Measuring DEI success: 5 places to look for progress
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Measuring DEI success: 5 places to look for progress

Representation matters. We’ll say it with you, forever and always. When candidates and employees don’t see others who look like them in your workplace, they don’t see a future in which they’re supported and thriving with your org. When they don’t see diversity, they don’t expect inclusion. And they may opt out.

But when measuring DEI success in your organization, representation isn’t the only thing that matters. The demographic make-up of your workforce is an obvious indicator of how diverse and inclusive your organization is, but there’s much more behind and beyond those numbers.

Here, we’ll look at some other ideas for how to measure DEI progress, including qualitative cultural cues that can tell you a lot about the state of inclusion and sense of belonging in your workplace.

Let’s take a look.

How are DEI goals measured?

Broadly, you can measure DEI success through qualitative and quantitative measures. You’re probably familiar with the quantitative stuff; typically this looks like analyzing hiring outcomes, pay equity, employee experience, and retention/attrition trends through a demographic (and intersectional) lens. You find out which identities are joining and succeeding in your company, and determine where you need the most work in diversity, equity, and inclusion. We’ll look at these DEI metrics in a bit.

There are also qualitative indicators of how your DEI program is performing. These are things that speak to the everyday employee experience, and have a big impact on who you can attract to your team, and who decides to stay.

One way to approach qualitative DEI measurement is to think of it as a series of research questions to ask yourself about your culture. Here are five of the best of these questions to get you started:

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1. Who’s speaking up?

A good gauge of the balance and sense of belonging in your company is a look at who’s speaking up, and how much.

During meetings, try to pay attention to who is dominating the conversation, and who is staying silent or struggling to get a word in. Instituting a “no interruptions” policy may empower some of the quieter voices in the room to speak a little louder. More introverted employees and folks from underrepresented groups often face challenges in making themselves heard. Also, women across industries report being interrupted more frequently, and it’s even more pronounced for women of color.

That said, it’s often easier to measure who’s contributing to conversations when it’s all in writing. Be mindful in Slack threads and email chains of whether certain individuals or groups are keeping quiet. A lack of engagement could suggest a lack of inclusion.

At the same time, be sensitive to the fact that some people prefer to keep a low profile. Never force or pressure someone into engaging when they aren’t comfortable doing so.

2. Who’s showing up?

Participation in voluntary events can be another good metric when it comes to inclusion and belonging.

How popular are optional activities like lunch-and-learns and after-hours hangouts? When the turnout for voluntary events is low, it can speak to a failure to practice inclusion and build belonging. And even when the overall participation rate is high, it’s important to recognize if specific groups or individuals feel excluded, and think through how you might better accommodate them.

For example, your post-work happy hour could be broadly popular while still turning away sober folks and those who need to tend to their families right after work. Providing nonalcoholic refreshments and starting the happy hour on company time could help previously excluded individuals feel more welcome.

While you never want to pressure employees to participate in “mandatory fun,” it’s still important to find out why certain folks are hesitant to engage so you can eliminate those roadblocks.

3. What are people saying?

If you’re trying to get empirical data for measuring DEI success, you’re probably already conducting company-wide surveys to measure inclusion. However, you may be neglecting to segment the data by gender, ethnicity, age group, location, and other demographic categories.

Many employers gauge success by looking at overall survey results, which allows groups with the most representation to “speak” for everyone. Taking a more granular view of your survey data can help identify how and why certain groups are being excluded.

For example, in 2015, women made up more than half of the new associate class at global law firm Baker McKenzie, but less than a quarter of the firm’s 1,510 partners. Researchers segmented the results of a firm-wide engagement survey and discovered that many of the women associates expressed less desire to become partners than their male counterparts. But that wasn’t the full story.

That finding inspired a follow-up survey, which uncovered four things that would make women more interested in pursuing partnerships: more flexibility around face time and working hours, better access to high-profile engagements, greater commitment to diversity targets, and more women role models at the company. Those insights led to an action plan that included, among other things, a firm-wide flexible work program that promoted remote working. Over the next three years, the percentage of women promoted to partner rose from 26% to 40%.

4. What are you saying?

How you’re sourcing and hiring are major factors in the diversity of your workforce. Keeping an eye out for unconscious bias in your talent content can uncover why certain groups aren’t applying and how to engage them.

It’s tricky though—many instances of bias are exceedingly subtle. Some don’t even seem to make sense! For example, words and phrases like necessary change and informative have baked-in bias that can only be detected by software. You probably can’t tell how either of those terms could possibly be biased. But job post data shows that using them will have a measurable impact on who engages and applies to your job. (For the record, using necessary change in a job post currently attracts more men, while informative attracts more women.)

Rely on DEI tech in these cases. A platform like Textio will analyze your content to reveal unconscious bias in the language your team is using, and suggest new phrases that are proven to be more inclusive and effective. Take T-Mobile, for example: In updating their job posts to a gender-neutral tone with more inclusive phrasing, they were able to attract 17% more women candidates.

5. How is work actually working?

This isn’t about backing your DEI program with a “business case” (that’s a fail). It’s about assessing the flow and feeling of work for employees, as a way of measuring how equitable and inclusive your environment is. When folks feel welcomed and supported, they’re better able to offer ideas, suggest new approaches, focus on their work, and contribute their best.

Check your Glassdoor reviews. Look at your engagement surveys and exit interview data. Talk to leaders and their teams. Are people complaining about how decisions get made? Have folks mentioned a lack of resources or support for different work styles? Are certain skills or teams obviously prized over others?

Most people want to do a good job, but they need the right conditions to thrive. Try to find out if people are feeling like they can shine, whatever that looks like for them.

How to measure DEI success

Of course you’ll want to track more clear-cut metrics as well. Your list will vary depending on your org’s size, location, and goals, and your DEI program’s maturity—but here are some good DEI metrics to consider:

  • Demographics of your talent pipeline across hiring stages
  • Demographics of new hires
  • Demographics of all employees 
  • Demographic diversity across levels of your org
  • Language change (problematic phrase usage, gender tone, age appeal, etc.)
  • DEI training/programming participation
  • Pay equity
  • Promotion rates by demographic
  • Demographic retention trends

Demographic data points are good indicators of a DEI program’s impact, but the proof of a truly inclusive and equitable culture comes from a variety of places. If you don’t find it right away, don’t give up. Results aren’t always immediate, and some of the most important impacts of your DEI program won’t be easy to quantify. Try to keep measuring what matters, and doing the things that matter but are difficult to measure.

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