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April 29, 2024

DEI: no longer just a feel-good exercise

Something is often missing from DEI efforts: effective measurement. Businesses need the right data plus advanced analytics to know where they’re falling short—and what it will take to close the gap.

You’re one of the 154 Fortune 500 companies today releasing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) data for public record. Your DEI hiring numbers look great. So why has the company failed to move the needle on retaining a particular intersection group of employees? And why are employees still grumbling on the company’s annual DEI surveys?

The fact is, even with the tens of billions spent on DEI programs in the past few years—and the onslaught of evidence that DEI is positively linked to greater business performance—there’s often something missing from these programs: thorough, detailed metrics.

Plenty of organizations measure discrete areas of DEI, such as hires made, dollars spent, trainings completed, or the number of affinity groups formed. But what many fail to do is measure whether these programs are having an impact, where they’re not, and why.

Additionally, many businesses simply don’t know whether employees from all identity populations feel listened to, invested in and supported. Diversity is one thing, but feelings of inclusion are quite another—which could explain why a business’s DEI hiring metrics are great, but retention is abysmal.

This is why more businesses are starting to measure their DEI initiatives from all angles, as well as the overall sense of belonging within the organization. In our recent research, 67% of HR leaders and business executives globally said their organization has begun to measure the business impact and perceived value of DEI initiatives, which is a massive uptick compared with last year’s 20%.

But doing so requires both qualitative and quantitative data, as well as tools that automate analysis so senior executives and team managers can see where they’re doing well vs. falling short and can prioritize specific interventions that will lead to even more success.

Why DEI initiatives need measurement

DEI is increasingly seen as far more than a feel-good exercise. According to recent research, 81% of employees would consider leaving their job if their employer wasn’t committed to DEI. The best way to exhibit a full DEI commitment is by being transparent about what’s going well and what’s not, as well as efforts being taken to improve. All of this takes measurement.

But to be effective, metrics can’t be surface level. Businesses need to uncover invisible trends that could be undermining their DEI efforts. To understand DEI trends at this level, businesses need to measure across the complete employee journey, from recruiting and hiring, through retention and promotions to leadership levels.

For instance, we worked with an organization that noticed low hiring rates for a certain intersectional group but didn’t know where in the process the issue lay. Was it a lack of candidates applying, or were those candidates falling off somewhere between initial screening and the interview stage? Instead of just looking at DEI on the surface, the organization used the right tools to look deeper, find the indicators, and analyze where the problems were to combat the low hiring rates.

This granular level of analysis can be done using AI-driven analytics. For instance, there may be lots of promotions for diverse populations at the entry and junior levels, but they trail off at more senior levels. A medium-size enterprise we worked with reviewed its leadership-level associates and found a disproportionate number of men compared with women. To prioritize succession planning for women in the workforce, it needed tools to identify underlying drivers—such as the number of women across the organization vs. the number of women in leadership—and implement targeted, intentional best practices, such as ensuring equal pay.

AI analytics can also help businesses view intersections of diverse groups. For example, they might need to surface insights about the experiences of people with disabilities who are LGBTQIA+ compared with those with disabilities who are not LGBTQIA+.

Measuring diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Benchmarking the organization against diversity goals is an important way of measuring progress, but one of the most valuable measures is whether employees actually feel the company’s workforce is inclusive. Such measurement, however, should not be a once-a-year process, nor should it be one-size-fits-all.

We advise businesses to conduct periodic pulse surveys personalized to their employees’ specific circumstances and demographic. For instance, you wouldn’t ask a long-time employee the same questions as a new hire, nor would you ask someone who’d previously indicated low feelings of belonging the same questions as someone who felt higher levels of inclusion.

The surveys should also be conducted frequently enough to get a real-time temperature read and be short enough to not overly intrude on the employee’s time.

Common questions to ask include:

  • Do managers show appreciation for good work and extra effort?
  • Do promotions go to those who best deserve them?
  • Do co-workers avoid undermining others as a way to get things done?
  • Does the employee feel fairly rewarded?
  • Have they experienced bullying?

The surveys should also be accompanied by automated suggestions for next steps to inspire a greater sense of belonging. These could include inspirational podcasts or webinars; townhalls; available employee councils; a chance to give feedback or recognition; or skill development.

Putting it all together

Equipped with this information, managers and senior leaders can hold more productive discussions with their teams and understand more precisely where interventions are needed.

Team managers should be empowered to fully close the feedback loop with suggested conversation starters, comment acknowledgements and confidential two-way conversations in areas like employee engagement, autonomy, freedom of opinion, management support and meaningful work.

The fact is managers play a big role in feelings of inclusion. In a study by DDI, when women and leaders from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds didn't trust their senior leaders, 64% said they felt they had to leave their company to advance.

Finally, it’s essential to be transparent about these findings, both where you’re showing progress and where you’re falling short, plus the actions being taken to close those gaps. Some experts suggest presenting this in a visual way, such as with a temperature graphic that shows what your goals are and your progress toward reaching them.

DEI is no longer an add-on effort that exists separately from the business strategy. Instead, it’s an important part of the corporate strategy that—like any other high-priority strategic initiative—needs to be monitored, measured, transparently reported on and continuously improved.

To learn more, visit the Workday section of our website.

Kendall James

Content Specialist

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Kendall James is a Content Marketing Specialist representing the content and digital marketing strategy for Cognizant’s Workday practice. In this role, Kendall is focused on conceptualizing, developing, and implementing initiatives to market cloud-based solutions across industries.

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