teams:
- Are experts in understanding how to tell stories effectively—meaning they could be beneficial to the DEIB and PA teams as they work to creditably tell stories based on data
- Can share resources that might be useful in communicating about DEIB, such as this Diversity Style Guide
- Can also give some larger context to other critical messaging, both within and outside the organization
The relationships with external communications and marketing can provide DEIB and PA with opportunities to tie some of their own messaging to these more prominent topics. This insight can also serve as a starting point for identifying new data types and analyses that the DEIB and PA teams might want to use in the future.
DEIB should take the lead in working with external communications and marketing teams.
As the “natural” owner of DEIB work, DEIB leaders are responsible for crafting the story and messaging around the insights and how they tie to the broader business goals. On their end, PA leaders should help by:
- Providing DEIB leaders with the insights that shed light on the progress of the organizational goals
- Ensuring that the metrics are interpreted and reported accurately
- Answering questions that arise from the external communications and marketing teams
5 ways external communications and marketing teams can help DEIB and PA teams in their work
Important relationship: External vendors & consultants
Many organizations turn to external vendors and consultants when they need:
- An external review / perspective on DEIB metrics
- A separate party to do data collection and analysis so as to maintain privacy / independence
- More bandwidth to complete data collection / analysis / recommendations
- Specific expertise / insights
It’s essential to consider whether the external vendor / consultant relationship will be short- or long-term in nature. Due to the sensitivity of the data, this is especially important to consider with DEIB metrics and analytics.
- Shorter-term contracts may mean the DEIB and PA teams limit the data shared to reduce some of the risks to the
- Longer-term relationships may require some additional data privacy and security
In addition, it’s crucial to get the most relevant internal teams aligned on the reason for bringing in the external vendor / consultant and the scope of that party’s work. We’ve heard of way too many instances in which DEIB practitioners brought in external consultants to do DEIB metrics and analytics work without any consultation with the PA team. As a result, the work effort was wasted because the external team lacked adequate data or nuance to interpret the data in a meaningful way.
While DEIB leaders might often find themselves leading the work when it comes to working with external vendors and consultants, DEIB and PA leaders must work together and take equal responsibility.
Given the long-term nature of identifying, measuring, and distributing DEIB metrics, you must have everyone aligned on the work being done and who’s doing it. This is one of the areas in which it makes sense to go slow in moving forward.
“The DEI team hired a vendor for reporting. The team would send the vendor our SAP data and the vendor would send it back to us in some kind of a format that would be used for reporting. Looking back we can see that the numbers and reporting were very inconsistent.”
—Global People Analytics Director, a multinational consumer products company
You should partner closely to make sure:
- The services and technology offered are truly needed, and aren’t already being done in-house or by previously purchased tech
- A plan is in place as to how the data and findings from the consultant will be used
- Clarity exists around who is ultimately responsible for driving and implementing the recommendations and actions that come out of the review and analysis
“I see people analytics departments outsourcing DEIB analysis to external consultants, who will run multivariate regression models and provide independent assurance. The outcome often shows no significant bias. Well, of course, because there is no policy to pay people differently! I wish DEIB leaders would analyze potential bias in all the moments that matter. Then they will really see what’s happening.”
—Dirk Jonker, CEO and Founder, Crunchr
Now that you’re familiar with the practices required for a successful DEIB–PA partnership, what should you do next?
The 3 practices should be embedded as part of the broader strategy for both PA and DEIB teams. Here, we offer a few steps that you—as a DEIB or PA leader—can start taking immediately.
Step 1: Do a quick audit of where things currently stand between DEIB and PA with the organization. Some of the questions to help you do this include:
- Is there a formal partnership between DEIB and PA within the organization?
- Does leadership support the relationship if it exists?
- How often do DEIB and PA leaders interact or meet?
- Does senior leadership understand and value PA's role in DEIB?
Step 2: Identify the gaps and build on the practices. Determine the areas in the partnership that need attention and which of the 3 practices discussed earlier should be leveraged. Think through the following questions:
- Do DEIB and PA leaders have a clear line of sight into each other's work?
- Is there clarity between the 2 teams regarding responsibilities and expectations?
- Do you have in place an intake process for DEIB requests, data sharing, and communication of insights?
- What other relationships do DEIB and PA teams need to leverage within the organization?
Step 3: Communicate and share broadly the work you are doing together. Sharing your successes and lessons learned within the partnership is essential to supporting each other. Think through the following questions to understand how you can get started:
- How are we currently sharing our work with others in the organization?
- Is our senior leadership aware of our work's impact on the organization?
- Are there external opportunities we can leverage to showcase our work?
- Are we leveraging resources (e.g., community groups and other industry leaders) to get feedback and insights on what else we should be doing?
We also provide a series of exhaustive checklists for each of the 3 practices in the appendix. Use them as a "grab-and-go" list of actions to start building your own successful DEIB analytics partnership.
“There are people who partner with people analytics reluctantly because they need data, and then there are others who want to work with them and use their brain. Diversity leaders should strive to be in the latter group because only then will they gain the insights needed to be successful in their work.”
Chief Diversity Officer, a global retail company
Over the last 2+ years, many events, trends, and changes have thrust DEIB and PA into the spotlight. While they may be on the stage together, these 2 teams have very different backgrounds and don’t always have the “chemistry” they need. Yet, they must play their respective parts to help organizations through these unprecedented times.
We discovered from our research 3 critical practices which DEIB and PA teams should do to build the kind of partnership that will allow them both to flourish:
- Understand each other’s contexts
- Build a plan for partnering
- Manage the complex organizational network together
By doing these things, PA and DEIB leaders can partner effectively to deliver high-quality DEIB metrics and analysis to their organizations. This partnership will enable organizations to make higher-quality, data-backed decisions that ultimately impact millions of lives.
We strongly encourage you to complement this study with our previous study on DEIB analytics: DEIB Analytics: A Guide to Why & How to Get Started and DEIB Metrics: An Essential Guide. If you still have questions, please reach out. We love to learn from you.
Note: for Appendices, including research methodology, and checklists for getting started please download the PDF report.
Posted on Tuesday, July 12th, 2022 at 6:00 AM
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Organizations still have a long way to go when it comes to DEIB
It's been more than 2 years since the murder of George Floyd. Two years since business leaders published statements promising to address the systemic inequities within their organizations. Two years since organizations began hiring new diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) leaders, reexamining practices, and investing in new programs and systems. So, what results have we seen?
To date, the results of these actions haven't been great. According to the Edelman Trust Index, most employees under age 54 don't believe that companies are living up to the promises made to address racism within their organization. Further, trust in employers to respond appropriately to systemic racism and racial injustice has declined. As shown in Figure 1, this is particularly the case in populations impacted by racially motivated events, such as the mass shootings of Asians in Atlanta, GA in March 2021, Taiwanese in Laguna Woods, CA in May of 2022, and of Blacks in Buffalo, NY also in May of 2022.
Though issues of race are the most prevalent at the moment, they're not the only areas for which employees are dissatisfied with their employers’ responses. For example, data from PwC shows that 80% of employees believe their organizations don’t gather and analyze data on compensation, performance, hiring, and promotions discrepancies. Further, nearly 40% of total respondents from a survey of 1,543 workers, the majority of whom identify as Black, Hispanic / Latinx, Asian, female, and LGBTQIA, believe their company’s commitment to DEI is likely to drift in the future.
Even CEOs recognize the problem: According to Deloitte, 41% believe there's a lack of trust around DEI in their organizations.
“The taken-for-granted assumption that one could just get a position of leadership and then behave however one chooses to and get away with it…is not really panning out. The context has changed.”
Employees still expect organizations to act
Despite employees’ dissatisfaction with their organizations’ progress over the last few years, they still expect companies to take action on issues of racial injustice. Americans still trust their employers more than any other type of institution to do what's “right” when it comes to racism. Similarly, 66% of Americans think businesses should act on racial injustice issues, while 68% believe people should be able to discuss the topic at work (see Figure 2).
Further, 58% of the U.S. general population indicate that an inclusive work culture with a strong and well-supported diversity program is critically important to attract and retain them. Further, in organizations that have made “a lot” of progress in addressing racism and racial inequities in the workforce, employees have higher levels of loyalty, employer advocacy, and commitment.
The questions this study answers
Given everything that's happened in the last few years, we took a step back and asked a few critical questions:
- What are some of the fundamental shifts we’ve seen related to talent—and how will this impact diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB)?
- What is a holistic way leaders can think about their DEIB efforts, thereby more effectively defining and integrating their DEIB strategy with other activities?
- What trends do we see moving forward that could influence organizations' 2022-2023 strategy?
This study is based on a review of more than 70 articles, and interviews with 10 DEIB leaders and 20 HR leaders.
RedThread's definitions of terms: DEIB
The earthquake beneath the talent landscape is shaking up DEIB expectations
Over the last few years, we’ve seen some tectonic-level shifts in the talent landscape. These include:
- Change in power dynamics in favor of Over the last year, we’ve seen the Great Resignation as well as a massive rebellion when it comes to employees returning to the office (office occupancy rates have plateaued at 43%). Further, the gig marketplace and alternative work arrangements are increasingly attractive to employees, with many opting for those roles in lieu of a corporate job.
- Demand for skills that are in under-supply results in a greater focus on retention, promotion, and talent The last few years’ whiplash-like changes in the business environment have highlighted organizations’ talent deficiencies. Leaders realize they don’t have the skills they need in their existing workforce—and they can't fill their organizations’ demand for skills from the external talent market. Therefore, leaders are focusing on retaining employees and developing them with the skills the company needs.
- Rising importance of human capital For companies, more and more of their business is people-driven, resulting in investors taking a growing interest in human capital metrics. The SEC, for example, is now requiring public companies to report on those metrics—including diversity metrics—in their financial reports.
As a result of these major shifts, leaders could not simply make their 2020 DEIB promises and move on to the next thing (see Figure 3). Instead, they see a situation in which:
- Employees feel empowered to demand change with Nearly 60% of those aged 35-54 and 70% of those aged 18-34 have advocated or acted against racism—and they're carrying those expectations of action into their workplaces. Another 82% of employees expect CEOs to do something to address systemic racism and racial injustice.
- Leaders must respond to employees’ demands to make progress on It’s clear that leaders must address racism or risk losing employees. While 40% of employees would consider leaving their company if they don’t trust it to fulfill its DEI commitments, 56% would not recommend their company as a place to work.
- The public is monitoring progress on With the current SEC requirements to disclose diversity data—and more requirements coming soon—investors, employees, and the media are all holding leaders accountable for moving the needle on DEIB metrics. While some organizations have shared minimal diversity data, it’s unlikely that scenario will remain tenable.
“A role that was once focused on race and gender has grown in complexity and inclusion of individuals spanning military status, special needs, LGBTQ, generations, and more. What was once a focus on workforce (people) now includes workplace (culture) and marketplace (business).”
DEIB isn't the sole responsibility of human resources. In 2019, Genentech CEO Alexander Hardy created the role of chief diversity officer (CDO) and decided it should report directly to him. Additionally, managers of departments are required to complete D&I action plans that are then shared with their teams and, in some cases, the entire company on its intranet. The departmental action plans help create ownership so that it's not just the CDO’s responsibility to drive D&I.
These steps have allowed the company to expand its commitment to D&I beyond hiring and retention, and into every aspect of its business and company culture.
Similarly, at Chipotle the diversity strategy is not seen as a responsibility of one department. The company’s program includes mentorship, virtual roundtables, and quarterly training. For the company, the most effective programming is an ongoing cadence of events that genuinely engage its workforce and features a diverse group of individuals from various departments. It believes that when employees make real connections, it helps cultivate an environment where they can thrive and pursue their passions with like-minded coworkers.
“Prior to the creation of the Chief Diversity Office, our D&I efforts sat within HR. Alexander understood the need for an enterprisewide mindset and a seat at the decision-making table for us to think bolder than representation—and truly advance equity within Genentech’s business.”
A shift within a shift: The rising importance of purpose
An underlying theme of the shift in power dynamics toward employees is their greater desire to align their personal purpose with the purpose of their respective organizations. According to Gartner, as of January 2022, within the U.S. employee population:
- 52% question the purpose of their day-to-day job
- 56% want to contribute more to society
- 65% are rethinking the place work should have in their lives
Leaders increasingly understand the need to identify, articulate, and act on their organization’s purpose. As identified in Figure 4, an organization's purpose is a clear and concise statement that inspires people to deliver value to multiple stakeholders.
An organizational purpose that considers multiple stakeholders—also known as stakeholder capitalism—is not some new-fangled idea that some fringe companies are doing. In fact, the Business Roundtable, an organization comprised of the largest companies in the world, released an updated “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” in August 2019.
In this statement, “181 CEOs committed to pursue a more holistic approach to serving stakeholders more broadly renouncing the concept of shareholder primacy.”
Organizational purpose: A clear and concise statement that inspires people to deliver value to multiple stakeholders.
Purposeful organizations focus on the same stakeholder types as DEIB leaders
The focus on purpose has a direct consequence for DEIB efforts, as the multiple types of stakeholders identified by the Business Roundtable (see Figure 5) are the same ones on which DEIB leaders traditionally focus.
This means that DEIB leaders should have more support for their efforts, as organizations try to fulfill the idea of organizational purpose.
But with that broader support also, potentially, come more cooks in the DEIB kitchen—and more scrutiny of DEIB efforts. This makes it more important than ever to have a clear and holistic approach to DEIB.
Developing a holistic approach to DEIB
“This work is about culture and change management, and so we need to be looking for behaviors, practices, or norms that need to change.“
—Mary Ellen Connerty, Director, Diversity & Engagement, O’Melveny & Myers LLP
Creating a holistic DEIB approach
When you’re developing a new DEIB approach—really a DEIB system—you need to answer these 6 questions (see Figure 6):
- Why is my organization focusing on DEIB?
- What goals are we trying to achieve and for whom?
- What is our strategy to achieve those goals?
- What levers are we trying to pull to enable that strategy? What are the supporting activities that pull those levers?
- How will we use technology to scale our operational activities?
- How will we use data, analytics, and metrics to create transparency and enable accountability?
A holistic DEIB system is one in which every organizational process, action, policy, and decision is looked at through a DEIB lens.
Start with your organization’s “why”
There are typically 3 reasons why organizations focus on DEIB:
- Alignment to organizational purpose
- “Right thing to do” (RTTD)
- Business case for D&I
Right now, though, there’s another reason:
Other competing priorities. A recent Deloitte study revealed that majority of senior leaders believe their organizations' commitment to DEIB will take a back seat as other competitive threats surface.
This skepticism of organizations’ commitment to DEIB means it's even more important than ever for organizations to follow through on their commitments.
Making it happen: Understanding the why
When you open the discussion to “why” your organization is supporting DEIB, it's critical to be sensitive to the organization's specific context, environment, and leaders’ perspectives.
Different leaders are at various stages in their journey to understand and embrace DEIB. One of the benefits of the greater openness we’ve seen is that many leaders are now more open to further learning.
Regardless of specific leaders’ perspectives, the important thing is to align on the overall why for the company.
“Begin with why this is important to you. Align it to the long-term value of the firm, the purpose of the firm, and your value system.”
—Mary Slaughter, Former Managing Director, EY
Why: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ Why are we focusing on DEIB (i.e., alignment to purpose, market / societal expectations, business outcomes)?
❏ How does that reason align with our business strategy?
❏ How does this reason(s) align with our internal talent expectations and our external brand?
❏ What are the specific DEIB changes that impact our organization?
❏ What are senior execs’ experiences with DEIB and how can we use those to align on a vision?
What does your organization want to achieve?
The next big question to answer is what your goals are, both long term and short. Some examples of typical goals we heard are:
- Ensure talent pipeline diversity
- Move the dial on leadership diversity
- Identify barriers to belonging while putting inclusive practices in place
- Enhance representation among middle management
It’s important to be very clear on these goals, and (as we discuss later) to have clear metrics and accountability in place for these goals.
Canada’s Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD Bank) has created goals for the company for 2025 to increase the representation of Black, Indigenous, and minorities at the vice-president level or higher. To achieve that, the company began by conducting its first-ever racial equity audit in 2022.
The audit will scrutinize TD’s internal employment practices for racial bias and allow the bank to use its findings to inform future business practices with Black, Indigenous, and other racialized customers. It includes a third-party assessment by an outside law firm and TD staffers' contributions.
The purpose of the audit is to help the bank review its employment policy and understand how it operates. The bank is also committed to applying the lessons learned in its work with customers and communities. While the company started by looking at its operations and employee experience at the bank, its DEIB strategy has expanded to include how it interacts with and serves its customers and communities. The company’s approach to DEIB recognizes the intrinsic link to other dimensions of its business, and the impacts of racial equity on customers and communities.
In addition to focusing on representation, the company also tracks inclusion through an employee experience survey that it reviews from the perspective of different communities to understand the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and underrepresented employees at TD.
“If you don’t have that strong, inclusive culture within your organization, if you don’t have an understanding of how racism and discrimination can manifest—including in the form of microaggressions—then you’re not going to be able to achieve that sustainable progress you want to see.”
—Diana Lee, Vice-President of Diversity and Inclusion, TD Bank
And, for whom?
While it’s important to have high-level goals, you should consider focusing on goals for specific subsets of stakeholders (see Figure 7).
For example, you may have specific goals for C-suite leaders and middle managers, as those groups are critical to making DEIB a reality.
In addition, you may have goals for specific demographic groups, such as gender, race / ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, social / economic classification, age, disability, and religion.
For the last few years, there’s been a huge focus on both female and Black employees. We expect to see goals around representation and engagement of these populations to continue.
Making it happen: Listening for better goal-setting
When setting goals, it's essential for you to understand the range of perceptions and experiences of different stakeholders. This can mean leveraging a range of data sources (e.g., interviews, focus groups, surveys, demographic data, digital exhaust, etc.) to get a holistic picture of current state and gaps.
Recommendations and feedback from diversity councils, resource and affinity groups, people committees, and diversity advocates comprise an integral part of understanding where you stand and where you need to go.
“Every strategy must start with listening. We must veer away from making assumptions on what people need and how they need it, and listening forms a core part of that.” —Sheree Atcheson, former Global Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Peakon
Goals: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ Where are we currently?
❏ Where are the existing gaps?
❏ What is the experience of each of our stakeholders in working with our organization?
❏ How frequently are we listening to stakeholders?
❏ Are there specific roles or groups, such as executives or middle managers, whose approach needs to evolve so we can drive change?
❏ What has changed and are we addressing that in our goals?
❏ How will the goals we set align with our business strategy and objectives?
“Understand the business you’re in and figure out how D&I can enhance the bottom line. Such efforts can’t be an HR initiative; they ca be separate from corporate strategy. This is about engaging the entire organization on issues related to diversity.”
What is a strategy anyway?
We have read about a lot of different DEIB “strategies”:
- The 3 Ps: People, partners, and places
- The 4 Pillars: Workforce, workplace, industry, and community
- The 3 Is: Individuals, infrastructure, and impact
While these are useful methods to keep track of all the ways you can operationalize a strategy, they are not a strategy.
Instead, a strategy helps you understand what you should be doing—and, as a result, what you should not be doing—to achieve the established goals.
A DEIB strategy supports the purpose and drives the organizational culture.
Think of it this way: Your strategy to win a marathon may be to go fast the first 13 miles and slow the last 13 miles (and just hope you make it!). Or it could be to go slow the first 20 miles and sprint the last 6.
But a strategy wouldn't be to put on your running shoes, clothes, and drink water! They may be necessary to running the race, but they're not your strategy.
A business strategy is “… a set of guiding principles that, when communicated and adopted in the organization, generates a desired pattern of decision making.” Source: Harvard Business Review, 2007.
So what’s a DEIB strategy then?
A DEIB strategy, similarly, is a set of guiding principles that helps your organization achieve its DEIB goals. The DEIB strategy should help you make decisions about the activities to engage in and those you should forego to achieve your goals.
What does this look like in real life? As an example, let's assume a company’s goal is:
“To be the most inclusive organization in tech.”
Sounds lofty, right? Well, then the strategy could be:
“To create inclusive experiences for employees from their first interaction to their exit interview.”
This strategy clarifies that the organization will focus on all of the talent lifecycle and specifically focus on inclusion (diversity, equity, or belonging may be a secondary focus).
It also gives the organization a set of guidelines for making decisions, for example:
- Is this talent selection process inclusive? Nope? Let’s change
- Is this leadership program inclusive? Kind of. Let’s evolve it.
- Is this event inclusive? Yes! Great, how can we do more of them?
How are DEIB strategies changing now?
We asked every interviewee if their DEIB strategy is changing and the results were mixed.
Organizations that already had a clear strategy indicated they plan to stay the course. These companies have amplified their efforts for Black employees and their communities, but haven't planned significant strategic changes.
"Having a collective strategy around what we’re doing not only to hire the best talent but also to retain talent and develop talent is important. One of the reasons we’re seeing strong results is because of how we’ve treated our people , and a lot of that has been led by HR."
For those organizations that are relatively early in their DEIB journey, we find are much more likely to indicate they're planning to adjust their strategy. Generally speaking, this means developing a much more explicit focus on inclusion and belonging for Black employees, and a greater level of openness for difficult conversations about racial justice.
" to make sure we’re talking about inclusion and equality at every level, and that it is front and center in the board room and in the management room. We can set hard targets for ourselves and make those transparent to our board and measure them like we measure other outcomes like financial results.”
Strategy vs. goals: What’s the difference?
Once you've set your goals, the next step is to figure out how to achieve them and lay out a strategy for it. You may fall short at this stage as setting goals and objectives is often confused with an actual strategy.
While DEIB goals are what you hope to achieve, a strategy is a specific action plan that will help you get there.
It's critical that you be extremely detailed and descriptive in laying out the specific targets and how you strategically work to achieve them. Unlike goals, which can be both short and long term (1-5 years), a strategy should cover a short-time period (e.g., 1 financial year) and needs to be revisited often.
" You can’t take exactly what someone else is doing, put it in your organization and think it will work. You’re not really focusing on your own culture and diagnosing your own issues. You can learn what others are doing, but you have to figure out what challenges you’re trying to solve for your own company.”
Bank of America’s commitment to DEIB is reflected in its numbers. Its global workforce is half women, and in the U.S., 49% of its workforce are people of color. Half of the company’s board of directors is diverse, and it’s among just 9 S&P companies with at least 6 female board members. In 2021, the bank increased its commitment to racial equality and economic opportunity to $1.25 billion over 5 years.
One of the ways the bank builds on its diversity efforts and advances that success is through its “Let’s Get Real” courageous conversations series. These conversations allow employees to empathize, understand their differences, and contextualize some of the takeaways and lessons. Held across the organization globally, the conversations are led by members of the board, the CEO, most of the management team, multiple employee networks, and many employees who’ve been able to talk about the issues that matter to them.
The conversations cover different topics—intersectionality, mental health, equity, and inclusion—and have helped people check their own biases and reflect on how to be more consciously unbiased. Another area is helping people get comfortable with difficult conversations and providing them with the necessary tools to talk about sometimes difficult topics to drive more conversations around inclusion and equity.
Bank of America encourages its people to be proactive and have deliberate conversations. It wants them to listen to others instead of replying right away, and challenge themselves to see where that person is coming from. The bank encourages people to have authentic conversations.
Making it happen: Refining the strategy
Similar to goal-setting, involve different stakeholders right from the start in refining the strategy.
Incorporate different groups with varied experiences to get their perspectives on how goals can be achieved. Strategy setting should be a highly iterative process.
Our interviews revealed 3 findings crucial to this step:
- Collaborate with business leaders on how the DEIB strategy will work for their business and enable them to achieve their objectives
- Work with HR and other teams, such as talent acquisition, learning and development, and leadership development, to revisit policies and practices to ensure that the strategy is baked into every process
- Using the strategy setting process—and the resulting communications—as a way to get everyone onboard with the actions to come
Strategy: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ Who needs to be involved in creating the strategy (including middle and frontline managers)?
❏ Do our goals and strategy support each other?
❏ What specific activities will help us achieve those goals?
❏ What practices / policies need to be shifted?
❏ How can we embed DEIB strategy and activities into the business strategy?
❏ Does the strategy align with the overall purpose of the organization?
“Solving DEI&B starts with understanding the human brain and how we relate to one another. If we don't learn how to talk openly about this complex subject, if we don't learn how to spot bias in our own behaviors, and if we don't learn how to act inclusively and have empathy for others, all our procedures in the world won't change our individual experiences.”
—Mary Slaughter, Former Managing Director, EY
Moving on from strategy: Focus first on the levers, not activities
It’s super easy to rush from strategy to specific programs, initiatives, and events. Don’t make this mistake.
Instead, identify the levers your organization most needs to focus on to drive DEIB outcomes (see Figure 8). This allows you to be more purposeful about your organization's DEIB activities.
For some goals, it may be best to focus on some of the levers, while, for others, you might want to influence all of them.
For example, if your organization’s challenge is senior leaders' support, then you might want to focus on understanding those leaders’ individual beliefs / behaviors, and making low-risk policy or program changes. If, instead, your challenge is middle-manager support, then you might focus on understanding those leaders’ beliefs and behaviors, but also tackle driving changes in all other areas, too.
Select DEIB activities based on levers
Once you’re clear on the levers you're trying to influence, then identify the activities that could be appropriate. Figure 9 offers an example list of activities that impact DEIB levers. This list is not exhaustive. You should build out your own list—and adjust your assessment of the extent to which the activities influence the levers for your organization.
Generally speaking, it's better to have activities that influence multiple levers. That said, a specific talent activity may serve an important purpose for a single lever.
For example, a statement on the organization’s perspective regarding racial injustice during the summer of 2020 was incredibly important. However, since it only influences one of the levers, it needed to be backed up with other activities that can impact DEIB outcomes.
In early 2019, DoorDash, the food-delivery startup, implemented a DEIB program, Elevate, an internal sponsorship project designed to help advance the careers of women of color.
Because the executive team was already convinced about the need for such a program, leadership buy-in was quick. However, the program founders spent significant time educating leaders on the differences between mentorship and sponsorship. Specifically, they clarified that managers may offer support, training, advice, and coaching as part of mentorship, but a sponsor should also be an active advocate.
The program is designed for women of color who aspire to hold leadership positions. Participants (called fellows) receive sponsorship from senior management for 6 months. The fellows engage in several activities throughout the program, including attending:
- One-on-one coaching sessions with an external executive coach
- Executive sponsor meetings with company directors and C-suite members
- Career workshops
- Leadership team meetings
The activities aim to help them gain visibility, understand the language leaders speak at that level, and widen their network.
To track success, the company runs surveys before and after each program iteration. The surveys measure satisfaction rates for participants, including what they thought of the coaching and their sponsor. It also tracks retention and promotions of attendees, as well as internal mobility.
After 3 cohorts, Elevate has shown signs of success.
Within 6 months of completing the program, 38% of fellows earned promotions, a significant increase as compared with their non-Elevate peers. Additionally, 20% of alumni took lateral steps within the company.
“Rather than just focus on recruiting and getting more senior women of color externally, we wanted to focus on investing in talent internally.”
Making it happen: Enabling levers & activities
While strategy may be set by a subset of leaders, it comes to life through everyone. Therefore, it's essential for you to share details of the strategy throughout the organization and to distribute the authority to act on it broadly.
This means that once the influential levers and activities have been identified, you must provide tools, resources, and empowerment for everyone in the organization to take action.
Levers & activities: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ How do we enable action at every level?
❏ Who is responsible for which parts of the strategy?
❏ Have we clarified what decision-making rights leaders have?
❏ What role does everyone need to play?
❏ How can we enable individuals at all levels to drive DEIB?
❏ What tools and resources do people need to implement the strategy effectively?
Tech: The great scaler
For a long time, the combination of technology and DEIB—beyond training and ensuring accessibility—wasn't a thought that crossed most DEIB leaders’ minds.
That has changed. In our initial report from February 2019, Diversity & Inclusion Technology: The Rise of a Transformative Market, we identified 89 vendors in the space. In our most recent report on DEIB technology, we identified more than 100 vendors that offer solutions across all parts of the talent lifecycle.
As in so many other areas, DEIB tech can dramatically expand the scale and impact of your DEIB activities. However, just as with any technology implementation, it's essential that you have all other critical decisions—your “why,” goals, strategy, and levers / activities—made before you select any tech. Otherwise, you could be selecting technology that will scale your efforts … in the wrong way.
Before implementing any new technology, you should analyze your existing tech for biases that may exist either within the systems themselves or in how they're used. Then apply that same criteria to any new tech you may implement.
“DEIB technology is enterprise software that provides insights or alters processes or practices, at the individual or organizational level, in support of an organization's efforts to become more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and to enable belonging.”
Source: RedThread Research, 2021.
DEIB tech: You may already have it
When we think about DEIB tech, there are 3 types of vendors:
- “DEIB Focus” vendors: These vendors’ primary business is helping organizations address their D&I An example of this is a vendor whose product focuses only on reducing unconscious bias during hiring.
- “DEIB Feature” vendors: These vendors offer features or functionalities that cater specifically to D&I needs, but their primary business includes more than D&I. An example of this is a recruiting software vendor whose product can make all resume names / identifying information “blind” to minimize unconscious bias.
- “DEIB Friendly” vendors: These vendors do not address D&I as their primary focus, and they don't market themselves specifically as doing so—but their features or functionalities could positively impact diversity and inclusion in organizations. An example of this is a recruiting software vendor that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to recommend appropriate candidates to hiring managers.
It’s important to understand these differences because they can emphasize that your organization may already have technology—a “Feature” or “Friendly” tech—which can be leveraged for DEIB purposes.
Critically, many vendors have added DEIB features to their offerings (see Figure 10) in the last 2 years, making it more likely than ever that your existing tech already has some capabilities in this area.
After reviewing your existing technology, if you don't have a way to scale your strategy and activities, then consider some of the DEIB Focus technologies that may help you achieve your goals. Our DEIB tech research can help you find solutions.
Making it happen: Using tech to drive impact
One of the biggest benefits of technology is that it can help identify insights which either have been missed or considered too politically sensitive to surface. By tracking, measuring, and analyzing actions and behaviors, tech can highlight biases that otherwise wouldn't be discussed.
71% of people believe business leaders are incapable of recognizing racism around them.
Technology: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ What technology do we currently have that can be leveraged for DEIB purposes?
❏ How can we leverage tech to raise awareness among people on issues around DEIB?
❏ Which technologies do we need to add to help us meet our goals?
❏ Are there certain technologies that we need to get rid of?
“It’s my responsibility as the CEO of this company to make sure it doesn’t fall off the agenda. I think by setting goals for ourselves in the short, medium, and long term, we can then hold ourselves accountable. And I expect the GM team to hold me accountable.”
Data: Creating transparency & enabling accountability
One of the biggest shifts we’ve seen is a higher level of focus on identifying, analyzing, and democratizing DEIB data.
- Identifying DEIB data: While organizations have tracked diversity data for compliance reasons for years, the focus has shifted more broadly. Organizations are now trying to understand the employee experience for diverse populations and how that differs from the majority We’re also hearing about organizations seeking more forward-looking metrics—not just pipeline or representation metrics, which are backward-looking.
- Analyzing DEIB data: Historically, given the perceived sensitivity of this data, the analysis and reporting of DEIB data have been done by a small group of The recent proliferation of data technologies has expanded the groups that can access and analyze these data, making it more likely to be done.
- Democratizing DEIB data: Given higher expectations from employees and other stakeholders, organizations are sharing more data on DEIB than The key will be in ensuring accountability for changes, which is a responsibility of both organizational leaders and stakeholders.
Bank of America continues to make progress on its commitment to DEIB due to the support provided by its Global D&I Council, which is chaired by the bank’s CEO. The council comprises several senior executives across businesses and regions. The CEO attends every session. The council helps set priorities and hold the bank accountable to drive progress. Additionally, the bank’s board and CEO oversee culture, and hold the organization and DEI team accountable for their work to support internal talent and address societal issues.
The progress is reflected in the bank’s Human Capital Management Report, which shows that the progress for underrepresented groups is largely due to their accountability and governance structure. In addition to making progress in the gender diversity in its global workforce, It's closing gaps at senior levels and management teams are significantly diverse. Currently, 3 out of 8 business lines at the bank are women-led.
Since 2015, Intel has publicly shared percentages around its D&I data as part of its environmental, social, and governance (ESG) work. Further, in 2019, Intel made its pay data public and announced that it had achieved gender pay equity globally and race / ethnicity pay equity in the U.S. In 2022, Intel decided to go a step further and share raw data in addition to the percentages in its reports.
This level of transparency for Intel has resulted in increased accountability and a desire to do better when achieving its DEIB goals. The results are indicative of the efforts.
In 2020, the company had 1,250 women and 380 underrepresented minorities (URMs) in senior leadership roles. The company’s target for 2021 was to reach 1,375 women in senior leadership. It surpassed its goal by 74, ending the year with 1,449 women in senior leadership roles across the globe. The U.S. URM numbers for senior leadership roles also increased to 444.
Even though the company continues to push its efforts, it has witnessed a drop in some places. For example, it saw a decline in technical roles held by women from 25.2% in 2020 to 24.3% in 2021. The company has set goals to exceed 40% representation of women in technical positions by 2030. To achieve this, the company will be implementing targeted programs to increase the number of women hired for technician, engineering hardware, and software roles through sourcing, pipelining, and workforce development initiatives.
The company aims to increase the representation of Black / African American employees in senior, director, and executive-level roles in the U.S. workforce by 10% by the end of 2022. It also plans to achieve 30% female representation in technical entry-level hires and $1.4 billion in annual spending with diverse suppliers.
"We are looking at being transparent and holding ourselves accountable like we want our employees and the industry to hold us accountable. We're taking this year to reassess and ensure that our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) work is truly forward-thinking and will get us to a great place by 2030."
—Dawn Jones, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and Vice President of Social Impact, Intel
Making it happen: Data, analytics & metrics
Many companies can fall into the trap of “check the box,” for which DEIB efforts become something you have to do because it's required. By tying efforts to actual metrics that are reported and connected to potential rewards, you can embed accountability.
Additionally, establishing metrics that can be tracked consistently might be one of the most crucial steps you can take in the process.
“In every organization, there is a need for a set of standardized metrics that can be applied across the business, and customized metrics that are specific to each business, to ensure equitable measurement.
—Crysta Dungee, DEI leader
Data, analytics & metrics: A checklist to jumpstart your efforts
❏ What data will help us understand if we're making progress toward our goals?
❏ Do we have both forward-looking and backward-looking goals? How can that data be consolidated into 3–7 metrics we can track consistently?
❏ Which metrics can be connected to either carrots or sticks to drive accountability?
❏ And for whom? What data / results must we share with everyone?
❏ What other data / results should we share with other audiences?
❏ How often must we share that data with those stakeholders?
“If we want to make change, we have to have a target and accountability. If is important, we attach a number and a timeline to see if we’re making progress on that.”
—SVP, Head of People Sustainability and Chief D&I Officer, Technology company
Trends for 2022 & 2023
Trend #1—Ensuring return to office isn’t return to 2019
One of the most remarkable sets of data from the last few years compares the return-to-office preferences of different demographic groups. As shown in Figure 11, most underrepresented populations prefer to be in the office much less frequently than their white colleagues.
Qualitative research reveals that one of the primary reasons for this is the significant reduction in microaggressions and other types of harassment when employees worked remotely. As employees are in the office more regularly, leaders need to be aware of this issue, and implement workplace practices, behaviors, education, and resources to mitigate it.
There's also the topic of employees who return to the office much less often, as they require the flexibility they've found over the last several years. Research shows that, among knowledge workers, underrepresented populations desire flexibility much more than other populations.
This is also the case for working parents, for whom 57% of working mothers and 48% of working fathers want to work remotely 3-5 days per week (see Figure 12). However, the same research shows many working parents (46%) fear that working remotely will negatively affect their career trajectory (as compared with just 34% of nonparents).
As leaders look to adjust their return-to-office policies, they should consider (if they haven't already) how they'll design their talent practices to minimize the impact of proximity bias. This is especially important since it appears underrepresented populations may take more advantage of flexible work arrangements.
Approaches, such as the following, can go a long way in addressing this issue:
- Analysis of performance scores or promotions by in-office time
- Ensuring every employee has a career conversation
- Making access to information about development and promotions more transparent
Trend #2—Auditing existing talent practices and technologies through a DEIB lens
Due to the events of the last 2 years, organizations have a higher level of insight into the challenges of underrepresented populations. Many DEIB-specific resources have been launched to help address these challenges, such as employee resource groups (ERGs), hiring a DEIB leader, and providing DEIB training.
While helpful, these approaches don’t address systemic bias. To do this, leaders need to look at their talent systems—their practices and technologies. Figure 13 highlights DEIB-related practices that U.S. employees believe would help their companies’ long-term success while also benefiting DEIB.
One of the most important places to start looking is where critical talent decisions are made—hiring and advancement. Analyzing those talent processes for potential biases is a really good place to start. For example, one organization we’ve spoken with has put in place a “candidate advocate” on interview and promotion panels to listen specifically for potentially biased comments (e.g., “She’s got a young kid at home, so she probably doesn’t want this opportunity.”). Other standard practices include having diverse hiring / promotion panel slates.
Another area many companies are focused on today is pay equity. Many organizations can help companies analyze existing pay practices and plan for appropriate adjustments.
Trend #3—The increasing importance of DEIB metrics
We define DEIB metrics as:
Metrics that help leaders analyze and monitor the state of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging within the organization.
As alluded to earlier, DEIB metrics are increasingly required by investors, customers, and candidates. It's important to note that we'll soon see more required disclosures from the SEC, which will heighten the need to produce high-quality DEIB metrics.
However, external disclosures are not the only reason to focus on DEIB metrics. Instead, organizations should provide DEIB metrics, along with a straightforward narrative around them (especially around why they may not be able to change as fast as some desire), to dispel rumors and distrust within organizations. As shown in Figure 14, a substantial percentage of employees don't trust colleagues to tell them the truth about racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion in the organization.
Part of the reason for the lack of trust is this: Companies can appear to be “cherry-picking” the specific metrics they share. As shown in Figure 15, some metrics, such as board data disclosures and overall workforce diversity numbers, are commonly reported by companies. However, some of the metrics which could potentially cast companies in a more negative light, such as racial / ethnic pay ratio or diversity targets by race / ethnicity, are less reported upon.
As we all know, providing metrics around DEIB won’t necessarily change everyone’s mind. However, by being clear about where the organization is on DEIB and why specific metrics are being shared versus others, leaders can start to build trust with employees. Over time, regular disclosures of metrics—and improving those metrics—can strengthen employees’ trust in this topic.
The time is now for DEIB leadership
Here & now
The last few years created a unique set of conditions that made people, organizations, and society more open to making meaningful changes to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging than ever before.
Create a holistic DEIB system
While it remains crucial that you create DEIB strategies aligned to specific needs, you also need to create alignment across the entire DEIB system— from “why” the organization focuses on DEIB down to leaders’ data, analytics, and metrics. This will create a much more cohesive and stronger system to support DEIB.
Our research indicates that organizations need—and employees demand—to take action on DEIB. By creating an aligned DEIB system (see Figure 16), your organization will be better prepared to tackle whatever comes next.
Posted on Thursday, July 7th, 2022 at 11:44 AM
On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe vs. Wade ruling, leaving many companies scrambling. In response, we convened a roundtable of leaders on June 30 to discuss these challenges and identify possible solutions.
Specifically, we discussed 3 questions:
- How organizations are communicating about Roe vs. Wade, both internally and externally
- How organizations can support those affected by this reversal
- What are some of the broader implications for talent attraction, retention, and employee experience
There is a general sense of fear resulting in a slow or lack of response from organizations on the issue
Companies had been quick and vocal about expressing their support for social issues in the recent past, such as the Black Lives Matter (#BLM) movement. Yet, many have stayed silent on this issue both internally and externally due to a few reasons:
- While some groups and individuals expect their employers to take a stand on the issue, others prefer to avoid political discussions at work.
- Many companies have offices across the globe. Taking a stand on a U.S.-based issue that does not impact large parts of the organization has deterred many leaders from speaking out publicly.
- Many leaders are afraid of expressing a personal view or explicitly showing support or dissent for the ruling. Instead, they are limiting their response to acknowledging differing beliefs.
However, there is also a general fear of repercussions from staying silent on the issue. Employees have an increased level of expectations from their employers to take a stand, mainly because many organizations have been vocal about political issues in the recent past.
Many companies are focusing on the healthcare aspect of the issue
Many companies, unwilling to take a political stance on the topic, are using language that promotes healthcare access for employees to show their support. Because the overturn of the ruling changed laws overnight in some states, many HR leaders are not clear on the current benefits available to employees and how they will change in the future. Participants mentioned the lack of communication from their insurance companies, making it hard for organizations to share information with employees resulting in confusion and fear.
Some companies are finding other ways of helping their employees, such as:
- Expanding benefits to include travel expense coverage
- Communicating that the health and safety of their employees is their top priority
- Working with their benefits provider to ensure that all employees, regardless of location, have access to the healthcare they need
Some are also providing mental health and wellbeing support by:
- Encouraging conversations led by employee or business resource groups (E / BRGs) with guidelines on how to start a conversation on the topic, and set expectations around sharing, listening, and respecting each other
- Opening up forums and town halls for communications with leadership
- Promoting employee assistance programs (EAPs) for emotional support, including crisis lines offered to employees in need
- Bringing in external facilitators to guide discussion and hold courageous conversations without repercussions
Privacy is a concern, but many are not thinking about it
There are serious legal implications that could emerge from the data collected on employees, but few companies are thinking about it or addressing it right now. Data tracking on employees who request medical support could lead to privacy concerns around access and usage. Similarly, reimbursements for travel expenses that require disclosure of travel purposes could also result in privacy challenges.
One of the ways companies can prevent such challenges is by using a third-party administrator for travel reimbursements or stipends which would ensure privacy for employees. Additionally, companies can restrict access to sensitive data such as biometrics. Finally, some organizations are revisiting their paid time off (PTO) policies to remove the distinction between sick time and PTOs and help afford employees privacy when applying for a leave without disclosing the specific reasons.
It’s too soon to know the broader impact on organizations
Participants agreed that while there will certainly be some implications for organizations based on how they approach this issue, it is too early to tell whether they will be long-term and significant. Over time, companies could find themselves asking questions such as:
- Is this impacting the experience different populations have within the company?
- Is talent attraction impacted because of it?
- Has it impacted our attrition in the long term?
- Do we see this affecting our brand?
Organizations are aware that any communications regarding the overturn will affect their company culture over time.
Thank you to all who participated and shared their experiences. We welcome your suggestions, thoughts, and feedback at [email protected].
Posted on Tuesday, June 14th, 2022 at 6:27 AM
9 common and systemic obstacles make it harder for some employees to find, access, and participate in development opportunities.
L&D functions can reduce or remove these obstacles to make employee development more equitable and inclusive–ensuring more employees have the skills they (and their organizations) will need in the future.
This infographic summarizes key findings from our research report, Less DEIB Training, More Learning Equity. Click on the image below for an expanded view.
As always, we'd love your feedback at [email protected].
Posted on Tuesday, May 24th, 2022 at 5:52 AM
L&D's DEIB commitments are growing
As we head further from the catalytic events of summer 2020, it’s heartening to see that organizations are continuing to ramp up efforts on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). For example, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) reported that 39% of organizations have introduced DEIB programs in the past 2 years. And organizations appear committed to continuing this trend: A study by Traliant and WBR Insights reported that 79% of organizations planned to allocate more budget and / or resources to DEIB in 2022 compared to 2021.
Like their broader organizations, L&D functions are doing more to foster DEIB. LinkedIn Learning’s 2 most recent annual workplace learning reports (2022 and 2021) indicate that L&D functions plan to deploy more DEIB programs in 2022 compared to 2021. In addition, more L&D functions said they own or share responsibility for DEIB efforts in their organizations (Figure 1).
These growing commitments make a lot of sense: L&D functions should be more involved in DEIB efforts. With their broad and cross-functional reach and their ability to influence expectations for the ways people work and interact with one another, L&D functions are uniquely positioned to drive the kind of deep and widespread culture change that DEIB requires. As Emma Birchall, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Ericsson, put it:
You can’t overstate the importance of L&D in DEIB. L&D is the part of the organization that translates the business strategy into signals to individuals and teams about how they execute on the strategy.
Moreover, improving DEIB is (or should be) an enterprise effort. In our experience, DEIB efforts that are seen as 1 group’s job face an uphill battle. DEIB culture change isn’t something that can be achieved if only 1 team, no matter how dedicated and capable, is committed to it.
As L&D functions continue to become more deeply embedded in their organizations’ DEIB efforts, partnering with teams across the organization—especially DEIB teams—will be key. We touch on this idea of partnership throughout this paper.
3 reasons L&D isn’t more effective on improving DEIB (yet)
Despite the growing sense that L&D functions can and should do more to improve the DEIB cultures in their organizations, many are not contributing as effectively as they could. We see 3 reasons for this:
- Lack of organizational DEIB policy / guidance. Many of the leaders we talked to said they were waiting for an organizational DEIB strategy to be developed before they started incorporating DEIB into employee development experiences.
- Defaulting to training. In many organizations, it’s assumed that training is all L&D functions do (or should do). This can lead to an over-focus on DEIB training as a strategy for effecting change. There’s a good deal of research indicating that one-off, compliance-focused diversity training alone does not improve DEIB in organizations. The article “Why Diversity Programs Fail,” by F. Dobbin and A. Kalev, gives a good overview of why this may be.
- L&D’s own blind spots. In the learning survey that we conducted in December 2021, about 75% of L&D respondents were white (Figure 2). This lack of diversity may make it difficult for L&D functions to recognize their own biases. For example, in our survey, 50% of L&D pros who identified as white said their L&D function proactively applies a DEIB lens to learning opportunities. Only 36% of those who did not identify as white agreed with the same statement.
Jeffrey M., Senior Manager for Organizational & Leadership Development at a commercial space company, articulated the challenges associated with a lack of diversity within L&D functions in this way:
If you don’t have like me, or someone Latino or Asian on the team, then there’s a certain lack of diversity of thought that’s built into the development opportunities that are offered.
Fortunately, these challenges aren’t insurmountable. There’s a lot that L&D functions can do—starting now—to more effectively drive DEIB cultures in their organizations. That’s the focus of this study.
Focus on learning equity
In our lit review on DEIB & learning, we identified 4 main areas L&D functions consider when approaching DEIB (Figure 3):
- Delivering DEIB training. L&D functions deliver training on topics like unconscious bias, with a focus on making the training more effective and “stickier."
- Making all training more DEIB. L&D functions adapt the language, visuals, physical and virtual spaces, etc., for all trainings to make them more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
- Developing employees’ DEIB skills. L&D functions identify the skills that will drive a DEIB culture in their organizations and focus on enabling employees to develop those key skills.
- Focusing on learning equity. L&D functions take a systemic approach to DEIB in employee development. They make the systems and processes of employee development more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
Our research focused on this 4th approach: learning equity. We chose this focus largely because much has been written on the first 3 approaches, but learning equity is a relatively new concept for organizations. This systemic approach was described by Kate Shaw, Director of Learning at Airbnb:
DEIB has to be not just a piece of what you do, but woven throughout everything you do.
In addition, there’s a correlation between a systemic focus on DEIB and high performance. In our learning survey, 61% of L&D pros in high-performing organizations said their L&D function proactively applies a DEIB lens to employee development, versus 36% of L&D pros in the rest of our dataset.
3 elements of learning equity
Our research indicates that organizations are making development opportunities more diverse, equitable, and inclusive by paying attention to 3 specific aspects of employee development (Figure 4):
- Discovery is how employees find out about development opportunities. Employees use a range of formal and informal methods to get information about the opportunities available to them
- Access is which employees can take advantage of a development opportunity if they want to. Employees’ access to many development opportunities is determined by the organization, often based on an employee’s role, skills, job function, job level, or management status.
- Participation refers to which employees actually participate in the development opportunities they have access to.
L&D functions should assess Discovery, Access, and Participation in their organizations to identify where systems and processes may be inequitable or hamper diversity and inclusivity. With a more nuanced understanding of where the gaps are, they can take more targeted actions to close those gaps and improve learning equity.
Discovery is a critical component of learning, as it’s what connects employees to the opportunities they need. Some of the ways employees discover opportunities to learn and grow include:
- Informational emails from the organization
- Assigned or required training
- Searching / browsing on the internet, intranet, LMS, LXP, or other learning platform
- Automated recommendations from learning systems
- Recommendations from senior leaders, managers, peers, or colleagues
Even when several of these methods are available to employees, some groups of people face consistent and systemic barriers to discovering opportunities.
For example, many L&D functions rely on email to share info about development opportunities. But if a large portion of the workforce doesn’t have an email address or can’t easily check their work email regularly, then defaulting to email isn’t an equitable or inclusive method for Discovery. As one roundtable participant put it:
It's inequitable if L&D sends an email about a development opportunity and 30% of your workforce doesn't use email.
We also know—for example, through research we did on DEIB skills—that information about opportunities often flows through informal channels. Some opportunities, like job rotations or special assignments, are open only to those who know about them.
Interestingly, our research found that high-performing organizations make opportunities more transparent (Figure 5). About 81% of employees in high-performing organizations reported their organizations are transparent about the development opportunities that are available, compared to 61% of employees in other organizations.
L&D functions can make employee development more equitable and inclusive by making all opportunities explicit and transparent to everyone. With this transparency, employees can find and take advantage of the learning that’s right for them.
Making Discovery more equitable and inclusive
This research uncovered a number of challenges associated with Discovery, as well as some effective ways that L&D functions are addressing those challenges.
Challenge 1: Organizations make access to opportunities too narrow
Historically, organizations make development opportunities available only to employees with an immediate or obvious need. In general, this choice applies not just to costly opportunities, but even to the ones that are free or inexpensive.
This narrow focus limits Discovery: Employees are told only about the opportunities that the organization feels they need, rather than having the choice, freedom, and equity to determine their own career path.
Action: Increase transparency about what’s available
To the extent possible, L&D functions can make Discovery more equitable and inclusive by becoming much more transparent about all the development opportunities that are available.
For example, they might:
- Remove limitations based on role, function, seniority, etc. from what’s visible / searchable in the LMS or LXP
- Review any matching or recommendation algorithms to ensure they’re equitable and inclusive
- Communicate directly with employees rather than relying on managers to disseminate information about opportunities
- If there are different newsletters or email distribution lists for different target audiences, publish those lists and allow employees to opt into them
- Implement a talent marketplace to make projects, gigs, rotations, jobs, mentoring opportunities, etc. more explicit and discoverable by anyone in the organization. This doesn’t necessarily mean implementing a new tech tool: It can be done in a low-tech / low-cost way with spreadsheets, or it can be an add-on to existing learning or HR systems
Making opportunities visible to everyone, even if not everyone gets Access to them, at least enables employees to see more options—to envision different paths they might pursue.
Challenge 2: Different groups of employees use different methods to discover opportunities
Part of what drives inequities in Discovery is the simple fact that not everyone accesses information in the same way.
In our research, we saw some of the largest and most consistent differences in Discovery between frontline and not-frontline workers. Frontline employees often experience challenges using some of the most common methods that L&D functions rely on to share information about opportunities (e.g., email).
Action: Tailor Discovery method by employee group
Leaders said they put a lot of effort into understanding how different groups of employees discover info about development opportunities. Two specific ideas for uncovering these differences are:
- Experiment with different channels. Do some A/B testing. Try putting the same message in different communications channels (e.g., email, chat, intranet, etc.). Track open rates and clicks by employee group and by channel to find out who’s accessing the message where. Reach out to the IT team for information from systems the L&D function can’t pull data from.
- Ask for feedback. Many learning leaders said they value their relationships with Employee Resource Group (ERG) leaders and DEIB team members in part because these individuals can provide insight into how certain employee groups find information about development opportunities.
Mike Murphy, Director of Inclusion and Community Programs at CFA Institute, talked about the importance of having data to identify obstacles to Discovery:
Let’s say I've reached the entire 70-person marketing team but only 12 of the huge IT team. You have to have the data and then ask: What was the obstacle? What's keeping me from getting that message to all the places they are?
With a more nuanced understanding of how different groups of employees acquire information about development opportunities, L&D functions can adjust their efforts to utilize the channels that target audiences rely on the most.
Action: Cast a wide communications net
Another approach is for L&D functions to communicate more, and more widely. Many leaders talked about the need to overcommunicate. They suggested:
- Repeat messaging multiple times in multiple channels
- Leverage influencers in the organization—such as ERG leaders—to get the word out about development opportunities
- Don’t assume tech is best: Think broadly about all the communications channels available. Sometimes paper flyers in a break room are most effective
Leaders emphasized the importance of trying multiple ways of sharing info about development opportunities to increase the chances that all employees will find what they need.
Challenge 3: Some employees have more time and ability to find opportunities
To be sure, employees have a responsibility for their own learning—and part of that responsibility is finding relevant development opportunities.
However, it’s also true that employees’ ability to find opportunities can differ based on the strength of their networks, how much time they can spend looking for opportunities on the clock, their position within the organization, their location, their tech capabilities, and more. Some employees are more privileged in their ability to Discover opportunities than others.
Action: Make Discovery easier for all
L&D functions can make Discovery more equitable and inclusive by making it more automatic and embedded in employees’ work. Some specific ideas include:
- Embed information about opportunities into the places employees do their work—such as chat, browsers, intranet homepages, point of sale systems, time clock systems, etc.
- Incorporate information about opportunities into processes that all employees go through, such as performance and development conversations, onboarding, required / compliance training, or open enrollment for benefits. All these events offer touchpoints where employees could potentially share information about their skills and interests and receive information about opportunities.
- Use tech to match employees with opportunities based on their skills, abilities, experiences, and desires. The recommendation engines in many learning tech systems, especially LXPs, are intended to surface relevant opportunities for employees.
One company makes Discovery easier by asking employees, as part of their regular development planning process, to identify and write down the skills they’d like to work on. This information is fed into the LXP so that it can make recommendations based on those skills.
Real-World Thread: Making Discovery a 2-Way Street
Ericsson, a multinational networking and telecommunications company, has over 100,000 employees around the world. Unsurprisingly, these employees have very different development needs and goals.
To address the challenge of enabling such a varied population to discover development opportunities, Ericsson is taking the burden of Discovery off the employee’s shoulders as much as possible.
To do this, the company is implementing a skills-based learning tech ecosystem that will match employees with opportunities based on their skills signature.
CLO Vidya Krishnan described:
The ecosystem should be intelligent enough that you don’t have to find the opportunities. They find you. It’s a 2-way street.
The skills signature will comprehensively and holistically describe not only what an employee can do now, but what they want to do in the future. This will allow matching algorithms to surface highly relevant opportunities to employees of all kinds.
Access to employee development refers to who can take advantage of a development opportunity if they want to. Access is determined by things like:
- Nominations for select programs
- Logins / permissions to view / consume certain courses in an LMS or LXP
- Manager approval to participate in development opportunities
- Technology (access to computer, tablet, mobile, good internet, etc.)
- Technical capability / tech savvy
- Cost (particularly the ability to pay for opportunities that are then reimbursed)
- Time zone
In the past few years, some organizations have been working to make Access more inclusive. For example, RedThread's research on coaching found they’re offering coaching in various forms to more employees. They’re also opening courses to more participants (which, in many cases, became possible as in-person courses were put online during the pandemic) or removing restrictions on inexpensive or free content.
Valarie Williams-Foy, Organizational & Staff Development Lead at the University of London, described how the university opens Access to all employees:
We were founded on the value of access, as we were the first university in the UK to allow women. We allow anyone to register for any development opportunity.
In high-performing organizations, more respondents agree that employees have equal Access to development opportunities (compared to employees in other organizations). Figure 6 illustrates this difference: In high-performing organizations, 84% of employees agree employees have equal Access, compared to 58% of employees in other organizations.
Of the 3 aspects of learning equity, Access is the one with the biggest power differential between employees and organizations. No matter how hard some employees try, they may not be given Access to certain opportunities. This means it’s especially incumbent on organizations to ensure the Access they do provide is as equitable and inclusive as possible.
Making Access more equitable and inclusive
L&D functions are taking targeted actions to address 3 challenges associated with making Access to development opportunities more equitable and inclusive.
Challenge 1: The way skills / abilities are defined, prioritized, and measured may cause Access to be inequitable
In many organizations, there are assumptions and implicit biases that influence how skills and abilities are defined for various tasks and roles. If these assumptions are not reviewed, identified, and addressed, then the criteria used to measure skills and match employees with opportunities may be inherently inequitable.
Action: Make decisions about Access transparent and equitable
As with many DEIB efforts, simply bringing transparency to decisions can help improve equity around who gets Access to development opportunities. To make decisions more transparent, L&D functions can do the following:
- Establish and publicize standardized criteria for any nomination-based opportunities. Criteria can be based on, for example, employees’ current and needed skills, tenure / experience, and career desires. Leaders in this research noted that it’s important to review nominations to ensure they adhere to the criteria.
- Review and revise any underlying or foundational documentation—for example, skills or competency definitions—that might inform decisions about Access to development. This effort can ensure the inputs to decisions about Access are themselves as unbiased and inclusive as possible. It’s likely that some of this documentation lives outside the L&D function, so partnering with other functions is critical here.
- Consider removing human decisions altogether. It’s possible to implement tools or matching processes that can automatically give employees Access to content and opportunities. For example, some internship, apprenticeship, and rotational schemes simply assign people to teams or projects, rather than managers selecting people for their teams.
We particularly like the idea of removing human decisions where possible. In our experience, automatic matches (rather than manager selection) can add more diversity of thought to a team—since nobody is selected for “fit”—and are often more successful than managers or employees might expect.
Challenge 2: Legacy systems, processes, and assumptions can make Access inequitable
Most organizations have legacy systems and processes like HiPo nomination schemes or manager approvals for many opportunities that might limit Access for certain people.
In some cases, for example, managers are reluctant to approve employees’ requests to participate in development opportunities. Often this reluctance is driven by a belief that their teams won’t be able to meet targets if they spend work time learning—or, if the opportunity is a rotation or gig, a fear of losing the employee down the line. In other cases, employees aren’t given Access to courses because the courses aren’t deemed relevant to their work or their career path.
All these legacy systems create potential biases in Access that prevent certain employees from benefitting from some (often highly valuable) development opportunities.
Action: Track Access metrics and step in when something isn’t right
L&D functions can make some of these legacy systems more equitable and inclusive largely by shining a spotlight on who has Access to what, so that inequities become more obvious. To do this, L&D functions can track Access metrics, identify gaps, and step in when something doesn’t look right.
For example, one leader shared that for a HiPo program he ran, he noticed only 9% of nominees were women—when women made up 38% of the target audience for the program. He used this data to get buy-in to rewrite the nomination criteria for the program. The number of women nominees rose shortly thereafter.
Other leaders shared similar stories and emphasized that they couldn’t have intervened or made changes without data. They track access metrics such as:
- Nomination numbers for select programs / opportunities
- Amount spent per employee on development
- Number of employees with access to mentor or sponsorship programs
- Number of employees who have regular career conversations with their managers
These metrics can be sliced and analyzed by categories like frontline status, gender identity, age, seniority, job level, or race / ethnicity (in some countries). Which data cuts are most important will depend on which employee groups are underrepresented in your organization.
Challenge 3: Logistical and operational barriers can make Access inequitable
Logistical and operational factors like timing, language, tech, and cost can all be barriers to Access. For some employees, particularly those on the front line, it can be difficult to Access development opportunities while on the clock. For others, being in the “wrong” time zone or speaking the “wrong” language might prevent them from accessing development opportunities.
When it comes to online and remote learning, tech access is a big issue for some organizations. Some employees may not have the right device(s) or a strong enough internet connection. Some may not be able to afford better internet if they’re working from home, for example.
And affordability is an issue not only for employees but for companies: It can be expensive for organizations to open up access to more employees.
Action: Collaborate to identify and address common barriers to Access
L&D functions should identify and eliminate as many common barriers to Access as possible. In many cases, this means working with leadership, IT, HR, and other teams to make changes.
To address the time challenge, one approach is to try formats or methods that do not require employees to step away from their work for extended periods of time. Some leaders are experimenting with microlearning, for example, so that employees can access development in short snippets. To address some of the other challenges, L&D functions might:
- Provide devices to all employees
- Offer learning stipends and / or prepay for outside opportunities rather than providing reimbursement
- Offer learning methods that allow for flexible schedules
- Allow local teams to tailor or translate language
- Offer events at times that work globally, or multiple access times
- Open opportunities that have little or no marginal cost per employee to all employees, whether or not the opportunities are directly related to their role
These logistical and operational barriers were cited again and again in the course of this research—yet they may not be entirely within the L&D function’s control to fix. In these cases, having strong relationships with other functions can help pay for and provision some of the solutions suggested here.
Real-World Thread: Tracking Access metrics to improve learning equity
South Africa is 1 of a handful of countries with strict reporting requirements on companies’ training spend. Organizations are required to track and report how much they spend to train different groups of employees. These reports prompt companies to show that they have provided equal training opportunities to all employees.
At one major bank in South Africa, the head of learning solutions points out that this reporting isn’t just a check-the-box exercise. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s good for business because it helps increase the quality of all employees at the bank.
The bank tracks Access metrics like how much money is invested in training people from disadvantaged groups. Reports are broken down by job grade, race, gender, and disability status. The reporting requirements have been tightened in recent years to prevent companies from favoring training spend on certain job levels. These tighter requirements complicate the reporting, but ensure a fair distribution of investment across employees at all levels in the organization. Now, reporting targets are set by job grade and job band to drive equity in investment.
Each year, the company spends a percentage of payroll to develop a certain band of employees, with the goal of developing a strong, diverse pipeline of employees moving into job bands and job functions that currently have less representation.
Participation refers to which and how many employees actually take advantage of the development opportunities available to them. Our past research found that employees participate in employee development by doing 6 things:
- Planning their development and careers
- Discovering opportunities (as discussed above)
- Consuming learning content and experiences
- Experimenting with knowledge and skills
- Connecting with others for learning
- Performing better on the job, and learning while doing it
Participation in development opportunities encompasses all 6 of these behaviors, and there’s a wide variety of methods that employees can use to engage in them. The research we did on learning methods found 66 learning methods, and we’re sure there are more.
High-performing organizations enable more Participation in employee development (Figure 7). For this discussion of learning equity, we broke down our survey respondents’ answers by age, frontline status, gender identity, and race / ethnicity. Across all groups, more employees in high-performing organizations reported their organizations enable them to participate in these 6 employee development behaviors, compared to employees in other organizations. As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.
Still, we know that Participation in most organizations isn’t as equitable or inclusive as it could be: Most organizations have groups of employees who aren’t participating in development as much as they could or should. The challenge for L&D functions is to find those groups of people, figure out why they’re not participating, and fix what’s causing those inequities.
Making Participation more equitable and inclusive
We discovered 3 primary challenges associated with Participation, as well as targeted actions that L&D functions can take to address those challenges.
Challenge 1: L&D functions need better insights on Participation
To make Participation as diverse, equitable, and inclusive as possible, L&D functions must understand where the inequities in Participation in their organizations are and what’s driving those differences.
Data is critical to gaining that understanding with some level of detail and nuance. Without data, actions might be well-intentioned and seem reasonable, but potentially lead in the wrong direction.
Action: Analyze Participation data to identify and address inequities
Data about Participation tends to be more readily available than data about Discovery or Access. Most L&D functions track Participation rates: “butts in seats” is one of L&D’s most well-established metrics. If demographic data is available, L&D functions can use it to slice and dice their Participation data to see where there are differences, and to understand who’s taking advantage of which opportunities.
L&D functions can analyze available data to answer questions about Participation such as:
- How do Participation rates vary by gender, ethnicity, age, frontline status, or other demographics that matter to our organization?
- What differences in Participation show up if we look at various intersectional identities?
- Are different groups of employees participating in different types of opportunities—for example, required training vs. stretch or rotational assignments? Who and why?
- Are some groups of employees spending more time on development opportunities than others? Who and why?
- Do some groups of employees participate in a greater range of development opportunities than others? Who and why?
- Do some groups of employees have stronger connections to more senior or more influential people in the organization who can help them grow? Who and why?
Tania Tiippana, an OD consultant working with a multinational manufacturing company, emphasized the importance of gathering data from all employee groups:
I asked, “Do we have data about how things are working in South Korea? In Poland?” We didn’t. So we did a global needs analysis and tracked participation by gender, location, and so on to find the gaps.
Although the answers to the above questions won’t make Participation more diverse, equitable, and inclusive by themselves, they can help L&D functions prioritize and decide where to take action.
Challenge 2: Messaging about opportunities may exclude certain employee groups
The language and visuals used to market development opportunities matter a lot—they’re often what makes the first impression about an opportunity to an employee. If employees perceive that an opportunity is not inclusive of “people like me,” they may choose not to participate.
Many L&D functions are discovering the various ways their organization’s messaging about opportunities isn’t inclusive, from gendered language to images that only show people of particular ages or ethnicities.
Action: Ensure messaging is DEIB
L&D functions appreciate that messaging should be inclusive and applicable to a broad base of employees. We heard of many efforts in L&D functions to broaden the language they used to describe opportunities, particularly ensuring that the language and visuals represented their organization’s employee population. Specifically, L&D functions were:
- Including broad representation of different genders, ages, races / ethnicities, and worker types (manufacturing, office, retail, etc.) in visuals and language, aligned with the demographics of their workforce
- Ensuring language does not exclude certain groups of employees—for example, using highly competitive language or analogies that only certain people understand (such as sports metaphors)
- Implementing processes to regularly review all messaging through a DEIB lens
A number of leaders recommended partnering with the DEIB team to assess how inclusive the messaging for development opportunities is. Many DEIB teams offer fairness audits. They can review messaging and outreach strategies, and make recommendations for improvements.
Challenge 3: Some opportunities aren’t designed inclusively
Sometimes an opportunity might be inequitable or exclusive because it’s not well-designed for certain groups of people. Participant demographics can also be a source of exclusion. If there are no members of underrepresented groups participating in the opportunity—or in the roles an employee might attain through a particular development path—employees considering the opportunity might be less likely to start down that path.
Action: Incorporate diverse perspectives when developing opportunities
One of our favorite insights from this research is that no matter how much we think through something, it's likely to be biased if only a few people are doing the thinking.
Leaders advised doing one simple thing to reduce this bias: Bring more people into the process. There are 2 main ways to do this:
- Add perspectives to the L&D function itself. There are lots of ways to bring in new perspectives: permanent hires, special projects, rotations, gigs, internships, apprenticeships, and more. One leader advocated for recruiting people from underrepresented groups to L&D early in their careers, so that there’s a pipeline of more diverse L&D thinkers and leaders into the future.
- Ask for feedback. Many, many leaders talked about how they solicit feedback from lots of people in their organizations. They ask for input from ERG leaders, the DEIB team, and focus groups / interviews of employees who are representative of the organization’s employee population.
Based on these diverse perspectives, L&D functions can make changes to things like the format of an opportunity, who participates, or even what opportunities are offered.
Action: Get intentional about demographics
Demographics matter for Participation. But they matter in different ways for different opportunities. Sometimes it makes sense to intentionally build diversity into the participant pool of an opportunity, so that no matter who looks at the opportunity they see someone participating who looks like them. Other times there’s a need to craft development opportunities solely for members of specific underrepresented groups.
The common thread is intentionality. Leaving demographics to chance is where bias and inequity can creep in. This intentionality can also help ensure there is a pipeline of employees from underrepresented groups ready to move into more senior / more visible positions, so that employees coming after can picture themselves on similar paths.
Real-World Thread: Building diverse cohorts
A multinational aerospace corporation has an L&D function that is strongly committed to ensuring diversity within the cohorts that participate in their leadership development programs. There are 3 levels of programs for aspiring, new, and current leaders.
The L&D function believes that if everyone in a cohort looks and thinks the same way, they’re going to get less value from the program. So they scrutinize the demographics of each cohort and ensure each one has diverse representation.
Kevin B., a former DEIB leader at this company and participant in the new leader program, believes that the value he got from the program derived largely from his interactions with other participants. He reflected:
If you have a homogeneous, cookie cutter class, you’re not going to learn a lot. In my cohort, I made tremendous friends with a couple of guys from the UK. I even had someone from the Saudi royal family in my class, which was amazing.
Kevin noted that in some cases it can be helpful to do the opposite—to bring together members from 1 underrepresented group. But in general and for most topics, he believes diverse cohorts learn better from one another.
We’ve come away from this research convinced that improving learning equity is one of the best ways L&D functions can contribute to the DEIB efforts in their organizations. Figure 8 summarizes the challenges associated with the 3 elements of learning equity (Discovery, Access, and Participation) and some actions L&D functions can take to address each challenge.
Looking forward, we expect L&D functions will continue to make strides to improve DEIB in their organizations—and we think those strides should be focused on learning equity. We hope the ideas in this paper have given L&D functions some concrete ideas about the steps they can take to move their organizations toward employee development that is more diverse, equitable, and inclusive for all.
Note: for Appendices, including study demographics, research methodology, and contributors please download the PDF report.
Posted on Tuesday, April 26th, 2022 at 5:49 AM
In April 2022, we convened a roundtable for leaders to discuss how L&D functions can make employee development more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. This session was part of our research into what we're calling L&D's DEIB Opportunity. We aim to identify the most effective things that L&D functions can do to support diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts in their organizations.
This readout shares some of the highlights from the session. Thank you to all who participated, shared their experiences, and learned from one another.
L&D's DEIB commitments are growing
To frame the conversation, we shared data from LinkedIn Learning’s 2021 and 2022 Workplace Learning Reports (Figure 1). L&D functions are not only planning more DEIB programs, but they’re taking on more ownership of DEIB efforts.
When we asked roundtable participants if they were seeing or experiencing this trend themselves, they agreed. They wrote in the chat things like:
- “Without a doubt”
How can L&D functions meet these growing responsibilities?
To answer this question, we focused on how L&D functions can make the systems of employee development in their organizations more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. We discussed 4 aspects of employee development:
- Discovery. How do employees find out about development opportunities? How can L&D functions enable different groups to more equitably discover those opportunities?
- Access. Which employees could take advantage of development opportunities if they chose? Who has permission / is nominated to attend? Who has the right tech? How can L&D functions enable different groups to more equitably access development opportunities?
- Participation. Which employees participate in development opportunities? How does participation differ across groups, and why? How can L&D functions enable more equitable participation across groups?
- L&D itself. How might L&D’s systems and processes be biased or inequitable? How might L&D functions address those inequities?
The roundtable generated a number of insights we thought worth highlighting. Here are our top 5 takeaways.
To make learning more DEIB, focus on how decisions are made
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ways decisions are made have a huge effect on whether employee development is equitable, inclusive, and accessible across the various groups in an organization. Decisions about who can access certain development opportunities are particularly impactful. One participant shared the following anecdote:
I used to work for a large corporation. Pre-pandemic, we would fly people in for exclusive leadership development programs. The lack of diversity was astounding. The programs are great, but they're often reserved for people who are already privileged. I had to ask myself: Who's approving these attendees? Who's got the budget?
Leaders shared 2 ideas for reducing such biases.
- Make decisions transparent. One organization implemented decision-making frameworks to help managers and leaders understand the different factors that weighed into their decisions. These frameworks also help leaders explicitly focus on the criteria that align with their values and the organization's values.
- Make matches, not decisions. Another organization is using skills to remove some decisions entirely. By ensuring every employee has a skills profile (or skills signature), the organization can match employees with specific skills needs and gaps with appropriate development opportunities. The system makes the match, not a leader.
We thought these 2 ideas for reducing bias in decision-making were practical approaches that might apply in many organizations.
Marketing and messaging can include or exclude
A second insight from the group is just how important marketing and messaging are. They influence who learns about what development opportunities and—arguably more important—who decides to take advantage of those opportunities.
A portion of the conversation focused on whether outreach and marketing activities reach the people L&D functions intend them to. As one leader put it:
It's inequitable if L&D sends an email about a development opportunity and 30% of your workforce doesn't use email.
Leaders suggested marketing development opportunities in multiple channels—overcommunicating—and ensuring opportunities are marketed where employees are. For example, a paper flyer in a break room or stand-up meeting might be most effective for reaching front-line employees who do not regularly check email.
In addition, leaders noted that the language, visuals, and tone used in marketing communications about development opportunities can affect whether an employee thinks an opportunity will be relevant and helpful to them. They should be able to see themselves in the opportunity, or they may not choose to participate even if they have access.
Analytics and data can reveal systemic inequities
Leaders in this roundtable emphasized the need to check assumptions about whether development opportunities are as DEIB as L&D functions might hope. Ideally, they said, the demographics of the people who participate in development opportunities should roughly mirror the demographics of the organization's employee population.
Leaders shared that some reasons for differences in participation rates between groups might be:
- Lack of technical access to training (e.g., cannot access learning on mobile phone, do not have a company-provided device, do not have good enough internet access). The ability to pay for tech to access development opportunities is also a potential source of inequity.
- Messaging / marketing doesn’t speak to certain groups
- Certain employees aren't afforded the time to access learning within their work day and cannot / do not want to participate on their own time
Tracking participation in development opportunities over time to see if attendees do, in fact, mirror the population can help reveal possible gaps in marketing / messaging, access, etc. The importance of tracking data over time was articulated by one leader who noted:
We can make plans that we think allow for universal access, but until we check to see whether in fact the result is representative participation, we don’t know whether our approaches are in fact creating equal access.
One leader shared that in her organization, they do A/B testing like marketers. They look to see who's registering for opportunities, who shows up, who consumes content online, etc. They analyze this data by all demographic / diversity statistics that are available.
L&D functions should rely on DEIB resources across the organization
Leaders in this roundtable agreed that as L&D functions take on more of a role in DEIB efforts, they cannot and should not do it alone. There are many resources across an organization that can help L&D functions identify and address inequities in employee development.
For example, the leader whose organization does A/B testing recommended reaching out to the IT team. They can help L&D functions access data about who's clicking where, which employees have company-supported devices, and—in many organizations—aggregated data on how many employees have downloaded accessibility software (screen readers, etc.).
Other leaders noted all that DEIB teams can offer. A number of leaders said the DEIB teams in their organizations do "fairness audits" for business functions to help identify gaps. They can do this for the L&D team, for example by auditing the fairness of L&D's messaging, communications, and learning platforms.
A third resource leaders noted were Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). They recommended involving ERGs in marketing / messaging for development opportunities, assessment of how different opportunities appeal to / impact different groups, and the creation of new opportunities.
Virtual work made some learning more equitable
Leaders noted that when the pandemic forced them to put many in-person, cohort-based development opportunities online, they saw a marked increase in participation rates in these programs. And not only did participation increase, but it often increased in terms of diversity: more diverse employees attended. Leaders attributed this change to a few factors:
- Virtual is easier to attend. Trainings were shorter and didn't require travel or overnights away from home. This meant it was easier for caregivers (who are disproportionately women and members of underrepresented groups) to attend.
- Diversity begets diversity. Leaders reported that in their organizations, as more people saw people like themselves participating in or leading learning, they felt more comfortable participating themselves. As such, they saw an increase in participation from people who'd never attended trainings.
One leader offered a counterpoint to this general trend. After the pandemic started and her organization shifted to remote work, she saw a marked decrease in participation rates. When she asked employees why, they told her that before the pandemic, they only requested to attend training because it got them out of the office. Their experience in-office was toxic; they felt they couldn't express themselves. Working from home, they didn't feel the same need to escape.
We were grateful for the open and vulnerable discussion during this roundtable. We welcome your suggestions, thoughts, and feedback at [email protected]
Posted on Tuesday, March 15th, 2022 at 12:56 PM
Organizations focused on purpose are outperforming their peers in recruiting, retention and business performance. Yet, many leaders struggle to do this well. So how can organizations help leaders at all levels focus on purpose? You’ll learn how in this session as Stacia Garr shares RedThread’s latest insights on how to reframe and understand organizational purpose, how to help leaders lead with and reinforce purpose, and how to develop new leaders to take on this important responsibility.
Posted on Monday, March 7th, 2022 at 6:21 PM
Organizations need to show that they are making good, or some level of progress, on their diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) commitments. While DEIB metrics are the obvious answer, how to select, collect, use, and maintain them is not so clear.
This infographic (click on the image below to get the full version) is a summary of our report DEIB Metrics: An Essential Guide.
As always, we’d love your feedback at [email protected]!
Posted on Thursday, February 24th, 2022 at 7:52 PM
Organizations are investing more than ever in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts. We see an opportunity for L&D functions to do the same, beyond simple diversity training. With their influence on culture and reach across the enterprise, L&D functions are well-positioned to improve the DEIB culture in their organizations.
And L&D functions want to do more on DEIB. In LinkedIn Learning’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report, 64% of L&D professionals globally and 73% in North America said DEIB programs were a priority. Our own experience tracks with this trend: RedThread community members are asking more and more about DEIB and learning.
But L&D functions seem to struggle to identify the best ways to help. That’s why we launched a research study focusing on this question:
What are the most impactful things L&D functions can do to help build a robust DEIB culture in their organizations?
To get a grasp on the current DEIB and learning conversation, we reviewed nearly 100 articles, books, podcasts, and reports. We expected, frankly, to find a lot about diversity training and not much else. And, as expected, there was a lot about diversity training. But there were more interesting ideas, too.
This short article summarizes the key ideas we found, including:
- 4 themes from the literature
- 1 hidden gem
- 5 articles that caught our attention
- 6 additional articles to check out if you have time
What we found: 4 themes from the literature
The literature has lots of ideas about DEIB and learning. These ideas fell into 4 themes:
- L&D is tangential to the DEIB conversation
- L&D is focused on improving diversity training
- Developing underrepresented groups is a common DEIB strategy
- L&D functions need to take a hard look at themselves
L&D is tangential to the DEIB conversation
In the literature we reviewed, DEIB or org psych professionals sometimes wrote about diversity training or unconscious bias programs. But not many L&D professionals ventured into the broader DEIB conversation.
Additionally, a few studies we ran across revealed that L&D functions are on the periphery of DEIB efforts. In one survey by i4cp, only 25% of respondents said L&D is “heavily tasked” with efforts to improve diversity and inclusion goals.
Many articles noted that L&D and DEIB teams often do not work together as closely or as effectively as they could. As a result, L&D functions are sometimes left out of key DEIB strategy, goal-setting, and planning decisions. These pieces argued that if L&D functions want to do more on DEIB, they need to partner better with stakeholders across the business. For example, Matthew Daniel, principal at Guild Education, wrote:
"Rather than siloing objectives onto separate teams, CLOs and CDOs can accomplish more by working together, while also measuring and tracking progress at the same time."
Other pieces echoed Daniel’s point about measuring and tracking progress. They suggested that L&D functions should know how success on DEIB is defined, tracked, and measured in their organization. Then, they said, L&D should align the learning strategy to those goals and metrics.
L&D is focused on improving diversity training
We expected to see many articles arguing that compliance-focused, event-based DEIB training doesn’t work. And there were lots of articles about diversity and unconscious bias training. To our surprise, however, these articles took the ineffectiveness of these training programs as a given. They often cited the 2016 article, “Why Diversity Programs Fail,” as proof.
There were 2 broad threads in this portion of the literature:
- Training effectiveness: Ideas about making diversity training more effective in changing employee behavior. For example, articles mentioned using AR / VR simulations to encourage empathy and help employees practice skills.
- Inclusivity: Suggestions for making all training (especially diversity training) more inclusive. For example, the literature suggested soliciting diverse perspectives when designing training and content.
Some articles did explore additional learning methods that might be used to develop employees’ DEIB skills. Of these, many mentioned coaching managers on being more inclusive leaders. Others discussed microlearning and “nudges” that space learning over time. But these articles did not explore ways for L&D functions to improve DEIB outside of creating learning programs.
Developing underrepresented groups is a common DEIB strategy
The literature agreed that organizations should develop individuals from underrepresented groups. As one study by McKinsey pointed out, employees in underrepresented groups report having fewer development opportunities than other employees. Several articles argued that active and intentional support of underrepresented groups could help reduce this gap.
The literature also noted that employees from underrepresented groups are more likely to use and benefit from structured programs. There were many ideas about programs that might enable these employees to develop and advance. Some of the ideas mentioned included:
- Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
- Work-study programs
- Work assignments (e.g., international postings)
- Rotational schemes
- Tuition reimbursement
- Talent marketplaces (to enhance visibility and access to opportunities)
- Intrapreneurship programs
- Communities of practice
- “People advisors” who provide career coaching
- Mentoring and sponsorship
In reviewing this theme, we noticed a disconnect: Many articles pushed for more development of underrepresented groups. But others noted that L&D isn’t heavily responsible for DEIB efforts (as we saw in the first theme of this review).
These threads seem contradictory. If developing underrepresented groups is so important, why isn’t L&D more central to DEIB strategies? The literature didn’t answer this question directly. But it’s interesting to note that many of the above programs aren’t traditionally L&D’s responsibility (e.g., rotations, ERGs). We think that may be the reason so many authors emphasized the need for L&D functions to partner with key stakeholders, as mentioned above.
L&D functions need to take a hard look at themselves
A few articles in the literature asked L&D functions to do some serious self-reflection. They are not the bulk of the literature—not by a long shot. But we are calling them out as a theme because they highlighted an issue with substantial DEIB implications: L&D’s own lack of diversity. These articles—especially the ones from authors Gena Cox and Katy Peters, Ave Rio, and Maria Morukian—noted that most L&D functions are majority white and majority women (except at senior levels). Most L&D professionals hold advanced degrees. That means:
White women with advanced degrees dominate L&D. At more senior levels, white men with advanced degrees do.
According to these articles, non-diverse L&D functions might find it harder to drive DEIB efforts and make employee development more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. For example, some articles noted that a lack of diversity might allow bias to creep into the ways that L&D functions tend to:
- Define, prioritize, and measure skills, aptitude, and abilities
- Use data to make decisions about learning
- Decide which development opportunities to offer
- Choose learning methods to invest in
These articles explored how the L&D function might need to change itself to address potential biases. They are a great start to a broader conversation about all the ways L&D functions can contribute to DEIB efforts in their organizations.
Hidden gem: A systems approach to DEIB and learning
We found a handful of articles that took a systemic view of how L&D functions might influence DEIB. They thought more broadly about how to make learning more equitable and inclusive, rather than just about the programs L&D functions might create.
J.D. Dillon, CEO of learning vendor Axonify, wrote:
"Restoring learning equity requires a fundamental mindset shift. Rather than relying on programs as the basic unit of learning, professionals should adopt a systems approach."
By a “systems approach,” these articles meant looking at things like accessibility and opportunity:
- Who is offered access to development opportunities, and why?
- How might access to development opportunities vary based on an employee’s location, access to tech, or ability to use nonworking hours for development?
- Are learning opportunities easy for all employees to find? Are they widely and effectively marketed to all employees?
We appreciated these prompts to think about how L&D functions can ensure that all employees have equitable access to development opportunities. And we believe a systemic lens will reveal many additional ways that L&D functions can make learning more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. We plan to investigate this systemic approach in more depth as part of this research.
What caught our attention
Of the literature we reviewed, several pieces stood out to us. Each of the articles below contained information that we found helpful and / or intriguing. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same. Click on the titles to go to the full articles.
"The biggest opportunities for TD professionals to make a difference lie in three important but often overlooked segments: knowledge management, career and leadership development, and coaching."
This article has detailed, practical advice for L&D professionals who want to do more on DEIB, above and beyond DEIB training. It also has some great examples of what good looks like—and what good doesn’t look like.
- Training courses are one part, but not the cornerstone, of a strong DEIB strategy.
- L&D functions can use their knowledge management expertise to make tacit DEIB knowledge more explicit, storable, and shareable.
- Inclusive, equitable employee development programs require DEIB and L&D staff to work together.
- Coaching can build more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces by equipping managers with DEIB skills.
"What if the L&D professionals who measure achievement of… skills understand the day-to-day experience of only a subset of their colleagues? What if the career progression decisions from those measurements perpetuate some of the same distorted effects that are now evident in educational assessment?"
This article examines how L&D’s potential biases and blind spots might lead to inequitable employee development. It makes a case for a proactive, systemic approach to overcoming those biases.
- The L&D profession lacks racial and ethnic diversity, potentially leading to blind spots, biases, and inequity.
- The way skills are currently defined, prioritized, and measured may lead to biased outcomes.
- Overcoming L&D’s blind spots requires a systemic approach that re-examines many long-standing L&D practices, including how skills are defined and how data are used.
- A proactive approach to addressing L&D’s blind spots will help make workplaces more inclusive.
"Our research made clear that who you know is as important—often more so—than what you know when it comes to rising through the ranks."
Organizational network analysis (ONA) can reveal who knows whom. It can uncover who has access to informal networks and sources of info about development opportunities. Using ONA, L&D functions can also identify marginalized groups who can be invited for specific development.
- One study revealed that men’s informal relationships with their male managers could explain nearly 40% of the gender pay gap.
- Women are less likely to be at the center of the networks that matter: knowledge, innovation, and critical decision-making networks.
- L&D functions can impact DEIB by codifying and sharing the networking strategies of people with solid and diverse networks.
- L&D functions can use ONA to assess the effectiveness of specific diversity training and other learning programs.
"‘Here we are in Taiwan, in Asia, where they were doing training and learning way before the US, and the two major keynoters they got were white guys over 60 from New York,’ Masie said."
This article is packed with quotes from L&D and DEIB experts. These experts explain why L&D functions must reflect the employee population in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, background, etc.
- The number of people of color in L&D does not reflect the communities L&D serves.
- L&D functions are often asked to be the ambassadors of organizational culture, which is difficult if they aren’t representative of the workforce.
- Thought leaders in L&D are often older white men, reflecting the people who pioneered the field in the 1960s and 1970s.
- To increase diversity, L&D functions need to be intentionally inclusive about whom they highlight as thought leaders.
- L&D’s role in DEIB must be part of a larger organizational strategy.
"When asked if their company offers support for women from executives and middle managers, 72% of male respondents say yes, compared with only 54% of women."
This report helps companies identify the specific diversity and inclusion initiatives—including learning initiatives—that offer the greatest payoff for gender equity. It breaks initiatives into 4 helpful categories: Proven Measures, Hidden Gems, Baseline Measures, and Overrated Measures.
- Proven measures are valued by women and known to be effective by leaders. For example, a proven measure related to L&D is sponsoring women at scale.
- Hidden gems are highly effective initiatives that many organizations should pursue. For example, a hidden gem related to L&D is offering professional development for underrepresented groups.
- Baseline measures are basic steps that all organizations should do, but that don’t have a transformative effect on women’s daily experience. For example, a baseline measure related to L&D is mentoring women.
- Overrated measures are seemingly promising efforts that often do not lead to real cultural change. For example, an overrated measure related to L&D is one-time diversity training sessions.
Additional articles to check out
- "Are learning equity issues affecting your company?" J.D. Dillon, TD Magazine, 2021.
- Improving Workplace Culture through Evidence-Based Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Practices, S. Creary, N. Rothbard, and J. Scruggs, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 2021.
- "How internal talent marketplaces can help overcome seven common DEI strategy pitfalls," M. Heiskell, D. Kearns-Manolatos, and M. Rawat, Deloitte, 2021.
- "Assignments are critical tools to achieve workplace gender equity," E. Macke, G. Gall Rosa, S. Gilmartin, and C. Simard, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2022.
- "How does your company support ‘first-generation professionals’?" M. Burwell and B. Maldonaldo, SHRM, 2022.
- "Providing performance feedback to support neurodiverse employees," M. Hamdani and S. Biagi, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2022.
Posted on Wednesday, February 9th, 2022 at 2:44 PM
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At this point, the business case for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) is clear. Our own research (see Figure 1) shows the relationship between having a strong DEIB culture, and critical individual and performance outcomes.1
Yet, for years, the representation of diverse populations in organizations improved almost imperceptibly.
Then we had a global pandemic and the rise of a social justice movement, sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Along with that came the heightened awareness that the pandemic was impacting diverse populations much more—particularly for women and people of color who were dropping out of the workforce at higher rates than other populations. As a result of this confluence of events, organizations began making big promises on DEIB in the summer of 2020.
When this happened, one of our first questions was how organizations would show that they’d made good—or at least made progress—on those commitments. While DEIB metrics measurements designed to understand DEIB—are the obvious answer, how to select, collect, use, and maintain those metrics is not so clear.
Thus, this research initiative on DEIB metrics and analytics was born. The first article in this series, “DEIB Analytics: A Guide to Why & How to Get Started,” provides leaders with a plan on how to begin using DEIB metrics and analytics. We’ve shared an 8-step guide with details on the actions and considerations that organizations need to take to effectively implement DEIB metrics.
This article: An essential guide to DEIB metrics
This report focuses more narrowly on the appropriate metrics and analytics for DEIB. We aim to provide DEIB leaders, people analytics practitioners, HR business partners, workforce planning and talent management leaders with:
- A foundational understanding of the different metrics that can be used to measure and track their DEIB performance
- Insights on how those different metrics might vary, depending on their org’s sophistication with DEIB and analytics
This article is based on a wide range of information, including our research on:
- People analytics technology2
- DEIB analytics3
- DEIB strategies4
- DEIB technology5
- A literature review of DEIB and analytics6
- Interviews with ~20 people analytics and DEIB practitioners
Our research focuses specifically on the people within an organization’s existing workforce. We know a number of other DEIB metrics exist that orgs should also consider, such as those which apply to their supply chain, community efforts, ESG (environmental, social, and governmental) requirements, etc. While critical, those areas are outside the scope of this report.
We would also like to mention that this report is the first of its kind, in that it attempts to provide a holistic look at all talent-related DEIB metrics. Any first try will miss some critical elements and we acknowledge this report may be incomplete. We invite you to share any suggestions, feedback, or additions you think appropriate by emailing us at [email protected].
The DEIB space is evolving quickly, and we will only make progress by putting out our best ideas and amending them quickly as new information becomes available. Thank you for being part of that process and pushing forward toward greater opportunities for all.
Let’s start our essential guide by defining our terms (see Figure 2).
Why are DEIB metrics & analytics important?
Some of the common reasons why leaders start to focus on DEIB metrics and analytics include:
- Creating a clear business case for DEIB
- Measuring the return on investment (ROI) of DEIB expenditures
- Tracking the impact of critical DEIB initiatives
In addition to these, a few more reasons why orgs should use DEIB metrics and analytics include:
- Busting myths or addressing anecdotes that may or may not be true
- Checking assumptions about DEIB
- Meeting consumer, investor, and employee expectations when it comes to progress on DEIB
While these are all good reasons to use DEIB data, one of the most compelling motivations for why DEIB is critical was articulated by one of our interviewees:
“Companies have been setting diversity goals for decades but have struggled with “goal-getting”—meaning the clear accomplishment of those goals—because of a lack of feedback and data to help them get after those goals every day. Without any feedback on progress, companies lose sight of the goals.”
—Phil Willburn, Head of People Analytics & Insights, Workday7
Why do orgs find DEIB data difficult to use?
Many leaders struggle to use DEIB data for reasons such as the following (see Figure 3):
- Challenges in identifying and using appropriate metrics. Historically, very few orgs have attempted to track metrics for DEIB and even fewer have ventured beyond collecting diversity data. Often, leaders are unsure which metrics can and should be measured for DEIB. Even if they’re able to identify them, leaders then often face challenges around tracking and integrating the data.
- Legal, security, and privacy issues. DEIB data involves sensitive information—and this comes with legal and security challenges around data collection, storage, and usage. As a result, some orgs hesitate to collect and use it. Additionally, employees may be hesitant to provide it, due to data privacy and access concerns.
- Poor alignment with goals. Orgs find it challenging to use the data if there’s no or poor alignment between the data collected and the overall DEIB goals that the company wants to achieve. As result, there can be a sense of helplessness, which can render the data not as helpful.
- Data responsibility issues. Because DEIB data can reside in multiple systems under several functions (e.g., HR, D&I, IT, sales), there can be a lack of clarity around who is primarily responsible for the data and how / when it can be shared.
- Data interoperability issues. Related to the previous point, orgs often find it challenging to use data collected in one system on another due to integration issues and capabilities of the tech solutions in place.
For this article, we focus on the first bullet to help orgs identify the range of metrics they can use.
“When you have members of a minority group who are leaving at a higher rate, that’s telling you something is wrong, and it helps steer you to where the problems are. It needs to be measured at quite a low level in the company because that’s the way you find where your hot spots are.”
—Fiona Vines, Head of Inclusion and Diversity and Workforce Transition, BHP8
Clarifying diversity metrics
As we highlight in our report “DEIB Analytics: Getting Started,” the essential first step to creating diversity metrics is collecting appropriate demographic data. Essentially, the data collected should allow orgs to answer 3 questions:
- What does our current workforce look like across different levels (hierarchy) and functions / business units?
- Who are we hiring (internally and externally) across different levels?
- Who is leaving the org and at which level(s)?
It’s important that leaders not only look at simplistic diversity numbers, such as gender or race / ethnicity—they also need to consider multilevel diversity, known as intersectionality, such as Black women or gay Asian men. This additional analysis helps leaders understand their workforce at a more nuanced level, and make better recommendations and changes.
Many orgs track basic diversity numbers: 96% of U.S. companies report the gender representation of their employees at all levels and 90% report gender representation at senior levels.9 However, far fewer orgs look at intersectionality: Only 54% of companies track gender and race / ethnicity—such as Black or Latina women in senior leadership.10
Figure 4 is a list of common demographic data that we’ve seen orgs collect (for a more comprehensive list of data that could be collected, please see our definition in the earlier section). It’s important to note the significant legal limitations in different countries as to which of the following can be collected and stored. Your org’s legal counsel should always be involved in determining which data to collect.
While comparatively easy to collect and analyze, orgs should be wary of trying to do everything at once when it comes to diversity metrics. Leaders should first figure out the immediate challenges or business issues they want to solve for and identify the appropriate metrics accordingly.
Examples of diversity metrics
Figure 5 offers a list of the metrics that orgs can use to measure diversity. Many orgs already collect most of these metrics through their human resource information system (HRIS) or applicant tracking systems (ATS). By adding a demographic lens to these metrics, orgs can quickly understand the state of diversity within the org.
Using diversity data to improve hiring11
As part of its diversity goals, an industrial manufacturer wants to achieve 50% female parity in leadership roles by 2030, and create a globally diverse workforce with inclusive leaders and teams. In order to do so, the company needed an accurate picture of their current workforce diversity mix and the recruiting pipeline.
Working with a technology provider, the company looked at its recruiting pipeline to better understand how women and minorities move through the full process from recruiter review to meetings with the hiring manager. A review of the talent acquisition process revealed that the number of women applicants was disproportionately lower than their male counterparts. Additionally, as women moved through the hiring process, they were more likely to be dropped during the interview process.
To tackle these challenges, the company implemented:
- Programs for hiring managers, including unconscious bias training
- Workshops on inclusive conversations to enable a better hiring experience for women and minority candidates moving through the process
As a result of these actions, the company is in a better position to meet its 2030 goals. It’s also working to attract more women and minority job applicants through strategic partnerships with the Society of Women Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers, among others.
Understanding equity metrics
Equity metrics can help orgs understand the effectiveness of their processes, and identify unfair or biased systems, practices, and policies. Research conducted in 2021 revealed that when employees are treated fairly, they’re:12
- 8 times more likely to look forward to going to work
- 3 times more likely to have pride in their work
- 4 times more likely to want to stay a long time at their company
Equity metrics can be measured from data collected via several sources, such as:
- Learning and development data
- Performance management data
- Employee engagement / experience data
Ensuring fairness in the distribution of resources, opportunities, and access can help leaders address existing systemic inequities within the orgs. The point to note here is that the distribution needs to be fair, not equal. The difference between these two concepts is shown in Figure 6.
Thus, the goals of measuring and tracking these metrics should not be to ensure equality or sameness for everyone, but rather to:
- Detect areas in which systemic inequities exist
- Identify differences in capabilities, resources, and needs
- Implement systems and process that take these into account
While orgs have a strong case for creating a fair and equitable environment, many struggle to do so. For example, our 2021 study on performance management trends revealed that only 48% of employees believe their performance evaluation process is fair and consistent.13 As orgs continue to manage unique needs and challenges for different employees, leaders will increasingly need to address issues around managing fairness and equity across varied employee experiences.
Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 201714
Examples of equity metrics
Below is a list of metrics that orgs can use to understand, measure, and track equity. All metrics should be analyzed by the different demographics collected by the org to understand the differences in opportunities, access, and renumeration for various groups.
Using people analytics to create a more equitable environment
- Uber.15 Shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uber’s People Analytics team found that employees with children younger than 5 years of age scored lower than the company average on engagement and satisfaction metrics. To help provide them with the support they needed, the company added some flexibility options to help those employees balance childcare with work.
- A midsized U.S. law firm.16 Upon auditing its performance evaluations, the company found that only 9.5% of people of color at the firm received mentions of leadership in their performance evaluations—more than 70 percentage points lower than white women. The company changed the evaluation form that broke down job categories into competencies and asked that ratings be supported by at least 3 pieces of evidence. They also developed a 1-hour workshop to teach everyone how to use the new form.
As a result of these changes:
- Comments with constructive feedback for people of color increased from 17% the year before to 49%
- Women also received greater constructive feedback (from 10.5% the previous year to 29.5%)
Identifying inclusion metrics
After diversity, inclusion is the most common area that organizations tend to measure. According to a 2018 study, a little more than 50% of orgs measured inclusion.17 While the focus and urgency around this area has increased over the years, few orgs are doing anything beyond tick-the-box exercises.18
“Let's say that the engagement score for our company is high at 80%, and that makes us happy. And then you realize that 80% of your employees are White—which means that you’re not really hearing the voice of those under-represented groups. Inclusion analytics is about pulling that out, and making sure you have a good sense of where everybody's falling on all of your core metrics.”
—Hallie Bregman, PhD, Global Talent Strategy and Analytics Leader19
There are a few reasons why orgs should focus on understanding and measuring inclusion. Orgs with an inclusive culture:20
- Are twice as likely to indicate they met business goals from last 3 years
- Are 81% more likely to indicate high customer satisfaction
- Have employees that are 45% more likely to stay
- Have employees that are 2 times more likely to give a positive Net Promoter Score® (NPS)
If these reasons weren’t enough, the volatility of 2020 and 2021 has resulted in many companies facing tough questions around their efforts in this area. According to a recent analysis of S&P 500 earnings calls, the frequency with which CEOs talk about issues of equity, fairness, and inclusion on these calls has increased by 658% since 2018.21
Inclusion metrics can help orgs understand whether employees feel:
- Accepted by others in the workplace
- Integrated into and a part of the wider organization
- Respected for their work by others
As alluded to above, orgs can typically approach inclusion metrics in 2 ways—employee perception data and object data. We explain the differences between the 2 in Figure 8.
Examples of inclusion metrics
Figure 9 offers a list of metrics that orgs can use to understand, measure, and track inclusion. These include metrics that directly impact an employee’s sense of inclusion (e.g., mentor relationships and strength of connections with others), as well as some not-so-obvious metrics that can drive inclusion (such as the average distance between office and home, which can adversely affect employee experience).
Real World Threads
Understanding and embedding inclusion within everyday behaviors
When it comes to inclusion analytics, an international electronics company believes in embedding inclusion in everyday behaviors, activities, and processes across the company. It’s been collecting data and doing the research for more than 5 years to understand the key behaviors that impact inclusion at the organization. Because of its groundwork, the company was able to identify 4 metric areas that they needed to track and analyze on a regular basis:
- Net Promoter Score
- Job fit
- Employee engagement score
- Intention to turnover
The people analytics team approaches these metrics in 2 ways, by:
- Checking in with new hires and collecting the data from them
- Making sure that all employee surveys administered by the org contain questions that tie into these metrics
By collecting this information regularly, the company has been able to identify pain points and concerns experienced by diverse populations, especially in the current times—and plan initiatives and appropriate decisions around topics, such as vaccinations, return to offices, rollouts of wellbeing programs, and measurement of the financial impact of those programs.
Specifically, the company has extended its remote working policy because they determined that return to office will disproportionately impact their female workforce and potentially increase their turnover by 33%. It also rolled out a $300 COVID Wellbeing credit that can be used towards children’s tutoring costs, wellbeing app subscriptions, tax preparation costs, etc. to help employees—especially parents and caregivers who are more impacted by the pandemic. Additionally, the company re-examined and adjusted its communication and approach on vaccine education as result of employee feedback.
In addition to these measures, the people analytics team has also been able to use insights from inclusion analytics to identify areas in which different groups need support. For example, the company found that its millennial workforce needed and wanted greater support for financial planning as part of its benefits program. The company added specific financial wellbeing offering in its annual benefits open enrollment to support Millennials and Gen Z.
In another example, the company was able to build more inclusive policies around statutory and floating holidays that take into account the fact that employees with different religious backgrounds might want to take different holidays.
As a result of these efforts:
- Net Promoter Score of the company increased by 7%
- Confidence in Leadership increased by 8%
- Employee Engagement increased by 5%
Defining belonging metrics
While closely related to inclusion conceptually, it’s important that orgs pay equal attention to measuring and understanding belonging. We explain how belonging is different from inclusion in Figure 10. A high sense of belonging among employees can result in:
- An increase in employee happiness and employee engagement, which in turn impacts employee retention22
- A significant increase in job performance23
- A reduced turnover risk and a decrease in employee sick days24
Analytics based on belonging metrics can serve as a leading indicator of critical diversity outcomes as well. Specifically, belonging metrics can help orgs to:
- Gain a deeper understanding of the sense of security experienced by employees
- Find out if employees feel connected with the org’s values and purpose
- Bolster their ongoing efforts around inclusion and equity
“When someone is experiencing a sense of Belonging, they feel freer, they feel more creative and their opportunity to potentially have an impact at work is significantly increased.”
—Kate Shaw, Director of Learning, Airbnb25
Examples of belonging metrics
Figure 11 offers a list of metrics that orgs can use to understand, measure, and track belonging. While some metrics speak to belonging directly (e.g., a belonging index as part of an engagement survey), others should be used in combination with one or more additional metrics to gain a better understanding. For example, by looking at metrics around the number of resources groups offer and the participation rates for them, orgs can try to understand if employees feel supported. Employee feedback comments specific to these topics can provide even more context of the underlying issues.
Real World Threads
Using nontraditional metrics to add depth to understanding26
A number of companies look beyond the obvious metrics and data to gain a deeper understanding of the current state of DEIB within their orgs. For example:
- Cindy Owyoung, the Vice President of Inclusion, Culture, and Change at Charles Schwab, looks at the metrics around growth and vitality of the company’s employee resource groups (ERGs). By tracking metrics such as the number of ERGs and the number of participants in them, the company is able to really understand the work Schwab’s ERGs are doing and whether they are providing value to their members.
In addition, these metrics can also be indicative of whether employees have the support they need to be able to participate in the ERGs and do the work that needs to be done.
- Zoom Video Communications is another company that lays emphasis on such metrics. According to Damien Hooper-Campbell, the company’s Chief Diversity Officer, these nontraditional metrics “serve as bellwethers.” The company looks at metrics around the ERGs and keeps a track of the number of allies who are active in ERGs.
According to Hooper-Campbell, “If you have a women’s employee resource group, do you have any men who are part of it? How many non-Latinx folks are part of your Latinx employee resource group and are contributing to it, or coming and listening to it?”
Such metrics can offer a more nuanced understanding of the extent of support experienced by different groups across the org.
DEIB metrics: Strengths & limitations
DEIB metrics are most effective when multiple types of metrics are combined to gain a clearer picture of DEIB holistically. (See Figure 12.) For example, by combining inclusion metrics with equity metrics, orgs can understand not only that different groups may be feeling less included, but also the specific reasons (e.g., unequal development opportunities or biased performance reviews) for it.
Using data sources for DEIB
Now that we’ve covered the specific metrics, let’s look at the data sources orgs can use for them. Orgs should keep a few things in mind when using such data:
- All data should be looked at with a demographic lens. For example, the number of trainings accessed by the workforce would mean little unless analyzed to see if white women access training more often than Black women.
- Data are more powerful when combined with other data. For example, data from the HRIS that shows exit rates should be combined with data from exit interviews, surveys, and employee comments on external review websites.
- Connectivity between data sources is essential to being able to use the data effectively. Data interoperability, or the ability for different data between systems to work together, is a necessity in order for orgs to drive DEIB. As such, they should look for tech and tools that enable them to do that.
- The partnership between DEIB and people analytics functions is critical. As we mention in our report “DEIB Analytics: Getting Started,” DEIB and PA leaders often come from different backgrounds and parts of the org, which mean partnership challenges may exist that must be addressed. The insights and expertise of both groups are necessary to use and interpret DEIB metrics effectively.
Common data sources for DEIB
Figure 13 shows that most of the data sources can be used for more than one DEIB area.
Beginning the DEIB metrics journey
Orgs at the beginning of their DEIB journey should try to answer the question: What’s the current state of DEIB within the org? As such they should focus on 2 things:
- Understanding the state of diversity
- Identifying “low-hanging” challenges—areas that need attention and are easy to quickly start working on
When it comes to selecting metrics, orgs should start with the basics, like:
- Getting their basic demographic data in order
- Measuring metrics around headcount, retention, and turnover to understand diversity
- Leveraging employee perception data—such as engagement surveys, feedback, and focus groups—to understand how different groups perceive DEIB at the org
Orgs should ensure that the selected metrics are clearly tied to overall strategy and that processes exist to track their progress.
A people analytics leader we spoke to mentioned creating a Python script to pull different metrics that they’re already collecting around talent acquisition, internal mobility, performance, engagement, and exit rate to understand where the biggest gaps are between different employee groups. This allowed them to quickly identify areas with the biggest gaps, start working on them, and track progress over time.
“The DIB world is so enormous, and you could do a thousand things. It's hard to understand where to start and where to focus your efforts. We should be intentional about identifying our biggest gaps. Every company has some problems around DEIB, but we should work on finding where our biggest internal gap is and focusing on that first.”
—Head of People Analytics, a large technology company
Moving up to an intermediate level with DEIB metrics
Once the orgs have a clear sense of where they stand or the “what,” they need to understand the “why,” such as:
- Why do certain groups experience a low level of inclusion and belonging?
- Why are certain groups being promoted at lower rates than others?
Orgs can begin to supplement existing data to gain a deeper understanding of the systemic issues that impact DEIB. When it comes to metrics, orgs should look at data from existing systems:
- Learning & development data
- Performance management data
- Payroll data
- Wellbeing data
- Data from employee feedback comments
A technology provider shared an example of a customer project that conducted text analysis on data from employee feedback to understand why promotion rates for women were low in a company. The analysis revealed that the existing initiatives to drive promotions favored men and received positive feedback from them, as compared with women. Some of the concerns that surfaced included difficulties faced by women around childcare and the inflexibility around work schedules. The analysis of the data allowed the company to identify the systemic issues that were negatively impacting promotion rates for women and their overall DEIB efforts.
“Metrics are a way to communicate what’s important. Orgs should limit themselves to how many metrics they push. It’s like the weather, I don’t want a million different metrics to know if the weather is good of not. Orgs should figure out the goal (what is ‘good’ weather) and the metrics should help achieve that.”
—Dirk Jonker, Chief Executive Officer, Crunchr
Using a mature approach to DEIB metrics
The questions orgs should look to answer at this stage are:
- How can we address existing issues and drive our DEIB efforts effectively?
- How can we measure progress longitudinally?
- What creative analyses or approaches might help us answer questions we haven’t yet been able to answer?
When it comes to metrics and data, orgs should consider complementing existing data with:
- Network data
- Communication data from sources such as emails, calendars, meetings, etc.
- Workplace tech data from tools used by employees to get work done such as Zoom, SharePoint, Slack, Teams, and Asana
- Employee reviews and comments on external websites
Orgs should consider using advanced approaches to people analytics such as connecting text analytics with social network data. Text analysis can help orgs identify existing gaps in inclusion. Network analysis can help identify influencers. Orgs can relay feedback to influencers and leverage them to fill those gaps and drive greater efforts.
DEIB is a continuous effort rather than a “once-and-done” approach. Orgs should look externally to compare their performance to avoid becoming complacent in their efforts and update their goals regularly. Specifically, orgs should look at how other high-performing orgs that rank high on DEIB are performing, instead of industry or national averages.
“When it comes to selecting metrics, don’t go with the flow, and get something off the internet or another company. How you define metrics really matters, and orgs need to be intentional about what and how they measure them.”
—Lydia Wu, Head of Talent Analytics and Transformation, Panasonic North America
When it comes to DEIB, orgs need to do more than provide training and courses to employees. They need to think about and approach it in a holistic manner so that it’s built into the way the business is managed, instead of something that’s an afterthought or special.
To that end, orgs need to:
- Understand where they currently stand and how are they perceived by their employees. They should know what issues currently exist.
- Understand why those issues exist. Orgs need to find out the reasons why they are falling short in those areas.
- Identify what can they do to fix them. Orgs should plan their targeted initiatives and interventions in order to get the maximum value and results from their efforts.
In order to achieve that, companies need to apply a greater focus, and put more emphasize on using metrics and data than they currently do. As we’ve mentioned before, the growing demands from customers, investors, and employees around more action on DEIB is likely to keep increasing. Orgs stand to lose a lot more if they do nothing, not just in terms of lagging performance, engagement, and innovation—but also in future talent that’s going to place a lot more importance on these issues going forward.
It's time companies take their DEIB data seriously. Moving forward, we hope to see a greater acceptance of and creative thinking around how these data and metrics can be used to enable all people and do their best work.
Below we share our own as well as indices used by other organizations to help understand their DEIB culture.
Figure 18: Gartner inclusion index | Source: Gartner.27
Figure 19: University of California San Francisco’s Belonging Index | Source: University of California San Francisco.28