Employees, Skills & DEIB: Insights & Takeaways

Posted on Tuesday, June 1st, 2021 at 12:46 PM    


As part of our ongoing research in the area of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB), a few months ago we launched a new study to identify and look at the skills that can advance DEIB in orgs today. In our first roundtable on this topic, we focused on understanding which skills are critical for fostering DEIB and how orgs can effectively develop them.

We recently held our second roundtable on the topic of DEIB and skills and invited members from the following groups to participate:

  • Employees
  • Managers
  • Employee resource group (ERG) leaders
  • Senior leaders

We aimed to understand the roles of different organizational groups in fostering DEIB and the specific skills each group needs to embed DEIB into the org’s culture.

Our roundtable discussions focused on 2 main questions:

  • What are the roles and responsibilities of employees, managers, ERG leaders, and senior leaders in fostering a DEIB culture?
  • What skills do each of these groups need to drive DEIB at work?

Mindmap of Second DEIB & Skills Roundtable

The mindmap below outlines the conversations that transpired as part of this second roundtable.

Note: This is a live document. Click the window and use your cursor to explore it.

Key Takeaways

Highly engaging, the discussion produced different perspectives that helped us uncover several interesting insights. In general, the participants agreed that a lot of work needs to be done around identifying and intentionally developing skills for DEIB.

Participants agreed that a lot of work needs to be done around identifying and intentionally developing skills for DEIB.

A few key takeaways stand out from the discussion:

  1. Managers need more than “managerial skills” to drive DEIB
  2. Senior leaders should enable big-picture thinking
  3. ERG leaders play a unique role in fostering DEIB
  4. Clarity should be used for skills identification
  5. Similar skills have different applications across job levels

The following sections offer an overview of each takeaway.

Managers need more than “managerial skills” to drive DEIB

Talking about the roles managers play in fostering DEIB and the skills they need to do that, participants highlighted several crucial responsibilities at the interpersonal and team levels.

  • Managers should model appropriate behaviors, create psychological safety for their teams, set clear expectations, and take initiatives to seek out different perspectives. Some of the underpinning skills managers need to carry out these responsibilities include:
    • Self-awareness
    • Open-mindedness
    • Receptiveness
    • Willingness to learn
    • Active listening
  • A number of manager skills required to drive DEIB aren’t considered essential or associated with being a manager. For example, one participant pointed out: While on the one hand managers are typically expected to “have all the answers”—they also need to be able to show a willingness to learn from others, and be open to diverse thoughts and ideas. Clear expectations must be set for the manager role and the work that needs to be done when it comes to DEIB.
  • Additional training or continuing education programs for managers can help set the foundation for more nuanced DEIB skills. Participants pointed out that they see a lot of successful individual contributors promoted to the manager role because they’re able to produce effectively—but they may lack adequate people skills. As one participant explained:

“When it comes to DEIB, managers should get comfortable ‘writing with their nondominant hands’—as it forces them to think about the tendency to do things that are uncomfortable and helps reorient leaders to be able to improve DEIB.”

Senior leaders should enable big-picture thinking

Among all 4 groups, attendees listed the largest number of responsibilities for senior leaders. This long list (see the mindmap) indicates the crucial role senior leaders play in fostering DEIB across the org. At the core of it all, senior leaders are responsible for setting the tone, policies, and systems in place that foster a culture of DEIB. As one participant stated:

“Leaders are expected to lead DEIB efforts and model behaviors that reflect the org’s commitment to DEIB.”

For senior leaders, most of the necessary skills identified by participants focus on big-picture thinking, including:

  • Change management. Senior leaders should champion DEIB values by steering the org through large-scale culture change
  • The ability to influence people by effectively communicating the company’s DEIB goals with different audiences
  • Learning agility. As leaders encounter complex DEIB challenges, the ability to apply the learnings from one situation to another becomes crucial
  • Systems thinking.1 When senior leaders engage in systems thinking, they’re more likely to think about DEIB more holistically, rather than implementing piecemeal strategies

Senior leaders: Dare to dream, challenge organizational, systemic, and policy disparities, and periodically reflect on what’s working—versus what’s not—in order to initiate change.

The discussion also highlighted the importance of senior leaders’ ability to empower others by giving people the “safe” space to speak up and bring together the appropriate groups of people to carry forward the org’s DEIB mission.

ERG leaders play a unique role in fostering DEIB

The discussion around ERG leaders’ responsibilities and the skills needed for DEIB resulted in some of the most novel insights from the roundtable. ERG leaders play a crucial role because of their unique position to:

  • Represent the voices of the underrepresented groups in company conversations
  • Communicate the contents of those meetings back to the group

This intermediary role demands a specific set of skills to drive DEIB. As one participant said:

“The role of ERG leaders in fostering a DEIB culture is to create an environment where people can openly express themselves and share ideas that add value to the company. They are responsible for communication between their members and senior leaders to ensure ideas are heard.

Some of the important skills identified for ERG leaders involve:

  • Event planning
  • Group facilitation
  • The ability to translate the group's needs to business leaders
  • The flexibility to work with diverse groups

In addition to bridging the gap between underrepresented groups and org management, ERG leaders also need to be a coach—someone who holds up a mirror to help others look intrinsically within themselves.

Participants also highlighted the importance of other skills that can complement the ERG leader role in disrupting and pushing the envelope within orgs:

  • Persuasion
  • Influence
  • Persistence
  • Advocacy skills, including promise-keeping, and protecting the identities and feelings of ERG members

As one participant emphasized and stated, ERG leaders should act as protectors while advocating for underrepresented groups:

“ERG leaders should protect the names of their group members—for example, being mindful when a group member wants to remain anonymous or may not be ready to take on a responsibility.”

Clarity should be used for skills identification

When it comes to identifying skills for DEIB, we had general agreement among roundtable participants that certain terms need more clarity and clearer definitions.

For example, “growth mindset” came up frequently as something that’s essential for DEIB. However, we found a lack of clarity about what exactly growth mindset really means, and whether it’s a skill or not. In addition, a few participants also expressed general apprehension that this term has become a buzzword and is overused in the context of DEIB. One participant explained:

“I have seen growth mindset come up in many instances—it is such a leadership term. Not clear what we mean by that—whether it’s an individual attribute or relative to the org culture.”

As the discussion unfolded, a few other skills—such as caring, vulnerability, optimism, resiliency, and humility—were highlighted as being necessary for DEIB. However, we lacked consensus on whether these terms should be categorized as general skills or skills only within the context of DEIB.

For example: One participant mentioned that optimism—on its own—could lead people to believe that things are already in a good state for everyone. But, when optimism is paired with eagerness to learn and evolve, that’s when it can be most effective for DEIB purposes.

Similar skills have different applications across job levels

Many skills required for fostering a DEIB culture were highlighted as crucial skills for all groups, including:

  • Change management
  • Critical thinking
  • Self-awareness
  • Active listening
  • Emotional intelligence

While we observed similarities in DEIB skills across job levels, it was equally interesting to analyze and understand how these similarities were discussed during the roundtable in terms of their applications.

For example, change management applied to all 4 groups:

  • Employees: focusing on an individual’s ability to deal with change that comes with innovation, ambiguity, and complexity associated with DEIB
  • Managers: skills focusing on being receptive to new ways of thinking and modeling new behaviors to uphold the org’s DEIB values
  • Senior leaders: skills focusing of being more operational—mainly focusing on org culture change and implementing large-scale behavior change to foster DEIB
  • ERG leaders: focusing more on bottom-up change—being disruptive and pushing DEIB efforts up through the ranks to stick

By examining a similar skill across job levels, it became evident in our discussion that the relevance and application of a skill is dependent on contextual factors.

Defining DEIB skills in more granular terms could better inform an org’s skill training programs and improve diagnostic skills assessments.


We're extremely grateful to the attendees who enriched the conversation by sharing their thoughtful ideas and experiences. And, as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback at [email protected].

Q&A Call-Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) & Analytics

Posted on Monday, May 17th, 2021 at 7:58 PM    



Stacia Garr:
Wonderful. So thank you all so much for joining us today. For those of you whom I don't know, I'm Stacia Garr. I am co-founder of RedThread Research. And I'll tell you a little bit about us before we get started, but in the meantime, I want to give my co-host today, Priyanka Mehrotra chance to introduce herself Priyanka.

Priyanka Mehrotra:
Thank you, Stacia. Hi everybody. I'm research lead at RedThread and along with Stacia, we've been working on DEIB and people analytics for over the last two years. And we're very excited to talk about this kind of study that we have going on right now. Welcome.

Stacia Garr:
And so for those of you who haven't been to a Q&A call or haven't been in a while, here's roughly how we do it. This is very conversational. Yes, obviously we have slides, but the point is to answer your questions, you know, find out what you're most interested in with the research and the like. We'll be communicating primarily through chat or through Q&A, both of those are enabled and we can see both of those. If you want to do Q&A, so everybody doesn't know your question, that's fine. If you want to share in chat, that's great as well. Like I said, we are recording this call. And so we will be posting this to the RedThread site after today. So that folks who are RedThread members will also be able to view it.

Stacia Garr:
So in speaking of RedThread and members, we are a human capital research membership focused on a range of topics, including people, analytics, learning, and skills, performance, DEIB and employee experience in HR technology. As Priyanka mentioned, this study that we're working on, and we're going to talk about today is a really nice culmination of a number of different areas that we've been doing research on. So we've been extremely excited to get to it. It feels like the study we've been trying to get to for at least three quarters. So we're excited to do that.

Defining DEIB

Stacia Garr:
So I'm going to begin with just a little bit of level setting. So for those of you who maybe haven't been following our work. We talk about this space collectively as DEIB. So I know a lot of organizations use just DEI. Some use just DIB.

Stacia Garr:
We decided to put them all together to be inclusive. Because we think that all of these concepts are important, but you can see here on this slide, our definitions for each of these areas, and how would we see them as being a little bit distinct from each other.

Why DEIB & Analytics

Stacia Garr:
Now, I mentioned that this study is kind of the culmination of a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and I should say and clarify that this is an active study under process. That's one of the things that we do with the Q&A calls is that we get started on some research and then we will conduct a number of ways to interact with folks. Sometimes it's a roundtable, as you may have seen. We've actually got one on this topic coming up on, correct me if I'm wrong, Priyanka, May 27th, I think is the date for that, but the Q&A calls are a chance to kind of engage on a different level to understand what people are thinking about and getting initial reactions to the work that we've been doing.

Stacia Garr:
But, so why are we doing this study? One is when we launched RedThread, we started off with a focus on DNI technology. This is what we called it. Now we're calling it to DEIB technology. And then very shortly after that, we did a study on people analytics technology, which many of you who are here may be familiar with. And within DEIB tech, there was an analytics component. And we were seeing on the people analytics tech focus on DEIB, but we hadn't really kind of brought these concepts together. And then when we went out and we looked at the literature, which Priyanka is going to talk about, we found that there weren't a lot of folks who are talking about how do DEIB and analytics work together. What's that partnership look like? What are the metrics we should be looking at and how should we be making those decisions?

Stacia Garr:
So we started to think about all of these things. So, you know, those were kind of the underlying concepts of why we started this journey.

Why are we studying it now?

Stacia Garr:
But then there is I think a question about like, why now, like, why didn't we do it three quarters ago if we've been studying this topic for a few years. And I think there are a few things. First is we've seen a greater expectation from consumers to take action. And so if we look at things like Edelman's Trust Barometer particularly after the social justice movements of last summer, consumers are expecting organizations to make steps, yes, on social justice, but on DNI more broadly. They also are expecting organizations not just to do that externally, but to do that internally, to get their own DNI house in order.

Stacia Garr:
So that's one, one reason. The second is obviously the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on diverse employees combined with the social justice movements that I just mentioned. So we've done quite a lot of work particularly focused on the impact of the pandemic on women. We have also written about the impact of the pandemic on people of color. And so we know that those populations have been some of those that have borne the brunt of this the most. And so there's some of the ones that if we look to come out of the pandemic, we need to be focusing on the most as well. And then the third reason, again, back to this, why now is we're seeing these new SEC human capital reporting guidelines that went into place last November really starting to come into to be a factor for organization.

Stacia Garr:
So analytics teams are being asked to provide more detail on human capital metrics and often that is including diversity data. And we expect that right now. And I was very intentional in that language. Right now it's a lot of representation data usually a bit beyond what they have to report for the EEOC, not necessarily a lot beyond that, but we expect that to change, particularly as investors start to increasingly understand the impact that we've seen in research of strong diversity and inclusion on organizations, on their financial outcomes. We think that there's going to be more investor pressure to provide more data and insights as it relates to the DEIB.

People Analytics for DEIB has arrived

Stacia Garr:
So those all get to kind of this, this why now all of this is reinforced by the study that we did on the DEIB tech that came out just at the beginning of this year, January of 2021.

Stacia Garr:
And the big finding from this study was that when we asked vendors, what problems our customers were trying to solve, that issue of DNI analytics and insights went to the top. It was number four in 2019. The last time we published that study and in 2021, it was number one, it was 19% increase in the importance of addressing this lack of DNI insights and analytics. So we know that this is been something that we've seen reflected in the data. We're seeing it in the popular press, and we as analysts have seen it as being incredibly important. So that's why we're doing this now. Priyanka.

Why it's so hard

Priyanka Mehrotra:
Interesting. So let's take a moment to understand why it's so hard to do this, and we're going to talk about what were studying in through this research, but just want you to take a moment to understand why it's been so hard and what have been some of the challenges that DEIB leaders, people analytics leaders, and organizations have been facing. And I mean, this often has to do with three things as they come to our mind, the first being that there's a Gulf between the DEIB leaders and people analytics leaders that tends to exist within organizations. And what we mean by that is that there are few things that go under this, one is that DEIB leaders and people, analytics leaders often not always, but often report to different departments or heads or senior leaders. So for example, DEIB might be reporting into CEOS a lot of the times.

Priyanka Mehrotra:
And in fact, I recently came across a research that was conducted on about 500 senior diversity leaders out of which 40% have said that they were reporting into CEOs. And what we typically tend to see with people, analytics leaders on the other hand is that they're often either reporting to the CHRO or talent acquisition leaders, or talent management leaders, or even a centralized analytics team. So one of these, the gulf I was talking about is that the reporting structure might be different for them. The other has to do a little bit about the backgrounds that these two tend to come from. So again, not all, but years of DEIB teams often came from backgrounds such as social justice or diversity focus backgrounds. Whereas people analytics leaders often tend to come from data science, computer science, math, statistics background.

Priyanka Mehrotra:
Additionally we often see the DEIB leaders, might find themselves focused on activities that may not have a lot to do with data. So for example, setting up employee resource groups or managing DEIB events or collaborating with local communities. Whereas we see analytics leaders really deeply ingrained in the data side of the organizational things that they're doing but only coming in as participants when it comes to DEIB and having little knowledge about all the curies and the approaches that go behind those initiatives as when it comes to DEIB. The second reason why we think this is so hard is that there tends to be a lack of clarity around data and how to use it. And this goes back to the point that Stacia was making, but, you know, up to now, we've been seeing a lot of use of DEIB data has been for reporting purposes.

Priyanka Mehrotra:
And while we are starting to see a shift in how leaders are starting to think about this data, these are still early stages. And there are a lot of questions about, you know, what data they should be collecting, how they should be using it. What are the types of analysis that they should be running? And I think a related reason, which is our third reason under this, why it's so hard is that there's a lack of clarity around how DEIB leaders, DEIB tech venders fit into all this. So Stacia, mentioned our DEIB tech study that we ran, that we published earlier this year, and we saw an immense growth in the number of DEIB tech vendors that are coming up in the space. But along with it, we have questions and concerns from leaders. When they're asking me questions, such as when should we bring in these tech vendors, how should they fit into the broader strategies?

Priyanka Mehrotra:
So all of these reasons kind of convoluted to making this practice of bringing DEIB and analytics together, something that's challenging for organizations in they're struggling to understand how would they get started on it and actually be successful on it. And these are the factors that actually fed into our thinking on what we should study when it comes to this topic.

What we are researching

Priyanka Mehrotra:
So if you go into the next slide, we'll just quickly talk about some of the overarching questions or teams that we're looking at through the study. So the first one that we're looking at is how should the DEIB and people analytics partner. So rethink this is sort of foundational to what organizations should be doing when it comes to this, because without a successful partnership, this work can not be done. The second area that we're looking to understand is what are the important data and metrics for DEIB?

Priyanka Mehrotra:
So, like I said, there's a lack of clarity around what is it that they should be doing? What is foundational, what is table stakes? And then as organizations mature, what are some of the more novel and non-traditional things that organizations should be looking at. And then third is about the role of vendors and techs. So looking at, you know, one of the different types of technologies that organizations are using. What are the people analytics technologies? What are the DEIB technologies? When should they come in and work as a partner and in general, what is the role that vendors should play in all this? So those are some of the overarching teams or questions, if you will, that we are looking at to understand from this study.

What the literature says

Priyanka Mehrotra:
And what we did when we launched this study was we began with a literature review and which we published last month on our website.

Priyanka Mehrotra:
And we did a very exhaustive, neutral journey, where we analyzed over 50 articles, business journals, academic papers, and we found a few key findings that kind of reaffirmed our thinking around this topic as well. And kind of solidified our questions that we thought we should be asking. So I just cover some of our key findings from our literature review. The first of course that we were expecting to find was, and we did find was the, the need for analytics and analytics for DEIB is more important than ever. And, you know, given all that we've experienced in 2020, COVID19, the social justice movements, it's no surprise that really starting to look at how we can use data and metrics and analysis to support this push for the DEIB that we're starting to see from organizations. And, you know, just for an example, if you look at some of the commitments and goals that all the big organizations have put out over the last year, whether it's Facebook or Target or Starbucks, they all have these lofty goals of reaching 20% to 30% increasing their representation by X percent in the next few years are tying diversity to performance reviews.

Priyanka Mehrotra:
And then you look at those goals. It's very clear that none of this can be done without data and analytics without measuring where you are and where you're going and what needs to be done. So clearly people analytics is going to play an extremely critical part of doing anything related to DEIB moving forward. The second finding that we came across was the DEIB analytics is more than diversity metrics. So we found several articles that truly try to push the thinking beyond just looking at representation data, and thinking about inclusion, thinking about the different experiences that different groups of employees are having in the organization, thinking about belonging and what that means in the organizational context, thinking about the existing processes and how they can be made more equitable and working with people analytics leaders to really understand how can they use the existing data to think about some of these processes and kind of push forward their DEIB agenda on these things.

Priyanka Mehrotra:
The third finding that we came across was around using predictive analytics for DEIB to help plan for the future. And the articles that talked about this mainly spoke about using this and harnessing this power of predictive analytics to really avoid issues from becoming into potential problems in the future and planning for planning well ahead and avoiding certain challenges that may come up in the future. So for instance two examples come to my mind that we came across during this literature review. One was of Walmart using modeling and forecasting techniques to really answer questions around like, what could happen if we keep doing this, or how can we arrive at our desired goal much faster and using those insights from that data to really review the DEIB goals and connect regularly, to understand how, what is the progress that they're making towards them.

Priyanka Mehrotra:
The other example that we found was from International Paper, which uses predictive analytics to understand their expansion rate compatibility. And what that means is using data on past behavior, family dynamics cultural agility, global accuracy, to understand and forecast which employees would fare better in a global move if they were to be placed in international settings. So these were some of our top three findings. And I just want to touch on some really interesting ones as well. And this one was my favorite, which was around using quantitative data individual stories and experiences are an important piece of the puzzle and no work on when it comes to DEIB can be compete without taking those into account? No amount of statistics can capture what it feels like to be the only ruling on a team or to be the only black member on the team.

Priyanka Mehrotra:
And so we think that qualitative data and quantitative data forms an extremely important part of doing analytics for DEIB. And finally, another key finding that we found of course, was around, you know, making sure that you're addressing issues of privacy and ethics. So aggregating data, sharing data with employees, being transparent about what is being collected and what is the purpose that that data is being used for. So, like I said, all of these findings kind of reaffirmed our thinking around what is it that we need to study in this area. And like Stacia mentioned, and our lit review confirmed it, that there's a lot written on how and why this needs to be done and very little on how organizations are actually doing it or what they should be thinking about. And that's what's was what our aim was when it came to launching the study. And that's what we've been trying to find out through our interviews. And I'll pass it on to Stacia to talk about some of our initial findings now.

Initial findings: Building a strong DEIB & People Analytics partnership

Stacia Garr:
Great, thank you, Priyanka. And I know we've had some really good questions come in through chat, keep those coming. We will try and addresses questions once we get here into the question section. So some of the initial findings and I should clarify, we've done, what is it Priyanka about 15 interviews at this point on our way to roughly 30? So we're about halfway through our interviews. So these are very initial, so we're just going to share some of the things we have been hearing. So we've been grouping the research into two areas, the first being that DEIB and people analytics partnership, and then the second one being metrics. So focused on the partnership aspect first. The first point is around the importance of the data oriented diversity leader. So we've heard a real, and this isn't surprising, but I think it's just worth underscoring. We've heard a real difference in the interviews when people said I've got a diversity leader who really gets it, who gets the importance of this work, who supports what we do, who actively helps us think through the metrics and analytics that we should be focused on, et cetera, et cetera. That's kind of been one, one story.

Stacia Garr:
The other story has been well, I'm the people analytics leader, and I know this is important. And I've, you know, done my best so far and figured out what I think is important, but I'm kind of worried, waiting on a diversity leader to get here, to help, or in some instances, this is what I've done. And we've just hired a diversity leader because as I'm sure many of you have seen, there's just been this incredible slew of hiring of DEIB leaders since last summer. And so it's actually notable how many folks are like, well, our DEIB leader just started in September or they just started in January and now we're finally starting to get traction. But the importance of that partnership in the diversity leader being data oriented was remarkable. Second, and I kind of just alluded to this a little bit, but people analytics leaders taking the lead on data. We are actually, so I think many of you may know we're doing this study, but we're also doing a study on DEIB and skills and the skills kind of side of that is the learning team.

Stacia Garr:
And what has been remarkably similar about these two studies is how the DEIB teams in the past have either been responsible for this work or they have or the work hasn't been done quite frankly. And now as DEIB has become increasingly main stream, these corporate functions. So in this instance, people analytics, but in the other study, learning these corporate functions are kind of taking back or taking over the aspects of this work that they have expertise in. So for for people analytics, it's, you know, we know how to do the data analysis. We know how to get common definitions for the data. We know how to do, you know, basic representation analysis. Like we know how to do all this stuff and because we're already doing it in all these other ways. And we have the, the source of truth dataset, ideally you know, we, we are the ones who should be doing it and then putting it into the dashboards that we're already providing to leaders.

Stacia Garr:
So this just makes sense for it to be part of this, this group. Of course though, there is a side of this, which is around selection of metrics around problem identification, hypothesis identification, and I'll get to that more on the next slide. But the big thing is just this idea that people analytics, this is firmly now in our remit, and we need to go with it. The third point, and this seems maybe obvious, but is the importance of the alignment between the two. So we've heard a lot of instances where there are either, you know, Priyanka set up the, the challenge that we see with reporting relationships. And so we're seeing when it's really effective, DEIB and people analytics reporting into the same leader is one instance if that doesn't happen, we're seeing kind of pretty formalized, dotted line relationships between people on each of the teams.

Stacia Garr:
So a DEIB team member who is, you know, sort of informally connected to the people analytics team or vice versa. The point being that there has to be a strong level of communication between the two, because DEIB is basically the, the subject matter expert when it comes to the sorts of data and analysis that let me rephrase come to the questions that should be answered. And then the people analytics team is the expert when it comes to the data and analysis that can be done. So there has to be that clear alignment. Moving, I'm sorry. Priyanka, did you have something to add there?

Priyanka Mehrotra:
I think I would just underscore the point on the alignment. I think what you said was exactly right, like having that either direct line or reporting into the same head or having that dotted line, what it does is it makes sure that both the leaders are aligned on priorities through those communications and constant check-ins, and they're aligned on priorities and goals that are connected to the overall business strategy. And I think that also gets to the point about there being trust between the two of them. And I remember you spoke about that, that the DEIB leader, as well as the people analytics leaders have to trust each other, that they know what they're doing and that this is the right data, or this is the right approach that they're going to be taking and work together as a partner on those priorities and goals.

Metrics that matter

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, great point. So if we move on to the, the metrics aspect, and I know that there, there are plenty of questions in here. And so we'll, we'll start to work our way through them now in terms of metrics, what we saw is that, and this is just consistent across pretty much every interview that we did. You need the foundation and that foundation is basic diversity representation metrics. And I say basic, but it's a little bit less than just basic because it also includes intersectionality. So meaning that you, aren't just looking at, what is the experience of black employees, or what is the experience of Hispanic employees, but you're looking at what's the experience of black women, for instance and, and that sort of basic representation data is something that everyone said you need to just get your hands on from the very beginning there was a question in here in the chat, and I'm going to go ahead and grab it now around approaches and measurement at a global scale, especially regarding ethnicity. And we actually have a really fascinating conversation yesterday with the global fortune 100 organization. And what they were saying to us is one, and this is something we've heard consistently. One that ethnicity is something that tends to primarily be measured here in the United States. There is some measurement of it in places like South Africa, in some Asia, but almost more of a country approach within Asia. And then some in Brazil, because she made the point that a lot of people in Brazil don't necessarily identify as Hispanic, though they do identify as Latino or Latinas. And so when then, but then obviously within Europe, there is no ethnicity data that's being collected. So we think, you know, the point is, is that they are, what she said was that they worked with kind of local representatives to make sure that they were getting the right information so that they could be culturally appropriate in all these different locations.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. the other component of this is we heard a lot in discussions about doing self ID campaigns. And so, you know, that because there's obviously sensitivity in terms of what information you can collect on ethnicity particularly in the EU, it wasn't as much focused on ethnicity there, but it could be focused on things like disability or on LGBTQ status or some of these other types of information that you might want to be collecting on folks in using as part of your kind of foundational diversity representation analysis. So we've heard that quite a bit. The government collection data often is, you know, initially collected by the companies, but, you know, not necessarily in all instances but yeah, looking at what's what's externally available and then also using that potentially to help inform your benchmarking strategy so that you can be comparing apples to apples. If you're looking at what external data is out there is an important thing to consider too.

Stacia Garr:
So diversity representation, metrics being foundational. Second looking at inclusion and equity. And so the way that I have been framing, this is almost like a model. Well, you know, that's part of what we do. So in an initial model is like diversity of representation is, is kind of step one. Step two is what we're calling kind of inclusion and equity one Datto, which is basically looking at things like engagement data by representation, information. So engagement and inclusion, potentially inclusion, indices and other belonging metrics that may be being captured and looking at those by by diversity representation numbers, and also including intersectionality, like I just mentioned. That's kind of inclusion one Datto, inclusion two Datto, which is what we're seeing some of the more sophisticated companies look at is saying, okay, we've identified for instance, that we have a problem with, or we we have, you know, variances with black women in this area.

Stacia Garr:
Why might that be happening, maybe black women in finance, just to pick something, why might that be happening? And then actually, and this is where it's really important to have that strong relationship with the DEI team and pulling in hypothesis on what may be happening. So sure it could be compensation, but maybe instead it's, you know time to promotion rates, which obviously also impacts compensation, but this is a slightly different issue. It might be the, that these people are being brought in from outside, maybe because there's been a diversity effort for the last few years and these people aren't getting they're from outside and they're not getting effectively connected into the network. So it's kind of an opportunity for the people analytics leader to work with the DEI leaders and increasingly the HR business partners to understand what could be happening here and how can we actually design a study to truly understand using some more sophisticated analytical approaches.

Stacia Garr:
So that's kind of the inclusion and equity two Datto approach that we're seeing. And then the third is the importance of understanding employee voice. And so this is, I would say it's kind of related to both inclusion, one Datto and two Datto, but it's a little bit different because it's not just employee engagement and experience, but it's, you know, what other things are employees feeling? So we've seen a rise in for instance, in harassment technology this come available particularly after me too. So are we looking at that and are we taking that seriously? And are we looking at other ways that employees might be not being heard in the organization? So this is kind of in the inclusion two Datto type of capability, but if we're looking at, for instance metadata that on who's going to what meetings are certain populations being included at the same, you know rate as others in terms of important meetings or are they being connected with others via Slack or Teams or whatever. So there's kind of all this more sophisticated analysis we can see are these people's voices literally being heard to the same extent as other groups, voices. Priyanka, did you have anything to add there?

Priyanka Mehrotra:
Yeah, I think one interesting example that comes to my mind. I think we heard this from a couple of interviewees was using wellbeing data, and I think that might fall under inclusion 2.0, as well as we're starting to understand it is looking at wellbeing data for underrepresented groups and seeing how is that different and getting to that feeling of belonging and inclusion for those groups as well. And I think also what, another thing that we heard from a couple of interviewees, what guests to employ voice is quantitative data. So we heard about focus groups and collecting stories. I believe from one of the vendors that they're doing that, and that I think was a very interesting add to the data that organizations already have and, you know, like creating environments where underrepresented groups and people are comfortable enough to speak up and collecting that data. In addition to all the surveys and pulses and metadata that they might be already collecting.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. Great point. Great point. Okay. So that's the kind of presentation sections such as it was today. We're going to go to your questions and there've been a number of questions that have come in through chat. So I'm going to go to the chat questions first and then come back to the questions that were submitted in advance.

How do you get HR to use analytics to drive change?

Stacia Garr:
So one person asked about how other organizations are getting HR to use analytics, to drive change with DEIB strategies. And this question, I love it because it kind of hits on, on all the challenges, right? You have at least three different groups. So you mentioned we've got HR, we've got people analytics, and we've got DEIB strategies. And the magic fourth group that didn't get mentioned is legal because legal is in all of these conversations. So how are organizations actually, you know, making this happen?

Stacia Garr:
So I think we've heard a few things. One is it depends on the maturity of the organization and the maturity across all of those different groups. So does your organization, for instance, have a strong HRBP organization, which has strong connections to business leaders and does the organization have a strong DEI leader and what is their influence in the organization? How sophisticated and mature is the people analytics function in their ability to kind of imbibe and respond to requests when it comes to this. And then also, what is the risk profile of the general counsel? Are they, you know, we talked to one organization kind of more of a tech enabled organization. I would say tech enabled retail organization, where they said, we got to fix this, do what you need to do all the way to an organization where it's like, we don't want to share anything.

Stacia Garr:
No, data's going to anybody except for a very small few. And so all of that makes an impact on to your, this question, how do you get HR to use analytics to drive change? And so I think the key is figure out where your strengths are, where the maturity is. So if the maturity is for instance, with HR business partners and they have a strong, strong relationship with the business, you know, use your, hopefully you have at least a initially small people analytics team, if not kind of a more sophisticated one to start with providing that initial foundational data, you know, here's, here's where we have differences here's in the experiences of different groups. So start with that, that education and then working with HR business partners to understand what are the levers that we could pull in these different businesses to start to drive change, where is their appetite for this to do something different? Priyanka, do you have something to add?

Priyanka Mehrotra:
Yeah, I think I would just add to that education piece that you mentioned, because I remember one of the interviews that we recently spoke to a very large company. They mentioned that they're working with their vendor as a partner to broadly educate senior leadership and HR teams to not just use the data, but also understand and interpret that data. So, one, I think the role of vendor can be crucial if the vendor is willing to work with you as a partner in education and educating them. I think the other one, which might contradict my point actually, was that one of the leaders that we spoke to mentioned that they had set in place a learning requirement for people, for senior leaders before they could get access to the data. And it kind of backfired because nobody wanted to take that learning, but what it help them understand was that they needed to approach it in a different way that this was not going to work. It was clear to them that they could not force this learning course on them before giving them access to the data or getting them to use analytics, but they needed to figure out a different approach. So that, that was kind of a failing when approach that they kind of worked through. So I think those two are some of the interesting examples that come to my mind.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. And I think that the point is experimentation, you know, to what you just said, you know, that, that organization figured out that, you know, kind of a one hour long learning on how to use DEIB data didn't work. But so they said, okay, well, how can we actually use the dashboards and the data to teach? And how do we do it in a way that maybe we don't give everybody everything at once, but we roll it out in a way that kind of through the rollout process, we're actually educating people on what it is certainly that they need to know, but also how they might use it. And this is, I think also where either vendors or people analytics teams can really come in with potential suggestions that are embedded within the dashboards and in the offerings to help people say, okay, well, given this, what, what might I do? And those suggestions obviously should be based on the data.

Priyanka Mehrotra:

Stacia Garr:
Okay. We're getting some more questions in here. That's great.

Which groups or identities to prioritize as they're all important

Stacia Garr:
So there was a question about, and we've kind of addressed this, but I want to come back to it, but there's its about understanding which groups or identities to prioritize as they're all important. I think that's, that's absolutely true. What we have seen organizations do though, is just kind of just similar to what we do with all people, analytics data, or really ideally, you know, our HR efforts is to say, okay, where's the business need here? Where's the need the greatest. And you know, that you can do once you have that representation data and you can kind of overlay what's important to the business in terms of business goals and strategy. And then where are the biggest gaps in that data? But using those two as initial ways to make a decision about what to prioritize, and then the overlay on that is who is going to be open to trying something new.

Stacia Garr:
So we've, you know, we heard, for instance in one of these organizations, they were talking about how most of their metrics are, you know, externally facing, and that's what leaders care about and any of the internal stuff that can actually maybe help you make decisions about actions to take, they were less interested. And so we asked that leader, we said, well, how do you find the interested leader? Like you've got great insights. How do you find the interested leader? And you know, some of it had to do with finding people who felt personally connected to DEIB and felt, you know, whether that was through their own experience or through someone that they loved. We can't tell you how many people, how many to be Frank, how many white men have said, I care about this because of the experience my wife has had, or I care about this because I'm a dad of two girls. Like, it's almost, it's remarkable how many times we've heard that. So find those people who have that connection. And then secondly hopefully people who have that connection to DEIB, but then also have influence over their peers. They're respected by their peers and using them giving them an opportunity to kind of shine and be the exemplar of the changes that are possible. Then that's the other way that I think about prioritizing.

Impact and accelerating the integration of DEIB & People Analytics

Stacia Garr:
Okay. another question here, does architect, the alignment of career planning, pathing and skills, capabilities, and experience have a role in this arena and impact on accelerating the integration of the DEIB and people analytics more broadly. So yes, yes. So I mentioned that we're doing a study on DEIB and skills. These two studies are running in parallel. That study is really trying to understand what are the skills that contribute to a culture of DEIB. So that's one component, but the other angle on skills and DEIB is using skills to potentially address any biases that may be happening. So under understanding of people's skill sets and what they want to achieve and using that to help us with people, better understanding career path opportunities, better understanding things like availability of opportunities to internal talent marketplace and that kind of thing. So I think that there is very clearly an overlap between particularly understanding skills, data, and leveling the playing field for diverse populations. So I think this a really important thing. We're seeing people just beginning to talk about this. But it's not I think its something that's going to have to be driven from the learning side of the house, because we're not, we're not really hearing anything on the people analytics side of the house on this, but we think it's an area of opportunity.

What are some of the challenges to building a partnership between DEIB & People Analytics?

Stacia Garr:
Okay. I'm going to turn to some of these questions that we received. We're going to go with this one first Priyanka about the challenges to building a partnership between DEIB and people analytics. Do you want to talk about that one?

Priyanka Mehrotra:
Yeah, sure. So I think we already touched upon some of these things when we spoke about our initial findings. So I think one of the biggest challenges that we've heard, especially as it pertains to people, analytics leaders is when DEIB leaders don't believe in data or don't come from that data background and are not open to receiving that data or looking beyond data for reporting purposes. So I think that's one of the main challenges that we heard coming in from people analytics leaders. The other one has been about lack of our missing a data culture in your organization and resistance to changing that mindset of really going with the data and being open to experimenting on middle and trying to find out what is, what is it that they can do and what is it that can be done with this data?

Priyanka Mehrotra:
And just a general lack of data literacy and awareness. And there are ways that we can, that organizations can work work on this. As we've talked about, the people analytic leaders tech can take a lead, the vendors can come into play as a partner in spreading that education broadly across the organization. But in general, I think so CDO is not believing in data and a lack of data culture in the organizations would be, I think the top two ones that we've heard. And I think connected one to that is lack of support from the leadership in general. And you know exactly to your point, what you said earlier, we've seen a lot of push come from people who are personally impacted by it, or see it around them have experienced it. But if that is missing at the top then there's a general lack of support for this kind of work that, that, that can be challenging in building this kind of partnership between DEIB and people analytics. What else would you add to this?

Stacia Garr:
We mentioned it a little bit earlier, but the issue of trust, I think in general is comes through. So maybe a little bit less with the relationship between DEIB and people analytics, but certainly with HR in the broader organization. Somebody we interviewed recently talked about how the HR organization didn't want DEIB and people analytics to release data broadly because they were afraid of getting called out or others knowing something that HR didn't and this idea of we have kind of an adversarial relationship. We own the data, we should know everything, and then we can control and communicate it. That is problematic. And you know, the mindset needs to shift to more of a more eyes on the data are better than fewer we're in this together. We're gonna figure out solutions together. We're going to distribute decision-making to make things better at scale, et cetera. And that mindset shift is very hard. And so that's not necessarily something just between DEIB and people analytics, but it requires a strong perspective between those leaders to then go, wow, and kind of push this broader agenda of, we need to share data so we can make change so we can measure what's happening. And people will know if we're making progress and if we're not, then we can make changes that will drive that progress.

Priyanka Mehrotra:
Yeah. Yeah. I think that also speaks to something that we heard about fear of data being released without the context. And we heard a lot of people analytics leaders talk about how the other ones who take the lead when it comes to framing the data in the right context and putting that communication in that right frame before it's published externally or internally. And it's been interesting to see that it's the people analytics leaders who are taking the lead on this when it comes to communicating the data and putting that right context of DEIB to work.

What is the role of legal?

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, definitely. Cool. Let's move on to the next question. What is the role of legal? All of our folks, whether they're people analytics leaders or DEIB leaders sort of chuckle when we get to this question, because they're like, Oh, legal. So, you know, obviously the role of legal is to keep all of us out of trouble. You know, this is sensitive data, it's important to treat it with the due respect, et cetera. So I don't want to underscore that or, or undermine that, excuse me. That said what we also have heard is that there is great variance in what you can do based on the risk profile of your general counsel. And a lot of times what happens is the general counsel needs just education. You know, their job is to find the problems and there are always going to be concerns when it comes to DEIB data.

Stacia Garr:
And so the question is how can we work with general counsel to reduce the risk to a level that makes it acceptable and, or to make it clear that this level of risk is acceptable versus the risk of us not doing anything? So, and I think part of that is also helping them understand how others might get to this data. If the organization isn't controlling the message to some extent. So for instance, we had one interviewee who's general counsel said, I don't want you to publish anything, not nothing out there. And the people analytics leader went back and said, look with this set of data, we are, that we provide to the government. Employees can legally request the right to this data to have access to this data. So all it's going to take is a smart employee asking this question to get this information out, by contrast, we could share it and we could put some context around it. We could put clarity around what we're trying to do, and we could head that off. So there's this risk that already exists out there. And actually by releasing the data in this way, we are reducing that risk. The general council eventually agreed, right? So it's about thinking through sometimes very creatively. How do we work with legal to help them understand the appropriate level of risk Priyanka? What else did we hear?

Priyanka Mehrotra:
I think one of the best advice that we heard come out of our interviewees was don't look at legal as compliance. You get them as a partner. So like the way you partner with the DEIB, or if you're a DEIP leader the way you partner with people analytic. Work with legal as a partner, because they are the ones who are going to help you put the data, the right context, made sure that you're being able to continue sharing that data. And just in general, they're going to be helpful along the way. So I don't see them as putting barriers to the work that you do, but actually supporting you just by pushing you to be more clear about it, by being more intentional about it. And by thinking about it from all perspectives.

What is the role of vendors?

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. That was a good, that was a great point. Yeah. Cool. I'm gonna keep us moving so we can get through a few more of these. So what's the role of vendors? So there were, I think there are a few, one is vendors can broadly educate folks about data. We've already talked about that. Second, depending on the vendor they can certainly enable self-service for the access to the data, which is, which is a powerful one. Third vendors can help get up to speed quickly for small teams. So particularly if it's a vendor that the people analytics team is already using and they have a DEIB offering. So think like what Visier offers or what Workday offers in the context or cruncher in the context of their overall offering. Those are, those are ways that they can that they can, they can support.

Stacia Garr:
That said, we have heard from a number of people, analytics leaders, deep frustration with some of these vendors, because they're like the DEIB leader just went to the vendor. Like they didn't even talk to us about what data we could offer or the capabilities we have. Like we were just completely cut out of the loop. And then when the data that they had was different than the data that we have, senior executives came and were frustrated and said, get it right, et cetera, et cetera, you can kind of see where that whole train goes. And so, you know, there's an opportunity that vendors can offer some really good things, but it's really important to make sure that you have that alignment and clarity on first the data set itself and what's going to be used. But then two, how it's going to be leveraged back in the organization is, are the insights, the vendors producing, going to be integrated into existing dashboards or reports that leaders are already getting, what's going to happen. You can't have the vendor out here as an island is the point. They can really help you, but they can't be an island over here when all your other data stuff is over here.

Priyanka Mehrotra:
I think the only thing I would add too, is that they can also help share data broadly where it's appropriate. So one of the questions that we had asked our venders in our people analytics tech survey last year was, do you share insights collected on employees for themselves to help them take actions on them. And majority of the vendors said that they do. So I think that's another place, another area where vendors can enable organizations to help employees gain value out of the data that is being collected on them. And I think more and more organizations are starting to do that, especially when it comes to things like their sense of belonging and inclusion to better understand, okay, where is it that they are lacking in what is it that they, maybe the kind of behaviors that they should be working on to enable that culture of belonging and help people feel like they're included part of the teams. So I think that is another rule that vendors can play in helping just sharing that data and providing that access to those insights that that organizations are collecting on employees.

What analytics are being used for DEIB?

Stacia Garr:
Yep. Great. Okay. Next question. We received, what are some of the types of analytics being used for DEIB? So we've, we talked about some of these particularly kind of the, the basic representation data the representation data applied to engagement or inclusion and belonging, indices, that's some of the more kind of common analysis that we're seeing we're increasingly seeing in terms of more novel approaches, we're increasingly seeing the use of ONA. So particularly to understand the strength of networks of diverse groups and how those might differ. So for instance, looking at maybe looking at the networks of women and how these differ from men, particularly by seniority and organizations, we actually wrote a study on that a couple of years ago on women networks and technology. We also see them using ONA to understand if there are kind of hidden stars in the organization.

Stacia Garr:
So people who senior leaders may not know could be high potentials or be making an outsize impact on the organization, but who are highly connected within their network kind of indicating that, that outsize impact and then using that to help with potential hypo identification practices and in putting people into leadership development programs and the like so there's, those are a couple of ways we've seen ONA. We're also seeing more use of natural language processing and used in this kind of gets at that qualitative data aspect that Priyanka mentioned at the very beginning from the lit review. So using that to identify themes within certainly within engagement or belonging in our inclusion indices but also using that when we are looking at performance reviews looking at to what extent are certain groups may be having certain types of themes or texts being written about them that others are not. So for an example of this might be again, kind of going back to some of the research we've seen in women versus men. Women's feedback often tends to be more about their behaviors. Whereas men's feedback often tends to be more about their actual outcomes for business impact. So those are the types of differences that you might be able to use NLPM. Priyanka, what else have we seen?

Priyanka Mehrotra:
Something that was very interesting was tying wellbeing data DIN data. So seeing that, cutting it across, slicing it to see how different groups underrepresented groups, different cohorts might be fairing when it comes to wellbeing. I think the other thing that stuck with me that was pretty interesting and you've just heard that from one company was, they were, they were doing was counting high-fives on a watch on the watch with internal communications back from that they have to understand allyship and sponsorship amongst employees and managers and senior leaders. That was something interesting. That'd be hard as well.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, so we we've actually seen that also. We saw it with high fives in this research, but also I've seen it with recognition platforms. So like a work human or an achievers Work Human themselves have actually done some analysis to see if there are differences by demographic background in terms of who recognizes whom and at what amount, cause I do like points or, you know, dollar amounts associated with recognition. And the theory there being that those recognitions are much less you put less thought into them than you do a performance review. So they may reveal biases that exist a bit more. And they do show differences by all the demographic groups that you might expect. So anyway, I see we've just got two minutes. So I just wanna see here. I want to go to the question that is in the chat, cause I think this is, this is a really good one.

Evidence of accountability via reward, accelerating progress or being effective in general

Stacia Garr:
And this is about, have we seen evidence of accountability via rewards, accelerating progress or being effective in general? So this is such a hot topic right now because we see all these organizations now coming out and saying, you've got to tie DEIB numbers to some sort of accountability metrics in order to get people's attention. There was when I first started doing research in this space and like 2013, that was like the thing, the thing that everyone was trying to get to and the 2013 version of myself would probably be cheering this hugely. The 2021 version of myself is not so sure. And particularly given some of the things we've heard in these interviews. The the reason for that is well, while tying metrics to accountability can be really powerful and it absolutely can.

Stacia Garr:
What it can also do is get people to focus on the wrong thing. And right now people are really worried as they should be that as they proliferate the DEIB data, that people will see it as a quota or a target, and that is illegal. And so there is a real concern about people misinterpreting what is trying to happen and kind of going after the wrong things. And the accountability makes that even more, more public. I think that if done well, accountability is a good thing. So if, for instance, you're tying to behaviors that we know drive certain types of outcomes. I think that the accountability can be a good thing. The devil is in the details on the measurement, of course. But I guess I would say my perspective is that it can be good, but use it with caution.

Stacia Garr:
I have not seen any holistic research studies that look at this. And even if we did, I would be concerned about like what correlation and causation researchy things. So that's it, if you want to talk more about it, I'd love to talk more about it. I think it's an important topic, but that's kind of my off the cuff.


Stacia Garr:
We're at time. So I'm just gonna real quick flip through to our last thing, which is next Q&A call. Maybe not relevant for folks here, but for anybody who maybe is watching the video, it is on learning content. So we did a study to understand how do we deliver the right content at the right place, right time, right person right modality, et cetera. And we're going to be discussing some of our early findings from that. That study will be coming out itself in mid-June. So that one will be further along than this study. So if you're interested, I'm sure it'll be really great. It'll be with Dani Johnson and Heather Gilmartin Adams. All right. Thank you to everybody so much for the time today. Thank you, Priyanka for your co-host on this session. And we look forward to seeing everybody again soon. Have a good rest of your day.

Insights on DEIB & Skills

Posted on Tuesday, May 4th, 2021 at 2:45 PM    

In March 2021, we launched a new study on DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) and skills. As part of our ongoing research, we recently gathered leaders for a research roundtable focused on this topic.

The focus of the discussion was to understand the skills critical for fostering DEIB and how orgs can effectively develop them.

Some of the specific questions we discussed include:

  • What are the skills crucial for DEIB?
  • How might we scientifically identify those critical skills?
  • How can learning leaders make sure DEIB-critical skills are being developed?
  • How can DEIB leaders make sure skills is a focus of their DEIB efforts?

Mindmap of DEIB & Skills Roundtable

The mindmap below outlines the conversations that transpired as part of this roundtable.

Note: This is a live document. Click the window and use your cursor to explore.

Key Takeaways

Our extremely engaging conversation helped us understand how leaders are thinking about and approaching skills identification and development for the purpose of fostering DEIB. While several interesting insights were shared, we identified these 5 key takeaways:

  1. Certain skills are crucial for DEIB at all levels
  2. Skills need to be pragmatic and teachable
  3. Employees can help determine which skills are important for DEIB
  4. DEIB should be an organizational priority
  5. Consistency is key to skills development

The following sections offer an overview of the major points for each key takeaway.

Certain skills are crucial for DEIB at all levels

General consensus among our leaders: Certain skills are needed by individuals irrespective of the levels they might be at within their org.

Skills—such as listening, empathy, and self-awareness—are consistently seen as foundational for building inclusive and equitable orgs. Such skills can be instrumental in enabling people to develop other skills as well. As 1 leader pointed out:

“People need comfort with differences. People cannot approach intermediate and advanced concepts if they cannot get past the innate challenge of difference (those who don't look, sound, or act like me). That applies to people of all levels.”

Because these skills are foundational, they should be embedded in all aspects of the talent lifecycle and the org’s culture, instead of creating separate trainings for them. This can help individuals apply those skills in the right context, when they need them.

While all agreed that certain skills are important for all individuals, participants also shared about the role of different levels in enabling these skills.

People leaders must play the role of cultivator for DEIB skills within their teams, while senior leaders need to create the conditions to enable skills development.

Leaders also need to create a vision and shared purpose, and manage their team’s energy and mental health. Managers, for their part, should create a psychologically safe environment for all.

Skills need to be pragmatic & teachable

Leaders agree that DEIB initiatives can’t be tokenistic: DEIB initiatives should focus on skills that are teachable and practical, and can be applied in the workplace. As such, leaders should be able to help managers understand, for instance, how they can:

  • Create psychologically safe environments
  • Bring in different perspectives

Some of the ways leaders can do this are by:

  • Making skills into real actions, behaviors, and rituals by thinking about the everyday practices of inclusion that can be incorporated in meetings, for example, always reading the room during meetings (to gage attendees’ actions and reactions), and asking questions such as who’s in the room, who should be there, and who’s at the decision table; as 1 leader noted:

“That’s where inclusion is first experienced and where those practices can be embedded.”

  • Developing exercises that can help create awareness, such as writing down any time someone says a questionable word and noting how often they use it

Employees can help determine which skills are important for DEIB

When it comes to identifying skills that are important for fostering DEIB, leaders were clear: Ask the employees.

In order to determine DEIB skills, orgs should have employees identify instances in which they felt included and what actions enabled them to experience it.

Some of the ways orgs can do that include:

  • Surveys to ask employees about their perceptions
  • 360 assessments for employee feedback
  • Talking to employees (i.e., interviews, focus groups)
  • Leveraging employee resource groups (ERGs)

Beside engaging the employees, another helpful way to identify DEIB skills is to leverage external perspective by, for example, having leaders talk with clients and customers. External thought leadership can also be a great source for clarity and knowledge around such skills.

Tech and data can help in identifying opportunities that drive these skills. For example, organizational network analysis (ONA) can be used to identify:

  • People who might have DEIB skills
  • Who they’re connected to
  • Their areas of influence

Leaders also suggested using platforms like Glassdoor to understand why people leave the org and to look at data from exit interviews.

DEIB should be an organizational priority

When asked about how orgs can make sure that DEIB skills are included in employee development efforts, leaders believed that DEIB should be an organizational priority. Everybody needs to be responsible for driving it and be given the means to make it happen. As stated by 1 leader:

“Give individuals and teams the autonomy to DO DEIB, not just learn or talk about it.”

Which is why, as leaders shared, all skills learning should incorporate a DEIB lens. A shared example from the leaders: When orgs create learning to help people managers deliver better feedback, they should ensure that they talk about delivering feedback to different personas, age groups, races, etc.

Some of the ways orgs can ensure that skills learning as part of employee development is impactful include:

  • Encouraging interaction and interpersonal dialogue to give feedback on skills learned (as opposed to it being a siloed experience)
  • Creating conversations, sharing each other’s stories, and learning from one another across different levels (i.e., national vs local settings, manager to employee, peer to peer) instead of an “instructor” teaching the concepts.

Consistency is key to skills development

An essential part of the successful application of DEIB skills is consistency in practicing and making them an integral part of daily activities, rather than something to learn about once in a while. For example, constant driving of DEIB vocabulary into the org can help develop those skills as it promotes and encourages inclusive practices.

An essential part of the successful application of DEIB skills is consistency in practicing and making them an integral part of daily activities.

One leader shared this: Too often, development programs provide information with little / no follow-up and evaluation—or opportunities to practice and apply the lessons / new ways of thinking, doing, and being. Change in behavior and mindset requires continuous practice.

This consistent approach and practice can also help overcome one of the biggest challenges to the application of DEIB skills: It’s ultimately up to each individual to apply them. As 1 leader put it:

"The individual practice and application is where the change really takes place. Ultimately, this is very individualistic and how we shift culture.”


We're extremely grateful to the attendees who enriched the conversation by sharing their thoughtful ideas and experiences. And, as always, we welcome your suggestions and feedback at [email protected].

DEIB & Analytics: What the Literature Says

Posted on Tuesday, April 27th, 2021 at 12:05 PM    


“Black Lives Matter protests moves corporate D&I initiatives center stage”1

“CIOs double down on D&I to build stronger businesses”2

“Amazon will examine its employee review system after claims of racial bias”3

These are just a few of the headlines published in the last 12 months on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) efforts by companies. Given the growing momentum in the space, especially since the social justice movements of 2020 spread globally, we wanted to better understand how orgs are measuring and monitoring their DEIB efforts via people analytics.

We looked at more than 60 academic and business articles, reports, and books for this literature (lit) review. This article summarizes the themes from the lit:

  • Analytics for DEIB is more important than ever
  • DEIB analytics is more than diversity metrics
  • Predictive analytics for DEIB can help plan for the future
  • Don’t forget about qualitative data
  • Address issues of privacy and ethics

Much of the literature that we reviewed for this topic focuses on why analytics should be used to support DEIB efforts. However, some shining pieces did go beyond the “why” to discuss how companies can go about collecting and utilizing DEIB data. We take a closer look at these 5 themes in the following sections.

Analytics for DEIB is more important than ever

It's not surprising that we found a large portion of the lit focused on explaining why analytics is important for DEIB. As pointed out by 1 author:

“Research and data must play a role when it comes to implementing D&I strategy that actually moves the needle on equity. If you don’t collect data, it’s hard to diagnose how your company is performing. If you don’t track data, you won’t know how you’re improving.”4

Several recent articles call out the urgent need for it, especially now, as the COVID-19 pandemic and social movements have spurred companies to reexamine how they drive equity. If we look at the recent commitments to DEIB made by some of the biggest companies—such as:

  • Facebook tying improving employee diversity to executive performance reviews5
  • Target’s aim of increasing representation of Black team members by 20% by 20236
  • Starbucks’ goal of BIPOC representation of at least 30% at all corporate levels, and at least 40% at all retail and manufacturing roles by 20257

—then, we see that not one of these goals can be achieved without access to data and analytics.

DEIB analytics is more than just diversity metrics

While diversity and representation metrics remain foundational to DEIB efforts, we’re pleased to see several articles push orgs to collect and use data beyond representation metrics. One of the ways orgs can go deeper on metrics is by looking at experience data for different groups of the employee population. According to 1 author, orgs need to look at hard data:

“Are they invited to social gatherings? Included in meetings? Receiving proper mentorship? Looking at these interactions—where discrimination, microaggressions and lack of support often creep in—will reveal what’s truly derailing efforts to improve diversity.”8

These data can be helpful in measuring inclusion. Existing engagement surveys or specific pulse surveys can ask employees about concerns around inclusion. Question statements can be used by orgs to build an inclusion index and track it over time, including:

  • Employees are valued for their differences and their unique contributions
  • Employees can voice their opinions without fear of retribution or rejection
  • People are rewarded fairly according to their job performance and accomplishments
  • I have confidence in my company’s grievance procedures

These questions can be supplemented with check-ins, exit interviews, network data and other data to identify existing gaps.

Predictive analytics for DEIB can help plan for the future

Articles that focus on applying predictive analytics for DEIB talk about spotting the right patterns and identifying a potential issue before it turns into a problem. Predictive analytics can be a powerful tool to empower orgs to make smarter decisions about their DEIB efforts.

The lit contains examples of companies that are already using predictive analytics to support DEIB, including:

  • Whirlpool—to help steer the company away from a “…myopic focus on intake, while ignoring potential effects of retention risks and advancement challenges for diverse populations.”9
  • Walmart—to model and forecast techniques to understand the future through such questions as:
    • What could happen?
    • How can we arrive at the destination sooner?

Every quarter, diversity leaders and business leaders meet to review DEIB goals, as well as share insights from the data.10

  • International Paper—to analyze expatriate compatibility: Predictive analytics, based on past behavior, family dynamics, global acumen, and cultural agility, can forecast which employees would fare better with a global move. 11

Don’t forget about qualitative data

While not a recurring theme, we think the reminder about qualitative data is an important point made by some articles that deserves a mention. Very often, when we talk about data and analytics, we instantly think of hard numbers, dashboards, and spreadsheets.

DEIB and analytics leaders might find themselves trying to persuade or convince some stakeholders about the merit of qualitative data—and part of that challenge might require redefining what “data” means for the org.

Individual stories and experiences are an important piece of the puzzle. Interviews with employees can help leaders supplement quantitative data to get a holistic picture. As 1 author stated:

“Statistics don’t capture what it feels like to be the only black team member.”12

Some examples of the types of qualitative data that can be used include:

  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Textual analysis of written performance reviews
  • Analysis of exit interview notes
  • Analysis of hiring memos

However, the lit does offer some limitations to using this data. For example, if companies aren’t consistent or comprehensive in their qualitative analysis, then biases can creep in.

Address issues of privacy and ethics

No discussion about people analytics—especially when it involves sensitive DEIB employee data—can be complete without taking into account issues of privacy and ethics. And we’re glad to see a number of articles point out this issue. As one of the authors said:

“You want to be very careful of how you’re protecting the data and how you’re making sure that your data is being used to make fair and equitable decisions on people.”13

So, how can orgs best deal with this issue?

One way to maintain employee privacy is through data aggregation to ensure no one’s data is singled out. However, this could be challenging for small companies that may only have a few people from a particular demographic group.

Data ethics and privacy becomes even more important when collecting passive data on employees. Companies can be more responsible and ethical about collecting such data by:

  • Being transparent with employees about the data collected and who will have access to it
  • Sharing that data with employees
  • Being clear about the types of analysis being run on the data collected on employees and how those data are used

What caught our attention

Of the lit we reviewed, several pieces stood out to us. Each of the pieces below contains information we found useful and / or intriguing. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same.

The Next Generation of Diversity Metrics: Predictive and Game-Changing Analytics

Brian Baker and Michael Collins (edited by), Diversity Best Practices, 2013

Explains how predictive analytics, when used correctly, can support areas such as retention, development of a leadership pipeline, analysis of leadership and talent gaps, and creating a general talent pipeline.

"Predictive analytics will soon offer the make-or-break evidence needed to support every business case, every new project proposal. For diversity practitioners, predictive analytics offers more: A powerful tool to be smarter about inclusion efforts—which ones to ditch, which ones to double down on, which ones to invent.”


  • Link the hiring algorithm with recruitment of candidates from diverse backgrounds to revisit high-potential resumes and analyze retention data
  • Shift conversations from reactive debates to proactive consideration
  • Use predictive analytics to gain insight into what is reasonably attainable for companies in the future

Strength in Numbers: Using Data to Track Diversity and Inclusion

Marianne Bertrand, Caroline Grossman, Mekala Krishnan, Promarket, The Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, October 2020

Explains how no simple solution is going to cure all DEIB woes. Change needs to be deliberate and transformational, which takes time.

"People arrived at quotas as a panacea, as the silver bullet. And it’s great that it has led to increased representation on boards, but that’s really not had the kind of spillover effects that people had hoped."


  • Quotas for executive boards, while not showing any negative effects, aren’t the transformative policy that many thought it would be
  • Culture change takes time—anywhere from 5-7 years for change to really start to trickle through the org
  • Change the norms: For example, instead of lengthening the maternity leave policy which separates women from the labor force for longer, create a parental leave policy that encourages both parents to take time off, leveling the playing field

Here’s How to Wield Empathy and Data to Build an Inclusive Team

Interview with Ciara Trinidad, Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at Blend, First Round Review, 2018

Explains that the key to building the strongest, most diverse team is understanding and believing in why you’re doing it. Knowing the reason behind it gives momentum to the initiatives and gets people onboard.

"Discussion gives muscles to data—especially around D&I. Without it, a dashboard is a depository. A dialogue becomes a monologue, which eventually becomes silence."


  • Partner with the HR operations specialist to learn what data is stored where; use the fields needed to help create a dashboard that provides a meaningful narrative
  • Try different analyses to discover which are the most revealing. Some examples might be:
    • Analyzing hires by month, by team which can show how recruiters are faring against DEIB strategies
    • Analyzing hires by month, by race which can reveal an org’s internal biases
    • Analyzing hires by tenure which can reveal when people leave and why
  • Present the data to every person who has a stake in the company in the clearest, most digestible way
  • Keep the lines of communication open; consider using your existing talent as your DEIB professionals and pay them for that work

Actionable Diversity and Inclusion Analytics with Philips’ Toby Culshaw

Joe Macy, Gartner, 2019

Provides a case study into how companies can leverage partnerships for DEIB analytics, and making sure how data can be made comprehensive and presented in a way that’s easy to digest.

"Because of the partnerships with internally facing HR analytics and reporting teams, the Talent Intelligence team could access information already available at Philips and avoid starting from scratch to find the needed information. The partnerships also ensured the different teams were on the same page and understood how to impact D&I at Philips."


  • Break the project down into 3 smaller phases:
    • Gather internal data to understand the current state by partnering with the HR analytics team
    • Gather external data to understand the feasibility of changing the current state by looking at the markets in which Philips operates
    • Synthesize the internal and external data in a segmented way to drive action
  • Present data by creating easy-to-consume materials designed to drive action
  • Thoroughly understand the competitive landscape worldwide to find the right talent and understand the feasibility of diversity goals

Delivering On Diversity and Inclusion: How Employers Can Achieve Measurable Results

White Paper, Visier

Encourages orgs to move away from the traditional top-down approach to D&I practices and, instead, empower frontline workers to initiate change. This approach must include data that’s readily understood by all and looks to the future instead of criticizing the present.

“When data can be accessed in a way that facilitates exploration (without the need for a data science degree!), it can help organizations understand where to focus their talent efforts to achieve broader goals.”


  • Avoid common data pitfalls, such as measuring diversity as a blanket number and prioritizing reports over insights
  • D&I taskforces are more effective than top-down approaches to change
  • Unify data from multiple sources, so that users can dig deeper into the data
  • Utilize D&I analytics to:
  • Compare the org to the most recent EEOC benchmarks
  • Clearly communicate changes and diversity through dynamic, real-time visual storytelling
  • Demonstrate how D&I initiatives have an impact on business performance metrics
  • Understand engagement among diverse employees, and monitor the impact engagement has on turnover and exit patterns

Additional Reading Recommendations

  1. “Better People Analytics: Measure Who They Know, Not Just Who They Are,” Harvard Business Review / Paul Leonardi & Noshir Contractor, November-December 2018,
  2. “15 Ways People Analytics Can Improve Workforce Diversity,” / Rosie Harman, August 2020,
  3. “Why you should apply analytics to your people strategy,” McKinsey & Co., The McKinsey Podcast / Simon London, Bryan Hancock & Bill Schaninger, April 2019,
  4. “Support Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion with People Analytics,” Human Capital Institute, Nine to Thrive / Phil Willburn,
  5. “4 Things Walmart Learned About Using Data to Drive Diversity,” The APQC Blog / Elissa Tucker, September 2019,
  6. "How CEOs and CHROs Can Connect People to Business Strategy", Harvard Business Review Analytics Services, 2017,
  7. “Data And Diversity: How Numbers Could Ensure There’s A Genuine Change For The Better,” / HV MacArthur, August 2020,

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) and Skills: What the Literature Says

Posted on Tuesday, April 20th, 2021 at 10:00 AM    

DEIB & Skills: We Found What We Expected

Our hope (wish? dream?) that we'd overlooked a treasure trove of articles on DEIB and skills did not come to fruition. Instead, as expected, our literature review turned up numerous articles explaining:

  • How leaders can become more inclusive
  • The role managers can play in promoting DEIB
  • The strategies orgs should put in place

But, missing from our lit review: The specific DEIB skills that individuals should or can develop, as well as what role learning can play in the development.

We looked at more than 50 academic and business articles, reports, and books for this lit review. This article summarizes the 5 key themes that emerged from the literature. But before we dive into them, we first want to touch upon a few things that surprised us.

A few things surprised us

We did still find a few interesting nuggets from our literature review, such as:

  • While much is written about DEIB-related courses and trainings, very little exists on the skills that foster DEIB and how they can be developed.
  • We found 2 reports with in-depth research on the skills that impact DEIB (we share details on these publications below).
  • Increasingly, storytelling is becoming more essential for knowledge-sharing and building a culture of trust and collaboration (areas that impact DEIB)—but no existing literature makes the direct connection to DEIB nor sees it as an important skill for it.


In this article, we summarize the key insights we learned:

  1. Traditional diversity training doesn’t work
  2. People look at DEIB competencies, not skills
  3. Skills for DEIB transcend individual roles and orgs
  4. DEIB skills should be part of organizational learning
  5. DEIB skills are in demand, but we don’t know how to teach them

Traditional diversity training doesn’t work

A recurring theme on this topic is the ineffectiveness of traditional diversity and unconscious bias training. In fact, research has shown that this kind of training may result in awareness among underrepresented groups of the bias-driven barriers that exist within an org while having no effect on the behaviors of the majority represented population.1

The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two—and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash.

However, there’s considerable research that also focuses on ways orgs can make such training relevant and useful, by making some crucial adjustments to it, such as:

  • Being intentional about the outcomes and clearly defining them
  • Diversifying the training content
  • Removing the assumption that individuals at all hierarchical levels experience DEIB similarly
  • Articulating specific and realistic expectations
  • Consistently evaluating people to track changes and nudging them to take action

All of these suggestions point toward helping people learn something that they can apply in their work—skills.

People look at DEIB competencies, not skills

We found quite a bit written about competencies that leaders, managers, and employees need to drive meaningful change for DEIB. A common thread among the literature is the need to focus on developing competencies that are both individual- / person-focused, and those that impact the broader team and org. Cultural competency is one of the most frequently referenced areas.

“Cultural competence is the ability to recognize that people have different experiences than you, to understand the social, economic, or political reasons why those experiences are different”2

We found 2 problems with the lit that focused on competencies:

  1. There’s no consensus or agreement on what this set of competencies needs to be
  2. Competencies by definition are too broad to enable taking action to foster DEIB

We think the focus should instead be on the skills that foster DEIB. As we mention in our article Skills for DEIB: Building The Muscles We Need, skills are applied and, thus, enable action-taking. However, the current lit lacks structured research around the specific skills (or a set of them) that can enable people to take action.

Skills for DEIB transcend individual roles & orgs

Some of the lit we reviewed discussed the difficulty in identifying key skills for DEIB, as compared with the way we identify skills for a specific role or job via a job analysis. Skills that foster DEIB transcend roles and orgs.

Everyone needs DEIB skills if they want to work successfully and effectively with diverse individuals or groups, whether it be within their current org or a future one. It should be noted, however, that some evidence exists in the lit about how certain skills are more crucial at different hierarchical levels.

Some DEIB skills are more crucial at different hierarchical levels.

For example, a staff-level employee might find more value in leveraging their collaboration and communication skills if most of their interactions are with diverse peers or supervisors. On the other hand, an executive trying to implement strategic decisions that might impact diverse groups differently should leverage their active listening and / or storytelling skills.

DEIB skills should be part of organizational learning

As we mention in the beginning of the article, there’s considerable literature on DEIB training, and the role of L&D in delivering, tracking, and measuring its effectiveness. We did come across a few insightful pieces that see the role of learning extend beyond delivering specific trainings. Because DEIB is foundational to everything that happens at work, it, therefore, needs to be an integral part of org-wide learning initiatives.

Because DEIB is foundational to everything that happens at work, it, therefore, needs to be an integral part of org-wide learning initiatives.

L&D has an important role in doing that, and going beyond delivering trainings and courses on DEIB. From ensuring consistent terminology and definitions to assessing and measuring progress in skills development, the learning function can bring their expertise to ensure a lasting and meaningful impact.

By working with the DEIB leaders, the L&D function can effectively identify skills that have a meaningful impact on driving org-wide inclusion efforts—and make development of those DEIB skills a part of an individual’s overall learning and development.

DEIB skills are in demand, but we don’t know how to teach them

Many articles highlight the rise in demand for “soft” skills. The pandemic, widespread protests for social justice, and climate-related disasters have resulted in people becoming aware of certain skills that can help them survive and thrive during times of rapid change.

Some refer to them as “durable skills”—because they’re not perishable like technical skills that can become obsolete if the tech itself is no longer popular or used widely. For example, collaboration and empathy are increasingly seen as critical skills to function effectively in a new environment. Not surprisingly, these soft / durable / humanizing skills (whatever we call them) are also crucial for building inclusive environments and a culture of belonging.

People are becoming aware of certain skills—soft, durable, or humanizing—that can help them survive and thrive during times of rapid change.

The problem, as some authors allude to, lies in the approach to developing these skills for 2 reasons.

The first reason: It’s difficult to teach these skills individually. As one author put it:

“Historically, if employees don’t arrive “naturally endowed” with these skills, they are often left to develop them on the job. How do you teach or develop skills like mental agility, for example?”3

A suggested approach to this problem is grouping interrelated skills into clusters and investing in a family of skills.

“Rather than targeting mental agility in isolation, you might target its cluster by also addressing skills like navigating ambiguity, working with incomplete information, and developing organizational and self-awareness.”4

The second reason: It’s difficult to ensure whether these skills are being implemented and practiced by people. Some ideas are suggested in the existing lit to address this, such as:

  • Incorporating a microlearning approach and integrating it into the workflow
  • Combining learning with coaching
  • Using nudges and reminders to apply their new skills and practice them

What Caught Our Attention

Of all the literature we reviewed, a few pieces stood out to us. Each of these pieces contain information that we find useful and / or intriguing. We learned from their perspectives—and encourage you to do the same.

Skills for Diversity and Inclusion in Organizations: A Review and Preliminary Investigation

Rosemary Hays-Thomas, Alyinth Bowen, and Megan Boudreaux | The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 2012

This article offers an academic approach to identifying skills for diversity and how they vary, based on the different hierarchical levels within an org.

"Empathy or the ability to take the role of another may be critical to diversity effectiveness at all levels the organizations. Self-awareness and listening skills are likely to be important at all levels as well."


  • Reviews the existing lit on identifying the skills needed for diversity
  • Applies a critical incident methodology to develop a broad-based set of diversity attributes
  • Lays out a model to help understand what values, knowledge, and skills are most important at different org levels (e.g., staff, middle managers, and executives) for effectiveness in diverse environments
  • Highlights the importance of empathy at all levels of the org

Building the Link Between Learning and Inclusion

KeyAnna Schmiedl, interviewed by Deborah Milstein | MIT Sloan Management Review, March 2021

This article provides an example of how DEIB leaders and L&D functions can work together to create learning opportunities that foster a culture of belonging and inclusion among employees. This is an extremely timely article: It provides great examples of how Wayfair is leveraging such a partnership to update its training around inclusion in light of the social justice movements of 2020.

"We’ve … codeveloped ‘culture of inclusion’ trainings with L&D. They had the subject-matter expertise to pinpoint the highly engaging points in the instructor-led, in-person training and recreate those experiences in a different e-learning format."


  • People are making the connection that diversity, equity, and inclusion are not a set of initiatives that operate in a silo
  • DEI needs to be foundational to everything that happens at work, including learning
  • By partnering, DEI leaders and L&D can bring better solutions to people within the org
  • The connection between learning and DEIB should be seamless

Skills in Demand, Skills in Decline

Matthew J. Daniel, Susan Hackett | Chief Learning Officer Magazine, December 2020

This article offers insights into which skills are growing in demand and why, as orgs look to build those that’ll enable them to thrive in a new environment. It also provides suggestions on how orgs can approach developing these skills.

"The most notable trend, perhaps, is the volume of perishable skills in declining demand… platform- or organization-specific tools or languages that remain important for some but are increasingly volatile. Fluency in these programs takes a back seat to more durable and stable skills."


  • Perishable skills—that focus on specific tools or software, and which are org-specific—are in decline
  • Durable skills and stable skills—that are transferable, and which enable people to work in volatile environments—are on the rise
  • Orgs can approach the development of such skills by grouping them into clusters
  • Orgs need to think about broadening and diversifying the durable skills sets of their people

Risky Business: Why Diversity and Inclusion Matter

Celeste Young and Roger Jones | Victoria University and Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, 2019

This article provides a list of skills identified as critical to support D&I practice and the implementation of activities, based on a workshop conducted at Victoria University in December 2018. While the workshop was specifically designed for emergency management orgs (EMO), the applicability and relevance of these skills to all orgs is obvious and clear.

"Communication as a skill is already widely recognized as crucial for D&I practice, but the nomination of listening and reflective skills indicates the need for the development of specific social skills to enhance inclusion."


  • D&I shocks can lead to risks serious enough to threaten the ability of EMOs to perform their functions
  • Results from the workshop showed that listening and reflection were rated as the most important skills needed for D&I
  • Other needed skills for D&I included being collaborative and analytic, and applied skills such as engagement, negotiation, and being able to manage unconscious bias

Storytelling in Organizations: The Power and Traps of Using Stories to Share Knowledge in Organizations

Deborah Sole, Daniel Gray Wilson | Harvard Graduate School of Education Journal, January 2002

This article explains how storytelling can be extremely effective in building or renewing trust and building a collective vision. While an explicit connection between storytelling as a skill and DEIB is not made in the article, we think it’s an important skill as it drives many components of DEIB, such as building trust, resolving conflicts, and generating emotional connections.

"Storytelling has been used in domains to communicate embedded knowledge, resolve conflict, and simulate problem solving."


  • Well-designed, well-told stories can convey both information and emotion
  • Storytelling can especially be effective in socializing new members and mending relationships
  • Storytelling is a means to share norms and values, develop trust, and generate emotional connections

Additional Reading Recommendations

  1. Creating a Competency Model for Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners, The Conference Board / Indira Lahiri, 2008.
  2. What Black Employee Resource Groups Need Right Now,” Harvard Business Review / Aiko Bethea,
  3. Inclusive Workplace Competencies,” Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, 2017.
  4. “'Soft’ Skills Are in Demand. Can They Be Taught?Fortune / Anne Fisher, May 2019.
  5. Don’t Give Up on Unconscious Bias Training—Make It Better,” Harvard Business Review / Joelle Emerson, April 2017.

Q&A Call-Purpose-Driven Orgs

Posted on Monday, April 19th, 2021 at 9:53 AM    

Q&A Call Video



Stacia Garr:
Great. Well, we're going to go ahead and get started. So for those of you that I don't know, I am Stacia Garr and I am co-founder of RedThread Research where human capital research and advisory membership. And we're excited to talk to you today about purpose driven organizations. So this is a one of our Q&A calls. So this is pretty informal. And if you have questions, please go ahead and just jump off of mute and ask them as we go along. We do love it if you're able to do camera, just because it's a small group and it makes it a little bit more informal. If you don't feel comfortable with that today, obviously totally understand. You can also use the chat function if that's more your jam today as well.

Who is RedThread

Stacia Garr:
Just quick station identification as it were. As I said, we're RedThread Research. We focus on a range of different topics. We're focused on people, analytics, learning and skills, performance, and employee experience to DEIB and HR technology. This topic of purpose really kind of covers the much broader range of what, you know, it's really kind of a super topic if you will, because it has impacts across all these different areas. If anybody wants to know more about what we do go to

Our journey to understand purpose

Stacia Garr:
So as I mentioned, this is kind of a super topic for us, and we began this, this journey to purpose. It's actually kind of an interesting origin story in that our team every year comes together and says, you know, what are we going to focus on in the coming year? And a few years ago, I guess about 18 months ago, one of our team members came together, came to this meeting and said, I think we should really focus on organizational purpose. And Dani and I kind of went really like, are you sure?

Stacia Garr:
And you know, just cause we hadn't been here, we'd been hearing some about it, but we weren't, you know, we weren't convinced and this team member made an incredibly compelling case around why purpose was so important in how he was gaining traction and all this other stuff. And this was in September of 2019. So over the course of the next month or so this team member convinced us that this was a great idea. And we decided to start the research in January, 2020. Obviously we had no idea what was going to happen as we moved through 2020 at that point and how, in some ways, prescient this topic of purpose really was. But the reason I share that story is because before we got to the pandemic, there was already a lot of interest in this topic of purpose. There was an I'll talk about this in just a minute, but the focus on the business roundtable on making the purpose of a corporation being much more broad being about stakeholder capitalism, not just about shareholder capitalism and the like, but so we had that already happening, but then the pandemic really kind of accelerated what was happening.

Stacia Garr:
And so we completed a study last fall called the Purpose Driven Organization and it really covered the three bullets that are here on this slide, what is purpose, why it matters, how HR can bring purpose to life and the role of HR tech and enabling purpose. One of the things that happened though, because we were doing this research in the midst of the pandemic is a lot of people were obviously focused on a range of things related to enabling their employees. And we found that we had some really good stories, but not that many great stories of people telling them that story themselves. So we've listened to a lot of podcasts. We did some, we did some interviews, we did a lot of reading of articles, et cetera. And that's what we based a report on, but we wanted to bring it more to life.

Stacia Garr:
And so as a result of that, we did a whole podcast series that kicked off last October and ran until actually just about a month ago where we publish stories of what organizations were doing about organizational purpose. And that podcast is on our website, it's called, is purpose working. And so that was kind of that formed the Genesis of many of the stories that we found with this research. So that was a lot of intro into, into what we did and why we did it.

Stacia Garr:
Let me tell you a little bit more about the study and what we found. So when we talk about organizational purpose, this is our definition of it. So we say it's clear and concise statement that inspires people to deliver value to these multiple stakeholders. And so what I think is interesting here is in our list, as well as in most of the lists that you see, for instance from the business roundtable, shareholders are at the bottom of this list. So they are still an important part, but these other groups are a much more important part than they have been. Historically

Stacia Garr:
I think I saw someone maybe come off of mute. Did someone have a question or a comment on this?

Stacia Garr:
Okay, I'll keep going.

Purpose vs everything else

Stacia Garr:
The other thing that we get asked about is what is purpose compared to everything else? And so the way that we see it is this, that purpose is really about why I, or we do this. Why do we do this thing? This work that we do this focus for the organization, why do we do it? There are a lot of other important concepts, like as we show here, vision, mission, values, and principles but as we see purpose though purposes, the underlying kind of mega trend if you will. And these other factors are components of it. And ways that purpose is actualized, but Purpose is the fundamental key point.

Understanding purpose businesses

Stacia Garr:
Another thing that we learned through the research was about what purpose businesses are. And what I mean by that is there is an easy tendency to think that you know, there's deliberate impact that an organization is making and that's just their primary focus versus kind of market forces. So almost like a profit versus a purpose perspective. And so, but what we find though is, is that purpose actually extends much farther into kind of some of the organizations you might think of as do-good-er organizations then than you might expect. So a charity or pure NGO. Yes, that's, that's very purpose-driven and it is designed for a very deliberate impact, but with even social enterprises, often they can be for profit. And, you know, we've got all these businesses going to the right-hand side that are, that are for-profit.

Stacia Garr:
So one of the big findings that we learned through both the study, as well as through the podcast series was that profit and purpose are not necessarily at odds with each other. In fact, what we heard from, for instance, a venture capitalist, Debra Quazzo, who said, if a business doesn't have a clear purpose, and if its purpose is not big enough to be meaningful and inspiring, then you're probably not going to have a very good business, which I thought was a really powerful thought. So she would talk about how, when she is investing in businesses and startups, that if they didn't have a clear purpose, then, you know, she was probably not going to make the investment because the return just wasn't going to be good enough. And so I feel like that's kind of a different way of thinking about purpose certainly than what I was taught in business school. I was taught, you know, you need to get your return to shareholders and that's all that matters, et cetera, et cetera. And I think that the pendulum has swung back away from that perspective. I'll pause right there. Does anybody have any thoughts or comments on that?

Mission statement vs purpose

Priyanka Mehrotra:
I was just curious how businesses make the distinction between their mission statement and purpose. How has that distinction coming along and what, what did we see in our research on that?

Stacia Garr:
Well, I think practically speaking, I'm going to go back to that slide. Practically speaking, we see them tightly intermingled. So because organizations don't necessarily specifically articulate externally the difference between their purpose and mission, they tend in, people tend to understand what a mission is. I think we see the language being tightly mixed, but if you try to, if you kind of tease it out, you'll see that in many organizations, mission statement they'll have something that is much closer to a purpose statement. Like we do this and like, this is, this is the higher level of what we do. And then kind of the, the double-click down is the mission. Though they may call it all a mission statement. We were trying to pull it apart because the, what we do now in, in the future can change, right? We've seen that happen with lots and lots of organizations. But often the fundamental, underlying purpose of what we do is doesn't change. And so there's of the interesting interplay between the two concepts.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. Great question.

Stacia Garr:
Any other questions or thoughts that folks have?

Understand purpose businesses

Stacia Garr:
All right. I'll keep, I'll keep going. And I'll, I'll say usually our Q&A calls. I don't put as much content in them. They're usually much more discussion-based but there weren't a ton of questions in advance of this. And I figured that given that folks may just want to know what we learned about this work. So that's why I put a bit more questions in here, or a bit more slides in here than we usually do. Okay. Stacia Garr:
So 73% of, of people believe companies can increase profits and improve communities. So this is kind of a fundamental belief that we're increasingly seeing, particularly in the United States.

Introduction Purpose has gone mainstream

Stacia Garr:
I've mentioned a few times this, this concept of the, what the Business Roundtable wrote in August of 2019. And the reason that this is important is that the business roundtable, you know, is an organization that a good portion of the fortune 500 are a part of it is part of the way that they kind of communicate where at least American businesses are going and for decades, they've said that the shareholder was primary.

Stacia Garr:
And this really ties back to the work that someone like the folks like Milton Friedman did in the 1970s that said, look, you know, the purpose of a business of a corporation is to return value to shareholders and that's it full stop. What's interesting is two things. One is, is that, you know, like I said, by 2019, the Business Roundtable updated this statement on the purpose of corporation focusing on these concepts of customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and then shareholders. But what's perhaps even more interesting is that this focus on shareholders was in some ways an anomaly in time. So if you look at some of the research and you look at what companies were writing about in the 1930s, forties, fifties, et cetera they were much more focused on the broader good if you will, of the good, the good of the community, et cetera.

Stacia Garr:
And it was only with the introduction of folks like Friedman in the seventies that we saw this very strong movement towards the shareholder. And in some ways that made sense, because it was a lot easier to measure. I'm going to talk about measurement in a few minutes, a lot easier to measure the value that the corporation was creating. If you only have a single stakeholder to whom you're trying to benefit in this case, the shareholder, and it is a lot more complex and messy if we have five different share stakeholders to whom we are trying to deliver value. But I think that it's interesting cause it feels like the pendulum is kind of coming back to what, where things were historically and versus, you know, the, you know, whatever 50 years that it's been very much so focused on on shareholders.

Employees expect businesses to act

Speaker 2:
Part of the reason this shift is that really employees and consumers expectations have shifted. This is some data from the Edelman Trust Barometer, where they were talking about the types of broader societal actions that they want businesses to take. And you can see here that, you know, 80% want brands to help solve society's problems is what this is. 64% want companies to help set an example as to what they should be doing when it comes to diversity. And 71% said that they trust employers to do what is right when it comes to social justice. But what is interesting on that last point was that was is especially true for small businesses.

Stacia Garr:
It was actually not true for large corporations. So they want companies to take action. They want them to do things that are in the better interest of society but they don't necessarily trust large corporations to do so. And this I think is, is part of what's driving so much of the CEO action that we're seeing. Like for instance, I don't know if you all saw today a significant number of CEOs signed onto a advertisement that was run in many major newspapers, talking about voting rights here in the United States, that they supported the broad extension of voting rights. And this is all kind of part of this reaction to employees and consumers expecting brands to take action that has really come about in the last five years, if you look at the data. So we're seeing this, my point is we're seeing this manifest in a lot of different ways. That's just one that happened to have happened today.

Introduction Purpose = good business

Stacia Garr:
The reason that we're seeing this is that purpose is generally seen as being pretty good for businesses. So we saw that for the last financial crisis. So the 2009 financial crisis, 64% of B Corp's were more likely to survive the last financial crisis than just pure for-profit companies. So if a company was a B Corp, it was more likely to survive. And, and I should say, if you don't know what a B Corp is, a B Corp basically has multiple, it has built into its legal structure, that it has an obligation to serve multiple stakeholders. And so it's, it's kind of the codification, if you will, in some ways of a triple bottom line concept, but it's actually built into the legal construct of the organization. For the next one data shows that 67% of consumers are more likely to forgive a mistake made by a purpose driven organizations.

Stacia Garr:
So if consumers think that a company is generally trying to do the thing, but they make a mistake, they're more likely to forgive them. 89% of leaders thinks purpose drives employee satisfaction and 84% of execs think purpose impacts an organization's ability to transform. So, you know, in addition to kind of all the good things that are a result of, of purpose, there's also a lot of data that shows that there's some benefits to doing it as well. I'll go ahead and pause again here. Any questions or comments on any of this?

Priyanka Mehrotra:
Okay. I had a comment about the previous slide. So we've seen that employees are of course pushing and expecting more from organizations, but I think we're starting to see that from shareholders two increasingly like for example, I remember reading just a couple of days ago, a story in the news about how big shareholders asked Google, oh sorry Alphabet to look into there program and protections for employees and there also increasingly hearing about shareholders pushing companies to do better on D&I, especially. So I think we're starting to see a lot of movement from that front as well.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, I think that's true. And it's in the reason for it, I think is, is this right? Is that if, if you truly believe these numbers that, that, you know, these businesses do better, if they do these things you know, shareholders are what their businesses to succeed and return better investments, no matter what, what the, not, hopefully not, no matter what, but, you know, they, they would encourage them to take these actions as well. Not just some of the traditional ones. Yeah. And I think the, the other component of that is the SEC reporting guidelines. You know, we've talked about that quite a bit. So with those new reporting guidelines on human capital you know, a lot of companies are asking themselves one, what should we report? But two, it just indicates the higher level of interest in human capital data and what people are, what organizations are doing with their people. And so, and that's pushing them to say, you should be doing the right things.

Speaker 4:

Purpose as a self reinforcing system

Stacia Garr:
Okay. So if we go on one of the most interesting things we found from the research was this concept, that purpose is really a self-reinforcing decision. So the point being that you, it is harder to achieve impact if you just have one part of the business focused on purpose. So if, you know, if you just have a corporate social responsibility group over here on the side, focused on purpose but the rest of the business is not it's hard to kind of create the level of impact that you would want to that said organizations that saw and really put purpose front and center to what they did. They basically were able to constantly reinforce that purpose. And it created this nice flywheel effect. So a very practical example of that comes from one of the podcasts that we did, which was with Medtronic.

Stacia Garr:
And so Medtronic is a medical devices company, you know, is in the last year, is the need for ventilators was front and center they increased the ventilators that they produced by something like 200%. I mean, they're just a very purpose driven organization. And just in terms of where the industry is, that they're in. But what was interesting was when we interviewed Jeff Orlando at Medtronic, he talked about how they had a, basically a purpose statement or a purpose charter, if you will that their leader or one of their founders had had written in the 1940s and how that was one, it was like a sacred document that he talked about it like it was almost like a constitution. But second, he talked about how it wasn't a dead document. It was a document that they used to actively help them make decisions about directions that they should go investments they should make with their people, et cetera.

Stacia Garr:
He did make the point that like the constitution, there was a lot of interpretation. So some, there were some strict constitutionalist and some people who are a little bit more flexible, but he said that made the conversation richer and help them make better decisions. And so he said, you know, it was very much so in a situation where that decision, the intentional decisions were a result of the purpose, and then it just continued flowing around. So that's just one example.

What that means for HR

Stacia Garr:
What we did in the study was we looked at this from a perspective of what this means for HR and specifically looked at the different parts of the talent life cycle. So what does this mean from an attraction perspective, enablement, retention, and development.

In summary: Attract, Enable, Develop, Retain

Stacia Garr:
And what we found essentially here is this, first that with attraction attraction in many ways is the most important, because it's all about, do you get people into the organization who aligned with the purpose of the organization?

Stacia Garr:
And so making sure that the elements of purpose and with organization's purpose and how that translates to an individual is present in all aspects of the recruitment phase. The second component of enablement is really about creating the conditions that enabled that focus on purpose. So organizational culture, I just gave that example of what Medtronic does. It's in the culture that anyone can raise their hand and say, well, does this align to our, our purpose or there's no organizational hierarchy around that? There's certainly an element of wellbeing, which is so important right now with regard to, how does our purpose translate to the wellbeing of our employees and then the wellbeing of all those other stakeholders as well. This is specifically focused on employees here, but it's important to note that there's often this broader component and then volunteerism.

Stacia Garr:
So one of the podcast interviews that we did actually, I think it may not have up running, but one of the interviews we did was with Microsoft on their volunteerism program, this idea of enabling people to bring their own purpose to life through the company through volunteer activities. The third component here with development was really interesting in that we saw purpose being woven into the development opportunities that were being given. So, you know, making sure that people understood how they could connect their own purpose to the organization and doing that through, through learning opportunities. We had a great interview with folks from EY who talked about kind of the learning that they did to help people identify their individual purpose and make that connection. Similarly with leadership development, the folks that EY talked about, how they also teach their leaders how to bring out purpose in the, in the folks who work with them and how to kind of bring that element of purpose to their own leadership style.

Stacia Garr:
And then with career planning we saw that at Johnson and Johnson actually, organizations talk an organization that talked about how they set up a specific career planning effort to help people identify their purpose, and then to map it to career opportunities. And so when they were thinking about career opportunities and the language they use to describe them, the element of purpose and what J and J was trying to achieve was a critical component of that. And then finally retention. So we're seeing organizations looking to track the impact of their talent practices that aligned to purpose right now in all transparency, the primary space, we're seeing this as with diversity and inclusion or diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging that's where we're seeing the primary focus on tracking. Yes, we're seeing it within employee engagement, but in terms of the connection back to purpose DEIB is where we we're tending to see it. So, okay. This is the last of, kind of my prepared slides. So are there any questions on this or any comments or thoughts or anything anyone wants to contribute.

Connecting organizational purpose vs employee purpose

Speaker 1:
I will say something. So I work with organizations to improve human performance of the employees on the teams. So when I heard about this webinar from my friend, who is also here and thank you for letting me know I said, because I'm talking about how to find your purpose to and make the right behavior changes through behavior change, how you can improve your performance. And I'm just talking this with the organization. So this was interesting to see how the organizations purpose and the employee purpose. Those two dots are, how those two dots are connected to improve the employee performance. So when you said, yeah, it increases the employee satisfaction in one of the slides. Yeah. I can see that how it impacts the motivation of the employee and belonging to that organization feeling a part of that organization because they're aligning. So it makes it now wait clear in my head, the organizational purpose and the employee purpose, how they must be aligning and close attached to each other.

Stacia Garr:

Stacia Garr:
And this slide explains it very well, too. So.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. Well, it's, it's a wonderful question. I did include it down here. Let me just skip down. Here we go. So it did make it in.

Speaker 1:
Yeah. Thank you for putting it up last night when I was registering, I said, I think this is the area I really want to talk a little bit more about.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Well, so one of the things in, and I encourage you to to subscribe to the podcast.

Speaker 1:
Definitely. I will.

Stacia Garr:
And listen to that episode from EY because they have this concept of nested purpose, which I thought was really powerful. And the idea was that you have the organizational purpose here, then you have a team purpose and you have the individual purpose. And so in the important, and this is part of the reason that they put such an emphasis on enabling managers to understand purpose is that it's really that, that team purpose that connects people up to the organizational purpose. And so because that organizational purpose can be a little bit esoteric or feel a little bit disconnected, particularly, you know, if it's in their instance, a client service organization, but they don't have a a client service role, right.

Stacia Garr:
So it's like, okay, well, how do I connect? And so what they do is, as they talk about the role of managers in creating that nested purpose and helping individuals find their purpose and connecting it to the work they did. And in the podcast, there was a story that he told about, you know, somebody who is basically think 80% of her job, she didn't really want to do, but 20% she did and how they used the purpose framework to help them understand, okay, this is what I really want to do. And then it happened, there were some shifts that were being made in that person's in terms of what that team needed. And so they were able to help that person actually align and do, you know, pretty close to 80% of the things they want to do. They're still the 20% though, who is not glamorous, but so to, for all of us. And so they were able to make that connection, but via the purpose conversation by via this concept of connecting to the team.

Speaker 2:
I find that really interesting, the organizational, the team and the individual and where it happens is at that team level with those leader conversations or the leader. And because that's where we're actually focused is that to make it so my background is around inclusion and inclusion happens as we often talk about at that team level. And if we focus at that team level, we'll get more traction and it's very much aligned because we're also trying to figure out how do we bring it down to the individual level, but at the same time, it connect those two things, organizational individual level. One question I have is we've actually done a like we've gone into the academic literature around the connection between leadership, business, performance inclusion, et cetera, and figured out like the, the strength of relationships between concepts like belonging and also purpose what we found was it wasn't a lot in the academic literature. There's a lot of confusion around purpose. Yeah. Okay. So, cause we, we dug in and, you know, that was the one area that was more limited than any other areas in order to get to those connections between and then create something more evidence-based around inclusion. Right.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. I completely agree. So when we did our work, there was, you know, there's, there's some, some academic work this kind of know high level or whatever, but once you start to try to actually dig in and understand you're right. And so then for us, we then turned to some of the popular, you know, we're business press, or there's also some organizations that are writing about or who are purpose focused, I would say. And so we have some, some things that they've written, but in terms of just really good hard studies, not, not so much. So we this, our study was a qualitative. So based on the research that we reviewed and based on the interviews that we did we would like at some point to do a quantitative study on this we just haven't, haven't gotten there, but but part of the reason is there's, there's a great big hole.

Tight parallels between purpose, IT and D&I

Stacia Garr:
But I think you, you bring out an interesting point and it's one that we've actually talked about a lot not in the research, but kind of in other conversations, which is the incredibly tight parallel between purpose and how organizations are approaching it and D&I. So like what you said like that, you know, D&I happens at the team level purpose happens at the team level level. You look at the broader view of stakeholders. They almost exactly match what we see with, with D&I, you know, thinking about diverse suppliers, thinking about our communities, thinking about our employees, you know, there's just an incredible it's almost like the two are living in these parallel universes and doing the same thing. And so I think that there and we do see some organizations who are, forward-thinking on purpose, also being forward-thinking on D&I, but not all D&I organizations are forward-thinking on D&I are also forward-thinking on purpose and I think that's an opportunity that they're missing. So yeah, so there's, we see those connections too. We haven't explicitly pulled it out in that research.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, absolutely.

Stacia Garr:
Any other questions or thoughts? We've got some more questions in here. Okay.

Speaker 1:

Why purpose now

Stacia Garr:
So one of them am an actually I did throw in some slides here to answer this question. So let me go back. Okay. So the question was, what do you see is driving the interest and organizational purpose? So I kind of gave some high, some preface around the data and the like, but as we kind of stepped back and looked at this and our research, we always ask the question why X now? So in this instance, why purpose now? And we had about, I think, five different reasons that we think that purpose is really a thing at the moment. The first one is the rise of new technology. So if you think about all the language around automation and AI, potentially taking people's jobs, et cetera, et cetera I think there's been an underlying discussion of what is it that makes us human, what makes us uniquely people?

Stacia Garr:
And part of that is purpose. You know, this idea that we are trying to achieve something greater than ourselves. And, and that's not something that technology does. So I think that that conversation is heightening or strengthening the discussion around purpose that's one. The second is the rise of the gig economy. So in particularly during the pandemic, there has been a significant focus on what is it that why should I join an organization? Like what, what is happening with my contributions of my work? Because I could just, you know, drive for Uber and get, make some money and call it good. Or I could just be an independent contractor on Upwork and, you know, get the money I need and that's it. But the thing, one of the unique things that an organization offers is the power to achieve something greater together.

Stacia Garr:
And that ties us very directly back to purpose. And one of the questions that are in here is about purpose post pandemic. I think purpose will be more important. Post a pandemic as people have now kind of are slowly bewilderingly coming out of their social isolation and saying, what do I want to do? And what impact do I want to make in this new world? And I think organizations that are clear on that purpose will do much better in terms of attracting the talent that they need. So it gig economy a second one. The third one here is this concept of work as a source of trusted information fulfillment. And so what this comes back to is that, you know, there's a lot of data that shows that unfortunately a lot of our social institutions have been declining. So whether that's our churches, which is why there's a church on here, or there that's our community organizations, whether it's Kowanas or, you know, whatever other organization you might be, a part of people are participating in those less.

Stacia Garr:
And along with that, they also are attending to trust. What have historically been seen as trusted information sources? So, you know, this whole thing about mainstream media versus other, you know, places that people get their news there's highest levels of distrust in the government that there has been in a very long time, but companies people's employers are where people are trusting information from they're trusting that's a high quality source of data and information. And so if you think about, you know, an organization's purpose and being able to say, you know, we do these things and people trust us that I think is part of the reason that connection between the need for a place to trust. And a clear purpose, I think is emphasizing the importance of purpose for a lot of folks. The last two are probably a little bit more obvious.

Stacia Garr:
So the pandemic, obviously, you know, there was a huge focus on doing there has been and continues to be, we are not out of it yet. A huge focus on being giving more, not just looking to, to prosper financially, but do you have any more to humanity and to other people and being more generous and being more human? So we think that ties in very nicely with purpose and then similarly the social justice movements of the last summer this idea that we are not just, you know, corporate entities existing to make money, but that we are there to to have a broader purpose. So those would all be reasons that I think that purpose is a thing right now, in addition to some of the other facts I mentioned.

Health orgs only?

Stacia Garr:
So this was kind of an interesting one. So was purpose something only healthcare and other orgs focus on? I think it's easier for organizations that clearly have kind of a purpose that relates to humankind and making people's lives better. But it is by far not the only type of industry that we see purpose driven organizations in. So in our study we have a long list of organizations. And so like EY right, when we started talking to EY about being on the podcast, I was kind of like really like a consulting firm. Okay. Like, let's see where you all are. And then they have this amazing effort around purpose. You know, we, one of the most well-known organizations, purpose driven organizations is is Patagonia. We didn't talk to them for this piece of research, but we've talked to them for other pieces of research and, you know, they are incredibly purpose-driven to the point where, you know, you can, because their purpose is about, you know, I think improving the home, our home planet as the way that they describe it.

Stacia Garr:
And so it's about, you know, not, not buying things that you don't need, making things that last for a long time giving back to local communities and advocating strongly for the for the environment, et cetera. So they're there, you know, an example of a clothing company that, that has a purpose and, and the list goes on and on there's food companies and Ben and Jerry's is kind of one of the biggest ones. Unilever, you know, consumer packaged goods company. So lots of different industries. I think it just is important to understand what that purpose is, and to clearly articulate in a way that's true to the organization.

Will purpose remain a thing after the pandemic

Stacia Garr:
So I touched on this one a moment ago, so will purpose remain a thing after the pandemic? And I think that it will, through the pandemic has added steam to the focus on purpose. And maybe I'm overly optimistic here, but I don't think we're going to forget the lessons of the last year quickly. And so as people come out of this, as I said, are looking for what's, what do I need next? I think that that topic of purpose, what I'm trying to achieve life is maybe a little bit more fragile than I thought it was. And I should be focused on my contributions. I think that's going to hold true. The other part of this is that I generally really, really try to avoid generational statements. You know, this generation does this, or this generation does that, but in general, when you look at the data, it appears that the younger generations are more purpose-driven than, than older generations. And as we have those more, that those younger generations come into the workforce, I think it will feed this continued interest in purpose. I say that very delicately, knowing that those types of assumptions are a hard thing for a researcher, but by and large, it's what we tend to see. Any, any thoughts or comments on that one from others?

Speaker 2:
I'm curious around the, the industries. Did you, what about financial industries, banks, and stuff? Did you see any of the banks with strong purpose statements and purpose in their organizations?

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, one of the strongest ones is Bank of America. Actually, and they talk a lot about a focus on the financial wellness of underrepresented communities and that aspect. So that's one, the other one is in this, in this, this, I think is actually a good example of how purpose is its specific purpose. Isn't broad goodness, let me say. And, and that is for JP Morgan. So JP Morgan is very focused on environmental issues and that's kind of part of their purpose statement. The reason I put a little bit of hesitation on that is that they were actually one of the few who did not sign the advertisements that went out today in the newspaper. And it was very, very prominently called out that they didn't sign it. So you know, so I just want to say purpose is not general. Like we support everything that seems kind of good. It's, it is very specific, but for them it's environmental. Like that's one of the things that they're very focused on.

Speaker 2:
Well, it's interesting. I actually just did a speaking engagement and talked about like pledges yesterday talks about pledges and the CEO's commitments around diversity and how we've been doing it for such a long time and what we say and what we do is, and so there may be some of that as well as like, you know, I don't really need to do this pledge because we're already doing the internal work, which is much more important than the other way around. I'm going to sign something, but I'm not really going to do the internal work around it. So there could be a lot of reasons for, for them not doing it. Unfortunately we go to judgment really quickly, too. Right.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, yeah. We don't know. And that's the thing, is this like, particularly with some of these external reports, you know, you have to, are, they are marketing, unfortunately. I will say though, one of the people that I follow and get kind of the, his daily newsletter is Alan Murray, who is the CEO of fortune magazine and he is very, very strong on the purpose train. And so if you want to kind of stay up-to-date on what people are thinking about with regard to purpose he's a really good one to follow.

Speaker 2:
Awesome. Thank you.

How can I help my organization focus on purpose

Stacia Garr:
Okay. I see we only have two minutes left, so let me keep going here. What's my role as an HR leader in helping my org focus on purpose. So, you know, what I would advise folks is, is to kind of look at those four areas that we talked about with regard to purpose and to step back and say, you know, what, which of these things can I control and which of these things can I influence in the research?

Stacia Garr:
Actually, that's the way that we structured it in, in that long paper is for each of those talent areas. We identified the things that probably is within HR's control and which ones they influence, and then think about how can I infuse purpose in a meaningful way. You know, assuming that we have some understanding of what the organization's purpose is, how can I make sure that there's a connection to the team's purpose and that the leaders know how to think about that and how can, what kind of practices and approaches and daily behaviors, could we encourage that would enable a reflection on purpose? I think that's actually, is it so so before I get to that, are there any other questions in our last couple moments here about purpose that we didn't cover?

Stacia Garr:


Speaker 2:
Well, cool. We'll then I'll just say that our next Q&A Call is in two weeks. We do these every two weeks, every Thursday at the same time, eight o'clock Pacific. And our next one is on a study that we published a few months ago on career mobility. We held off on this Q&A Call because my business partner, Dani Johnson was out on leave maternity leave for a while. So we were waiting for her to get back. And now she's back. So we're going to talk about a new study, where we identified five different models of career mobility and organizations and how organizations should think about using those different models. So that will be our conversation in a few weeks. And with that, I think I'll go ahead and say, thank you all for your, for your engagement and discussion and questions. And if you want to learn more about this, I strongly recommend going and looking at the podcast. That's on our website. You can get it in all the places that you like podcasts. And then we are hoping to do some more work on purpose here in the latter, half of the year, some more, at least another podcast season. So, all right, with that, thank you very much to everybody. Have a great rest of your day.

Speaker 1:
Thank you. Bye bye.

Building Cognitively Diverse, Engaged, and Empowered Teams: A conversation with Ultranauts’ CEO

Posted on Tuesday, April 6th, 2021 at 2:55 AM    



Stacia Garr:
Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for joining. We're going to go ahead and get started. So for those of you whom I have not met, I am Stacia Garr and we are RedThread Research. I'm a, co-founder here with RedThread and I am just thrilled to be hosting this session today with Rajesh Anandan, who is the CEO of Ultranauts. And Ultranauts, you're going to learn all about them in the course of the session and how they have built these, as we described it here in the title of cognitively diverse and highly engaged and empowered teams. Now, before we get started, just want to share with you for those of you who don't know we are RedThread and we are human capital research and advisory membership. And we focus on a range of things, including people analytics, learning, and skills, performance employee experience, HR tech, and most relevant for today diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. So if you have a chance, check us out Now just some quick housekeeping for our session today. The session will be recorded and shared with all registrants. And we want you to go ahead and ask questions through the Q&A function. I believe there's also a way to up vote your favorites. So if you see questions that others have mentioned, go ahead and up vote those. You're free to interact with one another in the chat, and you'll just need to make sure that you adjust the settings to include panelists and attendees. Otherwise you'll just be sending messages to the panelists, which is fine, but probably isn't the amount of interaction that you may be hoping for. So just go ahead and, and make that shift. If you have a moment we'd love for you to get started by putting in the chat, your name and your organization, and anything that you're in particular, hoping to learn from today's webinar.

Stacia Garr:
So with that, we'll go ahead and get started. So it is my pleasure to introduce Rajesh Anandan. We've practiced many times before the session, and I hope I hope I didn't mess up. But you know, this webinar really came about as a introduction on LinkedIn through a mutual friend who said you two absolutely must meet each other. Because you know, you have a wonderful story with Ultranauts in the work that you're trying to do, and we have an opportunity to, to help you share that. So with that, I guess would love to start with what is Ultranauts, who are you, what's this company that you've helped build?

Who is Ultranauts: Creating a universal workplace where everyone can thrive

Rajesh Anandan:
Well, Stacia, thanks for hosting the session and glad to share a bit more about what what we've been up to at Ultranauts. So Ultranauts is a onshore software and data quality engineering services firm. We, my co-founder and I started the company eight years ago with a mission to demonstrate that neuro-diversity including autism could be a competitive advantage for business. And our very simple theory of change was to build a world-class business that could create value for clients and be commercially viable and successful. And along the way, reimagine how in organization functions, how a company thinks about talent sources, talent manages teams, develops careers, so that a much wider group of humans could thrive and along, you know, and we're now eight years in and we've learned a lot. And part of our mission of course, is the share what we're learning to make it easier and more effective for other organizations to also embrace your diversity. So I'm always thrilled to have the chance to share some of what we've learned and some of the practices we've developed for our team at Ultranauts.

Stacia Garr:
Great. And why did you do this? So how did you arrive at this decision to build a neuro diverse team? And I'm really, why was it important to you?

Rajesh Anandan:
You know, I I'll spare the retroactively crafted founder story. Cause those things you just can't believe, startup origin stories, that sound like a neat straight line. My co-founder and, Art Shectman you know, we were at school together undergrads at MIT in the early nineties. And you know, when you're in an engineering school, you over-index on other humans who are different. And I think for a lot of us, for the first time we found a space and an environment and a community where it was all fine, we could be whoever we were. And there wasn't need a need to hide parts of who we were for fear of being bullied and things like that. And we didn't have these labels then I don't think I'd heard of autism until much later, but in retrospect, we of course have close friends who are neurodivergent and who we've seen, how they've struggled, trying to navigate a world that was not designed with them in mind and unfairly had to figure out how to function in a society and workplaces.

Rajesh Anandan:
And so fast forward a few decades, I'm dating myself here, but I'd done some research with another friend who runs a due diligence firm and research and consulting firm, Stax's. Looking at a thesis I had around communities of humans who were being overlooked or underestimated because of ableist views and looking for evidence of an over-indexing of attributes that could be strengths in the workplace. And so I was describing some of the findings from this research with Art, my co-founder, and he's been a serial entrepreneur and he was building a software development shop at the time. And he said, you know, some of the profiles sort of traits or attributes you are describing are exactly what I would look for in a quality engineer. And I could never find good quality engineers. And gosh, if you can find me a few folks who have these strengths I've got work that needs to be done.

Rajesh Anandan:
And so that's how we got started. As an experiment, we, you know, went to a couple non-profit advocacy groups for adults on the spectrum, and they were kind enough to humorous and help us craft a job description. We posted that job on grass. It's an advocacy network for autistic adults, and we had 150 applications within three days.

Stacia Garr:

Rajesh Anandan:
A third of the applicants had graduate degrees, no one had any sort of work experience that related to the job we needed people to do. So we stumbled through the screening process and identified three of the applicants, trained them up pretty quickly and saw within a few months that they were able to do the job at a very high standard. And that was all the evidence we needed. And we launched Ultranauts then at the time called Ultra Testing as its own firm.

Stacia Garr:
Very interesting. So it sounds like you started with certainly with research, understanding, you know, kind of a little bit about this landscape and then with, as you said, an experiment at the beginning but now, you know, fast forward, how many years ago was that?

Rajesh Anandan:
Eight years ago. Okay.

Stacia Garr:
So now fast forward eight years ago, and I'm sure that, you know, over the course of this time, you've gotten a lot of questions about what it's like to lead a diverse team. We talked about this in our prep session, you know, and what misconceptions people people may have. So can you talk a little bit about, you know, from that start with those three quality engineers to today, what you've seen?

Rajesh Anandan:
So I would say, well, so many things and we'll touch on some of the sort of learnings we've had as a team. During the conversation I would say the most important thing is that if you take any group of humans you will not be able to describe that group accurately with any single statement. And so while our intentions were good and certainly there's evidence of an over-indexing of certain traits, like logical reasoning ability, or visual pattern recognition ability among autistic adults relative to the general population, these are generalizations, you know, it doesn't actually describe any specific individual. And so I think the biggest learning is that the sort of generalizations and these tropes, even if they're well-intentioned are not particularly helpful and keep you from getting to the ground truth that you need to understand in order to develop and design the kind of systems that actually work for everyone. And so you know, I'll, I'll simply say while ableist tropes are bad, clearly. So to our super power tropes or tropes about heightened abilities, and as one of my autistic colleagues shared, you know, in her words, she said, listen, all my life I've had to be exceptional just to be accepted. Like, can I just be accepted?

Stacia Garr:
Hmm. Yeah. Great point. Well, let's, I think that leads nicely into this question that I had for you, which is what is your team actually look like? So let's go to that slide.

The Ultranauts team

Rajesh Anandan:
So today Ultranauts is a team that spread out across 29 States. We've actually been a fully virtual organization from day one. So we've had the luxury of eight years of experimenting and trying different tools and practices to keep our team engaged and connected. And so when COVID started to unfold operationally, nothing changed. We were all already working from home and, you know, maybe my colleague who heads up growth and I traveled didn't travel anymore to events. I mean, that was pretty much the only thing, but we, we, our DNAs as a fully virtual organization so we're fully distributed and incredibly diverse. And so three quarters of our team across the company are autistic, and that's not just our analysts and engineers, it's our quality managers or colleagues and leadership team or head of outreach.

Rajesh Anandan:
And so that's been very intentional because we fundamentally believe that if you can bring together different brain types, different information, processing models, different problem solving styles, different thinking styles, different learning styles, and forge collaborative teams, you could do better. And there's a fair bit of evidence that backs up that assertion that cognitively diverse teams do perform better in terms of solving more complex problems, surfacing more unique insights and driving continuous improvement. And in our case all through the lens of improving software and data quality in highly complex and fast moving domains. And, you know, the one thing I would say is we have adopted this approach because of our fundamental belief that our differences as individuals do actually make us better together. And not because we are trying to create jobs for artistic talent, like that is not while that is a part of what happens because of the nature of what we're doing.

Rajesh Anandan:
The mission is to demonstrate that diversity neuro diversity and which leads to cognitive diversity is in fact an advantage. And so we go out and of course invest differentially in reaching pools of talent who've been left out and marginalized. And so sourcing looks very different for us. And we can talk a bit more about that later, but from the time you apply, everybody's treated the same. You get to work at Ultranauts because we believe you are the best brain for the right job. And not because of anything else. And because of that, you know, we've been able to create an environment where diversity really is embraced and it flourishes.


Rajesh Anandan:
And if you could go to the next slide, not only are we cognitively diverse, but arguably we might be the most diverse engineering firm in the world across any dimension, you know, so if we look at gender 40% of our team are cisgender female. 5% are non binary, 5% are trans and other 12% have other gender identities. And so, you know, in a way cis-gender males are certainly not the majority or a plurality.

Stacia Garr:
And can you for, for our audience who may not know what cisgender means, can you explain that?

Rajesh Anandan:
Sure. that would be individuals who identify with the sex of their birth, born a male identify as male. And then in terms of race and ethnicity 28% of our team are people of color. Now, this is an area where we are not reflective of the population the American population. And so we've got work to do but we also think of diversity in terms of socioeconomic status. Three quarters of our team were unemployed or underemployed, nothing to do with their fierce capabilities as professionals and humans and everything to do with the construct of how you know, people get hired and the sort of highly subjective and ineffective tools that are commonly used, which leave out incredibly capable humans from having a fair shot at contributing. And so we've been on this journey to try to change that.

Rajesh Anandan:
And over 40% of our team used to live in poverty. And so we think about diversity across many dimensions. We don't think that point solutions to improve or increase diversity on any one dimension can work. There's certainly no shortage of failed attempts to say, Oh, let's set up a program focused on X group. Because the reason you might need a program for X group is because there are underlying sort of inequities in how the organization functions. Maybe it's in how you recruit, how you develop talent or how you manage, you know, how you build relationships how information is shared all of this stuff. And if you don't get to the root of what's creating unfairness and an uneven playing field, then all these point solutions just don't work. And on the other hand, if you can really take an honest look at what is, what are those underlying causes that are resulting in a workforce that is not diverse on whatever dimension it is and you start to tackle, attack those surgically. Then what you end up with is a diverse work force. As we have, like, we didn't set out to be gender diverse or racially diverse or socioeconomically diverse. We, this is an outcome of the process we've gone through.

Stacia Garr:
And I think one thing to, to call out for folks is that, you know, just to to pick on one of these you've mentioned here that 10% black, the technology industry is historically really it's incredibly difficult or to get that number very high. It seems for I think, many of the reasons that you've mentioned, but just for folks, for point of comparison, I was recently actually looking at at Facebook's numbers here and, you know, they, they at least have been saying, they've been putting a big focus on this. And, and even with that big focus, I think their numbers are like 3%. So even though this is not necessarily where we would want it, it's still, I think, remarkably better than what we tend to see in the tech industry.

Rajesh Anandan:
Yeah. And so part of the challenge is to continuously challenge ourselves. Like good compared to what you know. So when we look at the broader sort of technology industry or kind of engineering fields and we're all quality engineers, it's a low bar and it's meaningless, you know, so it's I think, you know, the only sort of valid comparison is what is it in the general population? Cause everything else, it starts to sound like an excuse, right? Oh, there isn't a pipeline of talent or, well, you know, maybe this particular discipline is doesn't have as many graduates or what have you, by the way, we also looked at our team in terms of academic background. And actually I think almost 30% quarter to 30% of our team. If we look at team members who are performing extremely well don't have a college degree. So, you know, we're seeing bigger efforts around this like Google certificates where we're trying to disrupt that barrier of, if you're not part of the third of the population that have a college degree, then suddenly you're left out of a whole wide range of fields, which makes no sense.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, no completely agree. We actually, we just published a podcast. We did with a gentleman called Matthew Daniel who's with Guild education. And we spent quite a bit of time talking about that exact topic about how this, this issue of college degrees leaves out so much of the workforce. So just kind of moving us on, you know, these numbers are great, but I think a lot of people would want to know, okay, well, what results have you seen so far with your business? So can you talk a little bit about that?

Rajesh Anandan:
Yeah. we've grown at over 50% a year in terms of, you know, growing the business while maintaining a hundred NPS among clients and our clients include a range of leaders in the industries that we work in from, you know AIG, Berkshire, Hathaway, Bloomberg Bank of New York, Mellon, Cigna, Comcast Warner media. We also work with startups. We work with pure technology companies and SAS companies. Slack's been a long time client. And then so commercially, we're professional services firm. So we're growing at a really healthy clip. And we saw the sort of impact of that as COVID started to unfold and companies started to shut down entire business units and shut off contractors and vendors and all this stuff. And we took a hit as well. Looking back a year, Q2 last year, I think for us, as for many organizations was not fun at all.


Rajesh Anandan:
And we lost a couple bigger accounts, took a real hit to our top line, but we recovered in a quarter and because the services we provide in terms of data quality engineering and software called engineering, are that much better than what's out there. We ended the year having grown our top line by 70%. In the middle of what was arguably incredibly challenging year. And, and we do that because we do this work better. If you could go to the next slide, you know, the nature of what we do is preventative. If we're doing our job, bad stuff, shouldn't happen. You know, your software should launch and release without any critical failures, your machine learning models and predictions, your analytics engine should be accurate and trusted, so bad things don't happen. But there've been a couple of examples where we've been brought in to replace a larger consulting firm, and we had to redo an entire piece of work, or there was a really well defined, measured baseline we were starting from.

Stacia Garr:
So it was possible to compare what we did. And the results we were able to deliver. In one case, a Prudential business unit brought us in to replace an IBM team, doing some fairly technical kind of compliance testing on their software. And we were able to not only use the same sort of automation tools, but actually do the same work so much more effectively that we increased the sort of rate of detection of defects by 56%. I mean, you have to ask, like, what were they doing before? Not only that we were able to actually do it in sprint versus delaying delivery of that platform. And no surprise, we replaced IBM at that business unit and, you know, completed 14, 15 projects. I think in another case we were brought in to replace or in place of CapGemini by an AIG business unit.

Rajesh Anandan:
And CapGemini is a great firm. They were sort of working across that company and this particular CTO didn't want a sort of cookie cutter industry solution. They were building a highly complex underwriting insurance underwriting platform and needed a partner that could have just capable, quality engineers, who not only had the technical skills to build sort of a scalable test automation framework, which sounds like a bunch of garbage, but actually be able to understand the business and what that meant was our quality engineers read through the 500 pages of underwriting logic, and actually understood it and cared enough to also understand the pricing regulations at the state and federal state level that varied by product and synthesize all of that into what to test to answer. The simple question of is this policy quote being delivered, correct, because the stakes are high. And so we've been able to show over and over again that yes, actually we do this better.

Rajesh Anandan:
And because of that, we've been growing as a business. And that's because of not in spite of the diversity of our team.


Rajesh Anandan:
The one other thing I would say, if you go to the next slide is that we think of success, not just in terms of the value we provide to our clients. Obviously we're a business. That's what success is. We would create value in a differentiated way that that helps our clients extract, you know, grow the business, mitigate risk and so on. But we also do think about success in terms of our ability to create an environment where everyone has a fair shot at success and can thrive. And does that in a, in the context of a team where they feel connected and engaged and they feel like they belong. And so we measure loneliness. We created a simple metric that we call our net loneliness score.

Rajesh Anandan:
Think of it like NPS for customer health as a forward-looking indicator of the health of your business. The loneliness score is similar in that it's a forward looking indicator of the health of our team, therefore the health of our business. We have a bot that pulls our team at 5:00 PM local time every day. Every day is a single poll. We cycled through about a dozen of them as a team we've kind of arrived at what those calls are. And each one ties back to a dimension of inclusion or wellbeing that we as a group have decided that it's important for us. And so loneliness is one of them. And we now have data for several years that we are consistently not a lonely group, a whole lot less lonely than the American workforce. You know, I think a few years ago, the surgeon general at the time was sounding the alarm about loneliness being an epidemic in America. And it's only gotten worse and 40% of American workers reported feeling lonely at work before COVID and we are now even more isolated. And before COVID I think 15% of Ultranauts reported feeling lonely at work and during COVID in spite of being surrounded by fear in panic we had the systems in place that actually brought our team even closer. And so, you know, the last quarters loneliness polls were averaging closer to 10% and that's, you know, people responding to that poll saying, I feel lonely at work.

Stacia Garr:
Right. And I think that's remarkable, you know, particularly as you mentioned, you're a remote team from the start. And so you know, that you know, that ability to even improve upon what you, what was happening during the, during COVID I think is really remarkable. One thing I don't think you mentioned at the beginning is how many folks are on your team? How many people work for Ultranaut?

Rajesh Anandan:
So we're still a small firm, you know, we're just south of a hundred people.

Universal workplace

Stacia Garr:
Okay. Okay. Yeah. Just to get folks on the line have a of the scale. Okay. So we've talked about, you've got really strong diversity, you've got really strong business results and other results such as this, so help us understand how do you do this? What does this, what does this look like? What's the workplace design look like?

Universal workplace: Flexible workplace norms

Rajesh Anandan:
So we think of what we're doing or trying to do as creating a universal workplace, which simply is shorthand for applying universal design principles to reimagine and redesign the system that is work top to bottom. And so for us this universal workplace has sort of four dimensions to it. One is building flexibility in as the norm, not as a thing you need to ask for an exception. Certainly having the flexibility to work from an, in an environment that you've been able to design based on your own needs, hugely important for our team. Maybe, you know, it's not for everyone. And you're seeing some of the research come out where it's working from home is super productive for some, but not all for our team in general. You know, many of our teammates may not have even applied if this was not an option, but we think of flexibility across a lot of other dimensions as well.

Rajesh Anandan:
We've moved away from the notion of a FTE, a full-time equivalent as sort of the way to think about units of work and a work week, because it turns out there's really no evidence that suggests that a 40 hour, 50 hour work week is optimally productive for all humans or even most humans or even many humans. And yet this is the construct we're stuck in. And in our case we have incredibly capable team members who would be hyper-productive for some fraction of that time. But if they were forced to work this quote full time week, simply to have a salary or simply to be able to progress in their career, you know, it, it would be unproductive. It might be overwhelming. It would be bad for their health and, and just bad for the team. And so we have created what we call a DTE, a desired time equivalent.

Rajesh Anandan:
So in almost all of our salaried roles you have, and I would say over 85% of our team are in salaried roles. So that's important to you. You can't have any of this stuff without income stability. And that's been a journey for us as a small business, right? And a lead startup we've we've had to work our way to this point where now we feel like we've dealt with some of those core issues around income stability. I would say, you know if you can't, if you don't have that, and you don't have psychological safety as just building blocks, you have nothing. And so, you know, you've got to address those things first because otherwise you don't have a conditions for people to be able to use their bandwidth and their brain cycles to focus on value and work, and instead have all these other fears that, that are playing in the background.

Universal workplace: Transparent decision making

Rajesh Anandan:
So flexibility's important. A second dimension is just transparency. You know, when you bring together people who are this different, who have very different views and experience, and maybe in some cases bad experiences at other workplaces, unfair experiences, it's really important to have as much transparency as you can, in terms of, particularly in terms of decision making, like, you know, one of the polls that we cycle through with this bot is I forget the exact phrasing, but it's like, I understand how decisions are made at this company, particularly those that affect my job. And so you respond on a Likert scale, you know, and that's sort of our proxy for do people feel like they know what's going on and why things happen. And so we've done a lot to create that transparency so that people do feel like they understand why decisions are made and what's being made.

Rajesh Anandan:
We publish our sort of performance dashboard that the leadership team works with and works off of to run the business. There's 40 odd KPIs and it's published. So the whole company sees the same metrics that the leadership team is responding to. Whenever that the leadership team meets, we meet once a week as a group, we publish notes on actions, decisions. So there's transparency. Obviously we don't publish everything. Like if there's some HR stuff happening, but for the most part, it turns out, you know, there's nothing special about what does the leadership team talk about? Cause every organization I've been in, you know this is kind of a pet topic of what, what do they talk about? And at Ultranauts you don't have to worry, or you don't have to wonder about this. It's a waste of brain cycles to wonder, because here it is.

Stacia Garr:
Can I, can I jump in on that? One thing I really like about that is we did some research actually over the course of the pandemic and are continuing to do it, that we called the responsive organization. And two of the components of a responsive organization was distributed authority. And then also growth and transparency. And what I like here is, is that pulling of those really with the obviously the transparency of these metrics and kind of how the business is doing, but then also the, the logic behind these are the decisions we made and sharing that because kind of understanding how decisions are made, helps others make their own decisions and make better decisions aligned with the same principles that the senior leadership team does. So there's something I really like about that.

Rajesh Anandan:
Yeah. And I don't want to, you know overstate the notes. You're absolutely right. Like having providing context for why decisions are made. It's just so important because that's the only way you can have individual actors in a system making good decisions. Otherwise, you know, you need a very hierarchical bureaucracy which is ineffective. And we can certainly do better on that front. You know I would say trying to build those organizational habits where providing the context is just part of what we do, you know, even on the leadership team, like we have a diverse leadership team and we've tried to adopt a habit where the night before the weekly meeting, if you have an agenda, item or topic, you've got to submit it. You know, we use Trello and we're engineers, so this stuff is all this, send it here and it'll populate somewhere and isn't it great.

Universal workplace: Focus on team wellbeing

Rajesh Anandan:
But the format we try to use is first give people a heads up, right? So put the thing on the agenda before the meeting and then provide the context, you know, do you want a discussion? Do you want a decision? Like, what is the purpose of this? And then what is the context, you know, that I need to know in order to have an informed conversation about the decision or about to meet and then you know, wellbeing obviously it's important particularly because we're distributed. It's impossible to know when someone is not doing well. You can't see that someone's not doing well. You might not run into them in the hallway. You won't see them stressed out at their desks. And so it's really important to not only sort of measure wellbeing. Like we have our bot that's getting a pulse check of the team every day.

Rajesh Anandan:
But also de-stigmatize mental health as much as possible, make it okay to take time off. You know, everybody in the company has to go through a part of onboarding is just going through a workshop around managing stress and anxiety. We have access to as a standard for, you know, kind of part of the resources everyone has access to. We have access to a mental health services provider where you can have therapy sessions or counseling sessions. We have a team forum every couple of weeks. That's hosted by a life coach that that we work with. And that's a safe forum for people to just share concerns that they have with a group of peers in a moderated way. A life coach has office hours that you can sign up for one-on-one and all of this stuff around wellbeing, we try to make it provide lots of possible ways you can get help and we try to make it really easy to ask for help, and we try to make it okay that you need help.

Rajesh Anandan:
And kind of diffuse a lot of the stigma around mental health by talking openly about it at a all-staff meeting a couple of months ago, we had a member of the leadership team, very openly share about some of the mental health challenges that they're struggling with to just create the sense among the team that this is, you know, this is okay, and it's okay to share. It's okay to ask for help, but that takes time and creating that sort of the safety, you know, the psychological safety only happens through actions and what the team sees as sort of observes around them and and sees their peers doing, the managers, and leadership team. And that creates the safety and the feeling of safety that allows people to then actually feel safe, to ask for help or call out a mistake.

Universal workplace: Inclusion business practices

Rajesh Anandan:
And then the fourth dimension, I think the most important one here is that for us inclusion is not just a feeling. We've tried to define it for ourselves and then design inclusion into our core business practices. And this is a very different approach from most organizations where there is a defaulting to creating quote workplace accommodations for kind of team members have different needs. And to us that that's a that's not a solution. You know, that's a symptom of the problem and only a bandaid and is not a bad place to start to figure out how you need to change your practices so that that person doesn't need a special accommodation. And so we'll talk a bit more about that, but everything from how we do recruiting, not just for, you know, one group of job applicants just for everyone, or how we provide and think about learning and development, not just for one group, but for everyone and how we run our projects and our teams which we just published a paper on what we call inclusive, agile, which is just a better way to implement agile and scrum better for everyone, not just one group,

Stacia Garr:
Right? Yeah. Well, let's go there because I love the folks I'm sure want to know, you know, how do you approach let's, let's start with recruiting. So what does the talent acquisition and hiring process look like?

Objective recruiting

Rajesh Anandan:
Sure. So if you could go to the next slide there's been a fair bit of research looking at the efficacy of different recruiting techniques in predicting on the job performance. And it turns out doesn't matter, which study, you look at the most common tools that are used, like a resume review, which essentially is looking at previous work experience or a subjective kind of unstructured interview, which is right with bias are just really ineffective. You know, it turns out pattern matching the past is really hard to do, and it doesn't predict the future. And also it then actually calcifies the status quo when you leave people, you know, if someone hadn't had a shot before, they're never going to get a shot. But also we, you know, dramatically overestimate our ability as humans to spot talent. And so the reality is that whether you look at years of work experience or other things that are looking at the past, like reference checks, these have no correlation with, on the job performance.

Rajesh Anandan:
Unstructured interviews are almost useless not as useless as years of work experience. And then when you start getting to structured interviews, you know, asking the same set of questions of every candidate, and then before you start interviews, you have a scoring rubric that defines what a good answer is. So that you're just trying to constrain the natural human bias that will kick in, it's everyone, and there's no way around it. You can't train it out of people but you could try to put some guard rails to minimize it. So structured interviews can be helpful, but most helpful are observing and actually evaluating someone's work and someone's abilities. And so you could call that a job test. And so at Ultranauts, we use job tests for all applicants for all roles, because it's just a better way to more objectively understand if someone's going to be able to do the job. We of course do use interviews, but they're all structured.

Rajesh Anandan:
And they come in toward the middle of the process, not at the beginning where you have no data. And they're focused on really trying to dive deeper into someone's interests and motivations to understand whether that aligns with the core work to be done and the nature of that work. Because we want people who are going to be excited and driven and motivated to do the job they're being hired for. And again, this is not just for, you know, autistic applicants that have to do job tests. You'd never do that with like set of a program where all your female applicants have to do this very different process, right? You just wouldn't do that. You shouldn't do that for any group because if the process can be better, it would be better for everyone. And so the one thing I would say on this is when it comes to job tests it's not only for technical roles.

Rajesh Anandan:
Of course, most people we hire we're hiring for a quality analyst or quality engineer role, but we use job tests for everyone. So we may be the only company in the world that hired a head of growth and sales, where the, you know, applicants had to take job test, because let me tell you if you're, you know, decent in any kind of sales role, surely you can have a convincing conversation, but that says nothing about your ability to, you know, strategically dissect a market opportunity or creatively and quickly get to a senior decision maker. But these are the things you could test. It's easy enough to construct, you know, a test or a simulation that allows you to observe and see how someone's able to do that, which is going to be a whole lot more accurate than asking them questions and getting really convincing answers.

Stacia Garr:
So we had a question come in through chat about potential recruiters reservations around structured interviews. So a sense that they don't have the choice to ask the questions they want to. So is that something you all have encountered? And if so, how have you addressed it?

Rajesh Anandan:
So part of this is you do need to be able to kind of go deep into someone's strengths and interests because really, you know, the whole process is less about finding reasons not to hire someone it's just really to understand what they bring to the table. What are they going to add? What are the strengths that they haven't and do those lineup with the job to be done? I would say, you know, first, even just starting with the job description, like we try to unpack the role into the actual requirements of the job and, you know, work backwards from there. Like what, what are the skills you need or the competencies you need. And then to the extent that has very specific requirements around experience, we fleshed that out. But when you do that, you're able to and then for each of those requirements, how will we validate that requirement?

Rajesh Anandan:
So some of those map back to things where we're trying to validate in an interview, some of those map two things, we're going to validate through a work simulation or a job test. And so the focus of the interview then is to try to drill down on those attributes. We're trying to validate in that interview. And so, yeah, we start with sets of questions, and then the recruiters do have the flexibility to go add questions, but, but they've got to cover a minimum set of common questions because otherwise there isn't, you know, it's much harder to compare across interviewers certainly, or, or even with the same interviewer across across applicants.

Stacia Garr:
Right. Okay. Makes sense. I'm just conscious of time. So I want to make sure we move on because you mentioned learning and career development in, in your approach to that as well. So can we talk a bit about how do you think about that a bit differently than maybe a traditional organization does?

Rajesh Anandan:
Sure. you know, as a professional services firm creating an environment that allows for and supports continuous learning and creates the conditions for accelerated learning are mission critical. Doesn't matter, you know, what skills you come in with 18 months later, those are out of date. So having a kind of engine that's continuously building our capabilities on our team is absolutely missing critical. So everybody who comes into the firm in, you know, in our core delivery team, which is 90% of our employees. So we haven't done this for everyone, but it's covers our core services delivery team all the analysts, all the engineers, all the managers has what we call a learning path that they are currently on and they know what learning path they're going to be doing next and a learning path to simply sort of a micro kind of module that tightly coupled theory and practice and is designed for neuro diversity.

Design for neurodiversity

Rajesh Anandan:
And if you go to the next slide we've sort of been on this journey to redefine how corporate training happens because most corporate training doesn't work. We know that doesn't actually impart skills and then it's particularly unhelpful for learners who are neuro diverse. And thanks to my colleague, Nicole Radziwill, who in addition to running large scale engineering teams and being a data scientist is professor data sciences is near divergent and she's been sort of authoring an architecting, our approach to learning. We call it designed for neuro diversity. It has a few very specific principles, and we apply that to how we create curriculum and learning experiences. And so that's table stakes, but most organizations just put up, you know, a one hour video when you're supposed to learn something. You know, you've got to create learning experiences that are self-paced that are actually designed for engagement.

Rajesh Anandan:
You've got to have hands-on practical exercises coupled with the content in micro modules versus like study this thing for, hours and hours and hours, and then you have one exercise at the end. Like that's not how learning happens. And those activities need to actually tie back to your day job. So it's relevant. So you can actually ingest internalize it. And then some very specific things around how we design for accessibility and kind of different learners. But everybody, you know, on our delivery teams has a learning path that they're on. They know what they're going to do next. And this is framed around what we call a launch pad. It's acute, you know, we're Ultranaut, so everybody's a launchpad, but it's your personalized learning path. And we're at startup, right? We don't have a lot of resources and yet we've made this important enough because it's mission critical that we create this environment around continuous learning. And so everybody who comes in you know, as part of their onboarding has a launch pad that ties to like, where do you want to go? Like, what is the aspiration? What is the role you're trying to work towards and then work backwards from there to where you today, what is the learning path you need to take now? And what's the one you need to take next?

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, that's great. Question that came in was round just, you know, there's obviously a lot of technical skills that people need to develop and use. But what about the non-technical skills? So are you, is there kind of a specific thought and effort that you put around your learning and development efforts to enable people to focus on you know, potentially things like active listening or communicating more effectively or something like that that you think is, you know, important so that all of the audiences, all of the diversity in your team can be affect, you know, feel included.

Rajesh Anandan:
So to us, that's not a question of training, it's more a question of systems because, you know, it's like you can have all the workshops you want people go back to their desk and behave exactly the same that they did before. And so, as we think about aligning on the way in which we work and communicate and treat each other we think in systems and tools, right? So very organically from one of our projects emerged a different way of implementing agile and scrum because it turns out while agile was designed to be inclusive. In fact, it is not. And so because on our teams, right, we're running agile scrum teams where we'll be brought in by fortune 500 firms to build test automation, frameworks, or do data quality audits across the enterprise. It's complex technical work, it's moving fast, we've got a wide range of communication preferences.

Rajesh Anandan:
You know, we've got a significant portion of the team with selective mutism and don't speak. We have a significant portion of the team who have auditory processing challenges. We have a significant portion of the team who have severe anxiety or workplace PTSD. And so we're running teams that have all of that stuff going on. And so it's important that the way in which we run and manage teams and manage work and communicate allows everyone to be able to contribute and participate. So very basic things like, you know whenever we have a interaction like a standup meeting or a town hall meeting you can always participate in chat. You can send in your questions or suggestions beforehand. So you don't have to think on the spot, things are transcribed. So if you're having trouble hearing and following along, you don't have to text your brain for that. You can just consume the information in a way that works for you. That's the simple stuff, and it's surprising that this isn't universal, right?

Feedback- My Biodex

Rajesh Anandan:
The more interesting stuff is around things like feedback, you know? So it turns out that the way, most managers are taught actually doesn't really work for most people. So like, you're always taught when you're giving critical feedback, give it in the moment in a live conversation, sandwiched by positive affirming comments. Well, it turns out for our team and I would guess for most people, most teams that's not optimal, you know, it really depends. But then how do you have an effective way to give feedback? If it depends? It depends. It's not an announcement. So we've built in the ability to very quickly look up someone's feedback preferences. So that it's a one single command in Slack to pull up someone's feedback references. If you're about to have a conversation where you're going to share some feedback as a peer or a manager and we've made, you know, we productize that into what we call the Biodex, which came out of a simple kind of thought from a team member a few years ago, who said something like, you know, like it never really figured out how to work with some of the members of my team. I wish humans came with a user manual. And so we said, yes, wouldn't that be nice? And so that's evolved into what we now call the Biodex. It's got 20 odd fields, and these are all things you should know about me about how to work productively together, including my preferences around receiving critical feedback.

Stacia Garr:
I think we have a screenshot of that. Don't we in the deck?

Rajesh Anandan:
Yes. I think if you click maybe to the next.

Rajesh Anandan:
The slide after that.

Stacia Garr:

Rajesh Anandan:
Yeah. So you know, that's the simple bot screen that you can look up if you want to look up someone's feedback preferences. And I would say, you know because of the way in which we work and having these systems and tools and process it also allows us to really surface the strengths people bring. It doesn't constrain us, you know, all of the systems and process and tools simply take away a lot of the stuff that might otherwise be really taxing or alienating, which then frees up a lot more brain cycles in bandwidth for the real work to add value to clients and to innovate in our own practice. And so there's an example of that, certainly the Biodex which is now a bot, and we released it to a group of alpha users because anytime we described this, every team says, Oh my gosh, I want the Biodex.

Rajesh Anandan:
I'm like, yes, yes, we'll get around to it. You know, we're not a software developer, we're not a product firm, but we can cobble together a product. And, another kind of example of just taking what we're doing for ourselves and you know, making that useful to others. And in this case, as an actual service, is a service we launched last year that we call talent bias detection, which essentially is taking all of our capabilities and techniques around auditing data and understanding data called, usually a chief data officer or chief digital officer might bring us in to do an enterprise data quality audit or to build kind of automated quality checks into their information supply chain so you can trust what you're getting on the other side and all of this, the same sort of skills and techniques applied to interrogating the data exhaust being generated throughout the employee life cycle turns out can be incredibly helpful to surface patterns of bias and actually bring a data driven point of view to the conversation around, great you want to improve equity in the workplace? Where do you start? Where do you actually make those investments?

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. Yeah. And we've talked a lot about that type of work in the DEIB tech research that we've done in and how you that can both help us understand what's happened in the past, but potentially be able to flag when that bias is happening in the moment for folks.

Rajesh Anandan:
Absolutely. And so, you know, simple use case of that is performance reviews. So we're, you know, a couple of engagements we're doing are around essentially building bias detection and running just you know, normally you might run some simple word association and well, we've got 20 different sort of techniques to do that, to really go deep in a much more precise way. And once we do that audit because we're engineers, we're building those quality checks so that they can run automatically every time there's a review cycle and go from sort of surfacing patterns of bias into being able to raise a red flag or an individual performance review that has sort of a high likelihood of bias. So it's much more actionable and kind of real time.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. Great. Well, I know we are just about at time, so I'm going to move as just here to the end and want to encourage folks to get in touch either with, with me or with Rajesh. I guess just a final thing you mentioned with this bias, bias identification that you're now doing some work helping other companies, do you want to spend just a moment kind of wrapping us up and telling us about what you're doing there before we let folks go?

Rajesh Anandan:
Sure. You know as you might imagine, it's very sensitive work. And so there's not a lot I can share other than to say, the core problem that we're helping companies with is that, you know, most companies have made very serious commitments to tackling inequity in the workplace across different dimensions, including race. There are a lot of sort of hypotheses around how to do that. And no shortage of advice you can get. But very little evidence in terms of, you know, what actions can have the greatest impact. And so we've narrowed in on a few different aspects of the employee life cycle, like performance reviews, or kind of these employee practices, talent practices, performance review is being one kind of leadership, potential identification being another succession. So, and we're able to go in understand sort of the processes that contribute to that outcome of like a performance review or promotion decision, and then apply a whole range of different techniques, including analyze the actual text looking for over a dozen different types of bias in helping companies build essentially a lexicon of biased words.

Rajesh Anandan:
And, and the reason this is hard to do with sort of an automatic ML tool is it's so company specific, right? And so there's a bit of work to be done in the context of the company taking the time to actually understand the specific processes and nuances in order to start kind of building that talent bias audit of a performance review process. And then from there, honestly, it's fairly straightforward to automate that audit or those bias checks, so that every time you have a review process or every time you've got a, you know, leadership potential discussion, that's got an output of documentation that you can run the same sort of analysis and just spot the red flags. It's never going to answer the question in a yes or no way, but it certainly helps you figure out where to focus.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, definitely. Well, wonderful. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story with us and with folks who are listening today and who will listen on recording as well. We really appreciate it and good luck to you and your journey of continuing this work and in sharing it with others. Thank you so much.

Rajesh Anandan:
Stacia thanks so much for having me.

Stacia Garr:
Thank you. Bye-Bye.


What We’re Reading at RedThread

Posted on Monday, April 5th, 2021 at 11:53 AM    

We read a lot at RedThread—both to directly inform our research and because we’re reading junkies. We also listen to a lot of podcasts. (In fact, in this piece, we use “reading” as shorthand for “consuming content,” regardless of whether we’re consuming a podcast, book, audiobook, or article.)

Part of our mission at RedThread is to accelerate the flow of ideas through the marketplace—and one way we do that is by sharing what we’re doing / thinking as soon as we’re doing it. In that spirit, we want to share what our team members are reading these days.

We’ve divided the list into 4 sections:

  • Reading that directly informs our research
  • Reading that keeps us up to date in the field
  • Reading that broadens our horizons
  • Reading that we plan to do

Throughout this post, all titles and images are hyperlinked to the source. Let’s dive in!

Reading That (Directly) Informs Our Research

These books, articles, and podcasts help drive our thinking on the specific topics we’re writing about currently—topics like purpose; diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB); people analytics; learning; and skills. Here are our top things to read in this category.

The Enlightened Capitalists

In this book, author James O’Toole gives a fantastic historical perspective on how businesses have approached purpose. We’ve been doing a lot of research on the topic of purpose—individual, team, and organizational—and found this book remarkably enlightening (pun intended). It helped us understand how our collective concept of purpose has changed over time and why purpose is such an important component of a business’s success, now more than ever before.


Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire

Also supporting our purpose research, this book’s author Rebecca Henderson describes how capitalism is on the verge of destroying the planet and destabilizing society. Capitalism is destabilizing the climate, driving human deaths and mass species extinctions. Wealth is increasingly unevenly distributed and many institutions that have historically provided stability—families, faith traditions, governments—are “crumbling or even vilified.”1 What can org leaders can do to change the path we’re on? A lot—and this book offers a practical roadmap for how businesses can build a kind of capitalism that works for everyone.


Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

A number of people recommended this book to us, including Deborah Quazzo, Managing Partner at GSV Ventures and one of the guests on our “Is Purpose Working?” podcast season. Isabel Wilkerson writes about the existence of a invisible caste system in America and how that system influences us all. She shows how a rigid hierarchy is embedded in our society and institutions, feeding racist policies and beliefs in ways we often do not see. The book supports the research we’re doing on DEIB.


How to Be an Antiracist

This powerful book reshapes the reader’s notions of what it means to be racist. Starting from the idea that there are very few people in the world who think, “Yes! I’m racist!”, author Ibram X. Kendi helps readers understand that racism is fundamentally a problem of systems, policies, and institutions that foster inequity and invite individuals to (sometimes unconsciously) hold beliefs and commit actions that also foster inequity. The book paints a compelling picture of how we can all be antiracist by actively and continuously pushing ourselves, our communities, and our institutions to promote equity. This book supports our research on DEIB.


Reading That Keeps Us Up to Date in the Field

We love these sources—none of which, you’ll notice, are books—because they reflect some of the most leading-edge thinking on the topics we care about. If you like RedThread’s research, then you’ll probably find these resources helpful, too.

Articles by Matthew Daniel

Matthew is a longtime learning leader who writes about skills, talent, and learning. One of our favorite quotes:

Ultimately, we in L&D may be robbing our organizations of some of the greatest potential in talent, because they sit in the frontline and they're non-exempt employees—and so they just don't get access to content, or the systems, or the programs, or the mentoring, or the class.2

Matthew is a very forward-leaning thinker in the talent and learning space. He’s a regular contributor to CLO Magazine and posts valuable content regularly to LinkedIn.

Learning Tech Talks

This podcast, hosted by Christopher Lind, gives one of the most comprehensive (and entertaining!) perspectives around on learning tech—vendors, challenges, opportunities, ecosystems, and more. Each episode features a learning tech vendor talking about the problems they’re trying to solve. We like it because it’s not salesy, it’s always informative, and Christopher has an amazing ability to synthesize what’s going on in the space.


David Green’s Monthly Roundup of People Analytics Articles

Every month, David Green posts on LinkedIn a summary of the top articles published that month on people analytics and related topics. Each post contains a dozen or more articles, each summarized in at least a paragraph, often with helpful charts and graphics. This single monthly post is a great way for us to keep up to date on what other people are saying in the field.


HRTech Weekly Podcast

Stacey Harris and John Sumser at the HR Examiner host a weekly podcast, “HRTech Weekly One Step Closer.” They cover topics ranging from HR tech trends to analysis of tech vendors, recent mergers and acquisitions, and the implications of senior leaders’ movements between orgs. This weekly show is another fantastic way we stay current on others’ thoughts in the field.


McKinsey & Company Research on the Future of Work

McKinsey has been publishing a lot on skills, reskilling, upskilling, and the future of work. The company’s findings are well-researched and highly informative. These articles help keep us current on others’ work on the topics of skills and learning—for example:

Learning itself is a skill. Unlocking the mindsets and skills to develop it can boost personal and professional lives and deliver a competitive edge.3

McKinsey Quarterly, August 2020

Reading That Broadens Our Horizons

Curiosity may have killed the cat…but it sure makes us better researchers! We read a lot of stuff that’s not directly related to our research projects or even our areas of focus. These books, podcasts, and Facebook groups (yep) help us stay on our intellectual toes and keep us growing, learning, and thinking.

More: A History of the World Economy from the Iron Age to the Information Age

Author Philip Coggan writes the weekly Bartleby column for The Economist. Here, he’s provided a sweeping history of trade, industry, and growth in the global economy from ancient Rome to the 21st century. We enjoy his style of putting complex information about management and the world of work in an easy to comprehend and interesting format that’s very appealing.



Prediction Machines

We’ve been talking about how AI will disrupt our lives and work for some time now—but how, exactly, will that happen? Authors Ajay Agarwal, Joshua Gans, and Avi Goldfarb explore the economic implications of the price of AI, which is declining in a way that’s similar to how the price of computing declined in the 1980s and 1990s. The book was recommended to us to truly understand AI disruption.



Profiles in Courage

In 1954, then-Senator John F. Kennedy decided to write a book profiling 8 of his predecessors: Senators from history including John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster. The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 and became a classic on courage in the face of difficulty and pressure. It’s an exceptional view into leadership in different times—with real implications for today.



The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery

This book is an amazing exploration of failure—what it is, what it isn’t, and how failures are part of the journey to successes. Author Dr. Sarah Lewis, an associate professor at Harvard, has a background in art and culture—and uses these lenses in her lyrical, insightful, and practical exploration of the true nature of failure. (Hint: It’s not what we tend to think.)


Raising Kids with a Growth Mindset

This resource isn’t a single article or book—it’s a private (though very large) Facebook group of parents learning to live and parent with a growth mindset. Although most of the discussions focus on how to help children, the lessons and insights that group members share are often equally—if not more so—relevant to adults. We’ve found it to be some of the most helpful self-awareness and growth content available anywhere.

Reading That We Plan to Do

You probably won’t be surprised that we have long lists of things we want to read, but haven’t yet. Here are the top few.

The Making of Asian America

Given current events, we think it’s tremendously important to better understand the history of Asian-Americans in our country. Asian immigrants and their descendants have played a major role in U.S. history, but much of this influence has been overlooked or forgotten. This book by Erika Lee, a professor, author, and historian at the University of Minnesota, was recommended to us as a comprehensive, engaging, and fascinating way to learn something we should already know: how Asian-Americans have shaped the history of the United States.


The Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding from Anywhere

Looking ahead to post-pandemic life, we’ve recognized that work—like life—will never look the same. In this new environment, employees want to know how to stay connected while maintaining work-life balance; managers want to know how to lead remote teams; and orgs want to know how to enable great work to be done. We’ve heard that this book by Tsedal Neely answers many of these questions. It’s a practical guide for leaders, managers, and teams as they figure out what works best for them and their organizations.


You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience

We are looking forward to reading this product of a collaboration between Tarana Burke and Brene Brown—something that combines Brown’s work on vulnerability with Burke’s work on shame resilience. They bring in Black authors, artists, activists, and more to share their stories—resulting in a “stark, potent collection of essays on Black shame and healing” within a space where we can “recognize and process the trauma of white supremacy…be vulnerable and affirm the fullness of Black love and Black life.”4

Brave New Work: Book & Podcast

This resource started as a book and has continued on as a podcast about the way we work. Author Aaron Dignan explores the “operating systems” of organizations—the things that comprise organizational culture—and how we can improve the ways we work.



The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You

There’s increasing research that, to improve performance, employee engagement, and other key metrics, orgs should focus on helping their managers become better managers and leaders. This book by Julie Zhuo is a practical guide designed to do just that. Each chapter focuses on a specific aspect of management—for example, holding effective meetings (and canceling unnecessary ones)—and offers specific advice to new managers learning the ropes.



More Reading

For more sources related to our current research agenda, check out these lit reviews:

What Are You Reading?

You might have noticed from this article that we love reading. We want to hear from you: What are you reading these days? What questions are you trying to answer for yourself?

Share your favorites with us at [email protected]!

Skills for DEIB: Building the Muscles We Need

Posted on Monday, March 29th, 2021 at 6:52 PM    

Why We Care

Tell us if this sounds familiar to you:

Company ABC: “We’re committed to ensuring diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) at our organization and, to show that we mean it, we’ve recently implemented a new DEIB program. We also aim to increase our diversity numbers from X% to Y% in the next N years.”

News headlines a few months later: “A new report on Company ABC details new employee complaints about the conduct of executives and leaders. The report contains details of a “toxic and exclusionary culture” as described by many employees at the company and includes inappropriate remarks made by people at the company.”

We bet you’re able to name a company (if not 2 or 3) that would fit this scenario, especially given the social justice events of the last year.

Unfortunately, scenarios such as this are all too common. Even though a company might think it’s taking the right steps by implementing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) policies and processes, it could still foster an environment in which people feel left out, discriminated against, and marginalized. A study conducted in 2019 revealed that 40% of people feel physically and emotionally isolated or excluded in the workplace.1,2

At a minimum, a culture that alienates certain sections or groups of employees can make employees uncomfortable with and disengaged from their work, resulting in orgs losing untold hours of productivity. A recent 2020 study into inclusive workplaces found that 45% of the survey respondents didn’t feel included in their workplaces and three-quarters of those felt disengaged from their organization.3

And, at its worst, a toxic and hostile work environment can result in people leaving their jobs or taking legal action, and / or in orgs missing out on critical talent. The same 2020 study found that 39% of the survey respondents reported having turned down or deciding not to pursue a job because of a perceived lack of inclusion at an org.4

Skills: The Muscle We Need?

As we’ve previously written on this topic,5 a holistic DEIB system is one in which every organizational process, action, policy, or decision is reviewed through a DEIB lens. We believe a systemic approach to DEIB is extremely critical to driving equitable change in orgs today. Yet, such a system is comprised of individuals and it’s often the interactions between people that can cause DEIB challenges.

Unfortunately, though, the effectiveness of many orgs in encouraging change in the behaviors of individuals is poor: It’s been well-documented that most diversity training doesn’t work.6 Further, unconscious bias training—which has been the rage for the last 5 years or so—also has relatively little evidence7 to show that it can drive changes in behavior.8

We’ve, therefore, been scratching our heads, trying to identify what org leaders should be doing instead. After a lot of thinking, we’re wondering if by focusing so much on changing behaviors, orgs have been missing something else that matters.

What if, instead of focusing on DEIB-related behaviors, we should be focusing on DEIB-related skills?

Stepping back: What’s the difference between behaviors & skills?

You may wonder what the difference is between a skill and a behavior. Many perspectives exist on the distinctions and, to keep it simple, lets focus on 2 key differences:9

  1. Skills transcend context (or circumstances) while behaviors are context specific. If people have mastered a skill, then they can apply that skill in different contexts, whereas a behavior can only be exhibited in a specific context.
  2. Skills are applied, meaning they’re “how” you do something. Behaviors, by contrast, are exhibited, meaning they’re “what” you do.

For example, someone might behave erratically (the what—behavior) in a situation, by applying illogical reasoning or lack of thoughtfulness (the how—skills).

So, how does that apply to DEIB?

The distinction between skills and behaviors matters because it highlights the problem with a lot of DEIB training: It focuses more on the “what”—the kind of behaviors people should exhibit—instead of on the “how”—the skills they need to develop that then result in desired behaviors.

Another problem with a lot of DEIB training is the focus on helping people understand what their behaviors should be in certain DEIB situations (e.g., a situation that involves sexual harassment or blatant discrimination), instead of focusing on the skills needed to effectively respond to such situations. This issue arises because the same behavior might not be applicable in a different DEIB situation—but, if an employee has the necessary skills, then they’ll be prepared to respond more effectively in any DEIB situation.

DEIB-related skills

Because skills transcend context, they can be applied to different DEIB situations. For example, in an interview we conducted years ago, an enlightened D&I leader told us:

“Managing conflict is critical for D&I. You have to be open to different perspectives, know how to manage the discussion around those, and be able to help the team get to a better resolution. If you can do that, you can be both diverse and inclusive.”

Conflict management is one such critical skill that can be applied in various DEIB situations.

Recently, a number of articles have shown how skills, such as empathy, are increasingly seen as being crucial to fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging. For example, research shows that a combination of awareness around bias and high levels of empathy / perspective-taking can increase feelings of inclusion by up to 33%.10

Listening is another skill that can have a critical impact on feelings of inclusion. Growing evidence shows that leaders who listen to their employees are able to foster productivity, emotional connections, and reduce conflict or misunderstandings.11

“When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become wiser, more inclusive, and better as an organization.”12

—Pat Wadors, ex-CHRO, LinkedIn

In fact, listening became one of the most needed skills by orgs as a result of the changes in work environments brought about by the disruptive events of 2020. According to learning provider Udemy, listening was the most sought-after communication course topic offered by the platform in 2020, with a course consumption percentage growth of 1,650% from 2019 to 2020.

“In a year where we’re all searching for ways to relate to each other and feel connected during uncertainty, it’s completely understandable why listening would be one of the most sought-after skills.”13

—Shelley Osborne, Vice President of Learning, Udemy

Now that we’ve discussed the importance of skills for DEIB, let’s look at the status quo.

Skills & DEIB: Ready to be Understood

Focusing on developing DEIB-friendly skills as a way to increase DEIB in orgs seems like a very obvious solution. However, we haven’t seen much research on this topic.

Most of the articles we’ve seen so far seem to focus on a single skill—such as vulnerability14 or empathy15 or openness16—and how each can impact DEIB. Relatively little has been written on groups of skills that can impact DEIB. Of the articles we’ve seen, there seems to be a lot of anecdotes and opinions, and too little structured research, either quantitative or qualitative. (But if you’ve seen good articles, send them our way!)

Further, we haven’t seen research on how to holistically approach the identification and development of these skills, nor have we seen any focus on the role technology can play in supporting the development of these skills.

We believe this lack of data and insights results in orgs not focusing on improving DEIB-friendly skills. In some instances, orgs are providing one-off efforts—such as offering single-skill training sponsored by an employee resource group (ERG) or the learning team—but those are hardly comprehensive approaches to improving the DEIB skills of the entire org.

Our hunch is this: If organizations approached DEIB skills holistically, then we might see some meaningful movement on critical DEIB outcomes—plus a lot of others that we care about.

Our Hypotheses

We have the following hypotheses for this research:

  • A subset of skills are critical to fostering an environment of DEIB
  • Orgs in which such skills sets are present, along with a clear DEIB strategy,17 will have stronger DEIB, talent, and business outcomes than those that don’t
  • Employees / managers and HR / DEIB leaders will have different opinions on what those skills sets are
  • Orgs can build into their talent practices a focus on these skills, effectively weaving DEIB and talent efforts together
  • Tech plays a role in scaling the development of these skills

What We’ll Research

Through this research, we seek to answer the following questions:

  • What are the skills that contribute to DEIB, specifically fostering diversity, enabling people to feel included, and building a culture of belonging in the workplace?
  • What can orgs do to develop these skills, including specific approaches, modalities, etc.?
  • How can orgs leverage those skills to drive DEIB?
  • What is the role of tech in enabling this to happen?

We plan to include the following groups of people in the research:

  • DEIB leaders
  • HR / learning leaders
  • Operational business leaders
  • Managers
  • Employees (especially ERG leaders)
  • HR tech vendors (focused on this topic)

How to Participate

We’ll be conducting this research over the next 3-5 months and invite you to participate in the study. Currently, we offer you 4 ways to participate:

  1. Answer this short questionnaire. Help us understand which skills you think are most critical to fostering DEIB and what specific questions you think we should address in our study.
  2. Let us interview you. We’re looking to interview 4 groups—if you're in one of them and are up for a 30-45 minute interview, reach out to us at [email protected] and we’ll schedule you at your convenience:
    • DEIB leaders
    • HR / learning leaders
    • ERG / BRG leaders / other business leaders involved in DEIB efforts
    • HR tech vendors (focused on this topic)
  3. Join the conversation. We’ll be conducting roundtables on this subject starting in April. Keep your eyes open for information on the specific dates—or reach out to us at [email protected] and we’ll send you an invitation.
  4. Share your thoughts. Read our research and tell us what you think! Shoot us a note at [email protected]. Your comments make us smarter and the research better.

DEIB & Analytics: This Time is (Likely) Different

Posted on Monday, March 15th, 2021 at 8:30 PM    

Why We Care

Last year, in the aftermath of the social justice protests, many organizations made significant pledges to alter hiring and promotion practices to create greater equity and opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds. For example:

  • Adidas said it would fill at least 30% of all open positions at Adidas and Reebok with Black or Latinx candidates
  • Estee Lauder promised to reach U.S. population parity for Black employees for all levels in the next 5 years
  • Facebook pledged to double the number of Black and Latinx employees by 2023

In the last few months, we’ve also seen an increasing number of diversity and inclusion reports published from firms, such as Deloitte, PWC and others, promising increased transparency and focus on this topic. There have also been announcements by companies such as Nike, Chipotle, McDonald’s, Google, and others, tying executive compensation to hitting diversity goals, underscoring the importance these firms are putting on DEIB.

This Might All Sound Familiar

As you might recall, in the mid-2010s we heard similar pledges (and saw the publishing of diversity reports) from Google, Facebook, and Apple, after women such as Tracy Chao and investor Ellen Pao brought attention to Silicon Valley’s diversity problems. And, to their credit, most of those companies (Apple being the exception) are continuing to publish those reports.

Those reports have revealed—surprise, surprise (or not)—that making progress on diversity representation is a slow and uneven business. For example, Facebook, which has one of the better public diversity reports, has improved its percentage of women from 31% to 37%—and from 15% to 24% for technical roles—from 2014 through 2020. However, they have only improved the percentage of Black employees from 2% to 4%—and from 1% to 1.7% in technical roles—across that same period.

This slow pace has not gone unnoticed, as commentators from all stripes (but most notably the mainstream press) have regularly flogged those companies for not making as much progress as we all want. As one commentator mentioned,

“These companies are data-driven, but if people are not hitting their diversity metrics, where’s the downside? You have metrics, but no consequences.” Bari Williams, head of legal, at start-up Human Interest

It would be easy for leaders to conclude that they’re “damned if they do” track / publish data and “damned if they don’t” (because they don’t have data to understand what’s happening). When you combine this situation with the potential legal consequences of diversity (and inclusion) data, you end up with a whole lot of inaction—which is what we’ve generally seen to date.

This Time Is (Likely) Different

But this inaction is untenable for at least a few reasons:

  1. Consumers want companies to take actionand will reward them if they do. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 80% of Americans want brands to help solve society’s problems and 64% want companies to set an example of diversity within their organizations. Further, corporations that take a stand on racism are shown as being 4.5 times more likely to earn / keep consumers’ trust and those doing well with addressing racial issues are 3 times more trusted. Brands’ responses to racism also influence purchase intent. 

To capture the potential goodwill of consumers, though, companies must show that they’ve acted or made progress on DEIB1 —and the way to do that is through DEIB metrics and analytics.

  1. Diverse employees left the workforce during the pandemicand companies have to figure out how to get them back. Diverse people have borne the brunt of the pandemic:
    1. Women left the workplace at the steepest, most sustained level since World War II
    2. Black and Latinx workers suffered from higher levels of job losses, as reflected by their unemployment rates for February 2021 which were at 9.9% and 8.5%, respectively—as compared with 5.6% for White employees
    3. More than a million people with disabilities lost their jobs during the pandemic

As we all look to a post-pandemic world, there’s a good chance we will see at least two things: significant movement of talent (who may have stayed due to economic uncertainties, but now see a chance to jump) and a strong economy. To effectively take advantage of both of these changes, organizations will need to foster DEIB to both attract newly available talent (and retain existing talent) and to leverage the benefits DEIB brings, such as innovation, as they look to grow.

Beyond the potential business benefits, though, businesses have an opportunity to make a broader societal impact by redesigning work so that all employees can participate more equitably and inclusively.

Bringing back people who left the workforce will take intentionality, clear policies and practices, and data—lots of data—to understand what’s happening, what’s working, and what could be done differently.

  1. New SEC human capital reporting guidelines are likely to result in more DEIB data disclosures. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revised its 10-K reporting requirements, effective 9 November 2020, requiring companies not just to report the number of employees, but also to provide:

A description of the registrant’s human capital resources, including the number of persons employed by the registrant, and any human capital measures or objectives that the registrant focuses on in managing the business (such as, depending on the nature of the registrant’s business and workforce measures or objectives that address the development, attraction, and retention of personnel).”

While there’ve been a range of approaches to these new reporting requirements, it’s hard to imagine that DEIB metrics don’t count as “… measures or objectives that the registrant focuses on in managing the business,” especially when you consider the new ties for many companies between diversity metrics and executive compensation.

Further, given all the research that shows the connection between DEIB and business results, you would think that DEIB metrics would be an essential piece of information investors would want to know.

Or, viewed through a more cynical lens, investors might feel they are entitled to information that could result in potential future legal action, such as systemic (intentional or not) discrimination against a certain group, that would be revealed by DEIB representation numbers. If the company has at least disclosed this on its 10-K, then the company may be less likely to be open to legal recourse from investors. (At the same time, maybe it makes clear that potential discrimination exists? I dunno, there’s a reason I didn’t go to law school.)

In short, DEIB data is going to be more important than ever to investors, and companies must figure out how to provide it efficiently, consistently, and in an appropriate manner.

Recalibrating the System

Given all this, we think it’s safe to conclude that DEIB metrics and analytics are more important than ever. But, to our earlier point, it’s not as though DEIB metrics weren’t important before—it’s just that many orgs haven’t been terribly good at developing or using them. Why?

In short, we think it’s because organizational realities have resulted in a system that’s made identifying, tracking, and using DEIB metrics hard. Specifically:

  1. A gulf exists between most DEIB leaders and analytics leaders
  2. It’s unclear what data to use and how they should be used
  3. New DEIB tech vendors offer solutions, but it’s unclear how these solutions fit in

A Gulf to Bridge

Unfortunately, in most orgs, the gulf couldn’t be larger between the groups leading the DEIB efforts and analytics. It’s true that DEIB and people analytics often report to different leaders—DEIB to the CEO or an operations leader at least half the time, and people analytics to the CHRO, talent acquisition or talent management leader, or a centralized analytics team.

But there’s more to it than that—and those differences include the following:

  • Background:
    • The leaders of DEIB teams are often folks who hail from a social justice or diversity-focused background
    • Whereas people analytics leaders often have a data, computer science, machine learning, or math background
  • Focus:
    • Many (certainly not all!!) DEIB leaders focus heavily on activities that have comparatively little to do with data (at least on the surface), such as setting up employee resource groups, managing DEIB events, collaborating with the local community, etc.
    • Many analytics leaders (again, certainly not all!!) are only involved in DEIB efforts from the perspective of participating in them—but have had little knowledge of any of the theories and approaches underlying those initiatives
  • It’s the ultimate situation with “quants and poets” needing to work together—and in most orgs they haven’t yet.

    This situation has resulted in questions, such as:

    • How should DEIB and people analytics leaders partner on DEIB data and analytics?
    • When should people analytics be brought into DEIB discussions?
    • What is people analytics’ role in determining a DEIB strategy, especially as it relates to public proclamations of changes to representation numbers (i.e., doubling the representation of a certain group in 3 years)?

    Data Uncertainties

    Beyond these organizational and dispositional differences, there’s the question of the data itself. Diversity data have historically been treated with kid gloves, with a super select group of leaders being able to see them. Further, much of that data analysis has focused on satisfying Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requirements, without much additional analysis, for fear that the analysis could potentially end with the company in hot water from a legal perspective.

    In recent years, we’ve begun to see a seismic shift (we don’t say that lightly) around the thinking about DEIB data. Leaders are realizing that the potential reputational risk of NOT doing something about DEIB could be larger than the potential legal risk of uncovering something no one wants to see. As a result, they’re moving ahead with analyses.

    However, decades of inaction have resulted in orgs having a noticeable weakness when it comes to identifying, tracking, and using these data. Many leaders want to know things like:

    • What types of data can we use, who can see the data, and what precautions must be taken from a legal standpoint?
    • What are the basic metrics and analyses we should focus on initially? How does that change over time?
    • How should we “productize” DEIB analytics and metrics? To whom should that information be made available?

    Unclear Role for Vendors

    Finally, as we’ve written about for years, the DEIB tech market has grown substantially—and the biggest growth in that market has been around DEIB analytics. That said, in our interviews, we’ve heard things like:

    “I don’t know how DEIB tech vendors should fit into my overall DEIB strategy. When do I use their analytics versus our analytics and how do I integrate all this information?” Chief Diversity Officer


    “If I had a dollar for every time another people analytics leader told me that the Chief D&I Officer brought in a new tech solution without understanding what people analytics could do to help themI’d be a very rich man. It is so frustrating! We can do so much of this work, but they don’t ask!” VP of People Analytics

    This lack of clarity on how to work together is causing friction in the adoption of new technologies and the effective use of internal people analytics teams. Some of the important questions here include:

    • Are there particular types of work that vendors are best-suited for—versus people analytics or DEIB practitioners building the tech themselves?
    • When should vendors be brought in?
    • Who should manage the DEIB vendor relationship?
    • Where does the budget typically lie for DEIB tech?

    What We’ll Research

    We’ve laid out our thinking above on the specific questions we think are critical to answer in this research. To summarize, though, the top questions we plan to address are:

    • How should DEIB and people analytics leaders partner to drive DEIB efforts?
    • What are the different types of data and analysis approaches organizations are using / can use to understand DEIB in their orgs?
    • What’s the role of vendors? When should they be engaged by DEIB and analytics leaders?

    That said, we know we’re just at the tip of the iceberg on this topic and realize there is plenty we don't know about. To that end, we’d be deeply grateful if you could take 2-3 minutes to tell us in the questionnaire below what you most want to know about this topic:

    How To Participate

    This study spans the next 3-6 months, so there are lots of opportunities for you to participate. At the moment, we invite you to be part of this research in 4 ways:

    How should DEIB and people analytics leaders partner on DEIB data and analytics?

    1. Answer the above questionnaire. Help us understand which of the 3 areas we’ve identified that you care to learn about the most and what other questions you hope we’ll address.
    2. Let us interview you. We’re looking to interview 3 groups — if you're in one of them and up for a 30-45 minute interview, reach out to [email protected] and we’ll schedule you at your convenience:
      • DEIB leaders
      • People analytics leaders
      • DEIB analytics tech vendors
    3. Join the conversation. We’ll be conducting roundtables on this subject, starting in April. Keep your eyes open for information on the specific dates—or reach out to us at [email protected] and we’ll get an invitation to you.
    4. Share your thoughts. Read our research and tell us what you think! Shoot us a note at [email protected]. Your comments make us smarter and the research better.

RedThread Research is an active HRCI provider