Businesses have long been aware of the value of workplace diversity and its role in defining culture and inspiring innovation. However, while many organizations have aimed to tackle the issue, we have yet to see sustainable, systemic change.
Over the past year, tensions have mounted, driven by recent racial injustices and the pandemic’s inequitable impact across different marginalized groups. These events have led to increased calls for change, as employees demand greater action from employers in advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the workforce and continue to pay close attention to culture and responsibility. As employers respond, what is impeding true progress?
Many organizations have the best intentions when it comes to DEI but struggle with a starting point. They might lack the right data, resources and strategy. Many simply try to do too much, too fast. The biggest stumbling block is setting a broad and unmanageable goal that fails to adequately frame the situation.
To drive change and advance measurable progress, employers need to build a DEI strategy rooted in data. This requires approaching what is an incredibly emotional topic with a business mindset: “We have a problem we need to solve.” In remaining pragmatic, you can identify the gaps you need to close and track progress against your goals. Fortunately, companies can tap into a recognized approach to build a strategy unique to what their workforce data is telling them.
Employ the Scientific Method
You might remember learning the scientific method during the course of your education. This time-tested approach to problem-solving is a powerful tool. In this method, a researcher makes observations and asks questions to propose a hypothesis, or what they think will occur based on the information at hand. They then perform tests with the goal of confirming, modifying, or disproving their hypothesis. By remaining practical in your approach to the problem, you can more easily evaluate and implement solutions that can make a measurable difference.
Using this approach, start by asking questions and doing the research required to understand the current state of your workforce. Once you identify the gaps, you can then define the real problem and implement the right solutions. This data-driven approach must also be paired with a robust training program to influence behavioral change. The best strategies account for these two components and leverage an established maturity model to help organizations understand how mature their processes and behaviors are and achieve growth from there.
Start with Data
Workforce data forms the foundation organizations need before they can build a strategy. Insight into your workforce, from its racial, gender and cultural makeup to turnover, retention and compensation rates by demographic, is critical in understating your employees’ experience and the change that needs to happen. It’s a good idea to examine this data across all levels of the organization as well. From this data, you can start answering critical questions, from “How diverse is my workforce and leadership team?” to “How is my recruitment process driving diversity?”
In asking these questions, you’ll gain a better understanding of your workforce. Perhaps the numbers show that while approximately 13% of the U.S. population is Black, only 5% of your workforce is. Maybe your associates have a 50-50 male/female split, but that ratio goes to 75-25 among top leadership. These gaps will inform how you take action. It’s important to define the problem in a very narrow, focused way. From there, you can start to develop creative solutions.
Once you’ve analyzed the data, clearly defined the opportunity and decided on your strategy, the next step in the process is taking action. Success hinges on how thorough an organization is when analyzing the state of their workforce. That data will drive your action plan.
For example, gaps in retention or under-representation in leadership might lead you to focus on DEI-centered development initiatives to include mentoring and sponsorship programs. Alternatively, pay equity gaps and turnover data might lead you to restructure your compensation models. Perhaps you have strong representation in your leadership team but there are discrepancies on the front line. This finding might require you to focus on your sourcing and recruiting efforts.
When you think about representation in an organization, there are two levers leadership can pull: you can hire more people, or you can retain more people. If your focus is on the leadership population, there is a third lever as well: you can promote more people. For hiring, help your recruiters change their strategies to diversify candidate pools and interview slates. Reach out to minority professional organizations and build community partnerships to strengthen current pipelines and build new ones. To increase retention, examine retention rates across different populations of your workforce and identify potential drivers such as closing pay equity gaps or providing more development opportunities.
Emphasize Accountability and Transparency
Accountability and transparency are a core component of any successful DEI strategy. It’s essential for companies to track their progress to help them optimize and improve over time. It’s just as essential they socialize that progress with their employees, constituents and other stakeholders to help them understand the importance of your efforts and how you’re tracking against your goals.
Gaining leadership and business support at the onset helps ensure accountability, as you make the business case for change. Tying compensation to DEI performance is an effective way to emphasize accountability and reinforce commitment. Another important consideration is putting in place a realistic timeline and being thoughtful about the milestone dates and targets you’re working toward.
At the center of the change, your workforce should be in the communication loop as well. Check in with them regularly through surveys and engagement pulses and leverage tools to continue to foster a culture of belonging and inclusion. As you revisit your workforce data to measure progress against your goals, be transparent about sharing that data with everyone in your organization. Frequent, shared reports keep everyone informed and reinforce the importance of the effort.
The scientific method typically concludes with either proving or disproving the hypothesis. But for workplace diversity, equity and inclusion, the evolution is continuous. Targets will continue to evolve as your workforce does. Assessing your efforts annually against the maturity model will help you see how far you’ve come and where you may need to adapt and refocus your efforts in the future.
By remaining honest in their reflections and adaptable in approach, companies can affect real, lasting change.
About the Author
Bob Lockett is the chief diversity and talent officer at ADP.