DEI program success: beyond data-rich, insight-poor

What’s the difference between setting DEI targets and measuring their success?

The benefits of nurturing a diverse workforce are well known. They span increased creativity and innovation, improved decision-making, and can earn you a more equitable, more appealing reputation. So, what’s stopping you?

After all, DEI isn’t new. What’s more, it’s moved further center stage since the pandemic. And coupled with the amplified profile of the Black Lives Matter movement, has re-focused organizations on uplevelling their DEI strategies.

Alexandra Kalev and Frank Dobbin co-authored the 2022 book ‘Getting to Diversity: What Works and What Doesn’t’. In their recent article ‘How Companies Should Set and Report DEI Goals’ they told the Harvard Business Review:

“By September 2021, 55% of Russell 1,000 companies had posted workforce gender, race and ethnicity data, up from 32% in January. By then, more than 70 big companies had set public gender-diversity targets for 2025 or 2030, including Airbnb, Bank of America, Bloomberg, Coca-Cola, GE, Intel, McKinsey, TaskRabbit, and Xerox.”

Depending on your specific people situation and overall business objectives, your DEI strategy might encompass a few or many underrepresented groups. This is because DEI takes on a different shape and form in every business.

But, identifying and framing your DEI goals is just part of the challenge. Measuring DEI goals and making them work can be easier said than done.

This article explores some of the issues organizations experience with setting and measuring DEI goals. It does so alongside the transformational contribution people analytics make to the process.

Data-rich, insight-poor

One of the biggest challenges organizations face when it comes to setting and measuring DEI goals is a lack of combined diversity data.

First and foremost, deeply analyzing your HR data empowers you to:

  • Understand where you currently are in terms of DEI
  • Recognize the steps needed to improve your current people situation

If you can’t do this, you might find yourself reliant on assumptions and / or anecdotal evidence, which can lead to incorrect conclusions and courses of action.

Still and all, in many cases it’s not a lack of data that’s the issue. It’s the fact the data is SO disparate  it’s not completely impossible. It can feel overwhelming to combine it and whip it in to some sort of useable format.

For example, you might be able to collect an amount of one-dimensional data related to DEI from your ATS, HRIS, HCM, L&D and payroll systems. This will enable you to track the demographic makeup of your workforce, including characteristics such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Sexual orientation

But, where do you go from here?

Generating static numbers is one thing. But, can you interpret them in ways that really matter, such as:

  • Hiring and promotion rates for different groups?
  • Employee engagement and satisfaction?

These are the sorts of insights that help you identify areas where you can improve, and develop targeted strategies to address them. And people analytics eradicates the hefty number crunching and hair-raising spreadsheet formulations to extract value from the mountains of largely unusable data from all your disparate systems.  

While these methods might get you part way there, they’ll unlikely provide richer insights into your DEI landscape, such as:

  • Across employee populations
  • At each stage in the employee journey

In addition, the importance of deeper insights comes even more sharply in to focus in terms of engaging company-wide buy-in.

Highlighting any obstacles to change

Another challenge many organizations don’t see coming is potential pockets of resistance to change. Don’t panic! This doesn’t mean you’re dealing with a racist and / or sexist workforce! It’s just human nature for some people’s stomachs to churn at the prospect of change – and any potential threats, real or perceived, it might entail.

So, some employees might be worried their job security or promotion opportunities will be impacted by your DEI targets. Resistance of this nature is not uncommon, especially if your organization has a long history of homogeneity.

Fear not! Once again, people analytics can help you overcome obstacles, pinpointing areas where the business can improve in terms of DEI, such as:

  • Candidate Pipeline
  • Departmental trends
  • Attrition, retention and employee growth opportunities
  • Unconscious bias affecting performance of any of the above

Getting your workforce fully on board with your DEI goals can take longer if you’re relying on anecdotal evidence or broad statements. You need specific data to back up your claims. HR analytics help take the enigma and hearsay out of DEI.

Also, it’s useful to recall the saying about only having one chance to make a first impression. Infusing workplace DEI is no different. You put well-intentioned but misguided, uninformed and poorly thought-out goals in. You get minimal impact and progress out.

The burning question is how to avoid any false starts.

Powerhouse HR analytics = persuasive DEI strategies

A robust HR analytics software that can unify your HR data across systems makes this process much easier to manage. It also helps drive consistency across your DEI programming.

Yet even with the right data insights and support for your DEI goals, it can be hard to know where to start or how to make meaningful change. This can lead to the implementation of initiatives that are well-intentioned, but ill-equipped to address the root causes of DEI issues.

The good news is HR analytics are invaluable for developing potent DEI strategies, by identifying areas where you need to improve, and providing insights into the guilty culprits causing your DEI issues. For example, DEI analytics can shine a light on:

  • Which groups are underrepresented in the workforce – and why
  • Why underrepresented groups might not be advancing as quickly as other groups

Without this understanding, it’s a struggle to define where to focus your efforts, or what changes will have the greatest impact. Plus, you might also have to rely on broader initiatives, resulting in ineffective or incomplete solutions.

On the other hand, magnified insights fix you up to develop targeted strategies to address the identified issues. For example, insights may reflect an opportunity to adjust your recruitment or promotion practices. What you may have thought was a hiring problem could turn out to be a retention problem caused by unconscious bias in a particular area. The programs you choose to develop can be massively influenced by this analysis.

If you can’t track it, you can’t improve it

Ok, you have a DEI goal. Now what?

Measuring DEI goals and making them work is a complex challenge that many organizations face. Thankfully, HR analytics can help you overcome some of them, providing the accountability and transparency you need to:

  • Design well-informed DEI goals
  • Implement targeted initiatives
  • Measure what’s working, what’s not working and what can work with some adjustments or extra effort

For the final word, let’s hark back to workplace DEI experts Alexandra Kalev and Frank Dobbin.

“The lesson in all of this is clear:” they told the Harvard Business Review. “Reporting and sharing detailed data, setting detailed goals, and spelling out action plans can help firms to promote, and sustain, workforce diversity. And the more companies there are that do it right, the more there will be that join in.”

At HireRoad, our PeopleInsight by HireRoad platform is revolutionizing the way businesses are monitoring progress against their DEI initiatives, providing the means for quick and efficient maintenance and continuity of analysis on data from disparate systems.

Get in touch for a free demo if you’re captivated by the prospect of setting DEI targets and measuring success, but held back by your existing systems and general lack of know-how to get started.