Does Your Company Have a Diversity and Inclusion Problem?

More studies on diversity and inclusion are published seemingly every week, each discussing its benefits and fallbacks with intensity. To the D&I practitioner, this can seem like a great thing - visibility and data for the cause is suddenly everywhere. However, this is a double edged sword for people hoping to start inclusion initiatives in their business. While there’s visibility, it’s easy for detractors to say D&I is just a fad.

Leverage the benefits of visibility and defend against the accusation of fad-follower by: 1. Identifying if there is a D&I a problem versus something else, and 2. Diagnosing the root of the D&I conundrum in your organization. A properly diagnosed problem will not only add credibility for a D&I strategy but provides research to rely on as you work to build an inclusive workplace where everyone can do their best work.

Figuring out if you have a D&I problem requires a holistic look at your organization. To get this perspective, look to the following groups and data sets:

  1. Workplace D&I metrics and data

  2. Employee perspective

  3. Best practice research and data

  4. Industry comparison (local and global)

  5. Internal analysis - the “sober second thought”

Each one is necessary to paint a full picture of any potential D&I problems and the key in every step is to observe, not judge.

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1. Collect D&I Data to Gain an Objective Viewpoint

If you’re just starting off on this journey, you may not have much data. That’s ok. Collect what you can in order to gain objectivity. It will be crucial as you go through the next steps, all of which are highly subjective and require facts to balance them out.

Gather data such as:

  • Pay rates

  • Promotion rates

  • Demographics (any you have ready access to - to start this may only be gender) by seniority and position

  • Demographics of the folks in your organization who have the power to hire and promote people

Note: if you don’t have much demographic data for your company, collecting some should be top priority. Look for diversity dimensions such as: gender, race, ethnicity, Indigenous/Aboriginal status, disability/ability, and sexual orientation. This information will be for analysis purposes and high-level tracking, not to identify and single out any employee.

Also collect and processes that your company already has in place that may tie to diversity and inclusion, such as:

  • Recruiting process

  • Interview templates

  • Hiring and promotion decisions framework or rubric

  • Performance management or employee feedback process

  • Procedures for ensuring inclusive product design

Remember that not having this data could signal a problem or it could just be lack of data collection. The only way to know is to collect it, so work with your team to gather as much as you can.

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2. Talk to Employees to Add Personality to the Data

With the prevalence of D&I in research and the media, it’s likely employees have opinions on D&I and what it means to be inclusive. Asking their perspective fulfills three necessary elements in a full D&I diagnostic picture:

  1. You include a crucial stakeholder group in the conversation

  2. You may identify the problem is something different than what you initially thought

  3. You will uncover more about how your organization views D&I

Given how sensitive these elements can be, listening without judgment is crucial. Conduct surveys or interviews to get to the root of the problem as employees see it. Make sure you are open to seeing what kind of problem exists, not just getting the feedback to prove there is a problem.

Asking employees also gives you the side benefit of a look at your company culture from a different lens. Where culture surveys often touch on D&I, starting with D&I shows how open the culture really is to blunt honesty for all views and opinions.

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3. Looking at Best Practice Research Highlights Potential Gaps

One of the best ways to diagnose a D&I problem is to see what you don’t have in your organization. In order to add this piece of the puzzle, look at the gap between what best practice research says inclusive organizations do compared to what your organization actually does.

For example, D&I research frequently cites quotas as a bad goal but a useful observation tool. If your organization measures D&I in identity-based quotas, you may have a problem.

Some common ‘best practices’ to kick start your comparative analysis are:

  • Nondiscrimination policy that explicitly includes race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability status, socioeconomic origins, and every other legally protected class of people

  • Talent sourcing practices that explicitly looks for diverse talent pools where they exist

  • Job ads that have necessary skills and requirements only to enable the broadest set of candidates to apply

  • Job ads that explicitly encourage people from all backgrounds to apply

  • Structured rubrics and question guides for interviews targeted towards assessing job readiness and ability so every candidate has the same opportunity to show their qualifications for the role

When conducting this analysis, be mindful that not doing every best practice does not necessarily mean the organization isn’t inclusive. There are many factors at play.

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4. Compare to Other Companies’ D&I Programs to Get High-Level Industry Insight

Looking at other companies in your industry and other companies of the same size offers a lot of insight into what the market is providing and thinking about. The more other companies are taking action, the more you can identify potential issues in your organization that could affect talent retention in the long run.

Specifically, look for:

  • Talent acquisition and retention programs

  • Broad culture programs

  • Executive commitments

  • Explicit D&I-focused programs

  • Anything specific to your industry (such as union environments)

Note that this step is about finding high level industry trends. Do not (yet, at least) use other companies’ initiatives as a blueprint for tactic ideas. This step is very similar to checking against industry best practices - it’s adding another viewpoint.

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5. Try to Prove Yourself Wrong

After you’ve tackled the D&I problem question four different ways - objective internal data, subjective internal perspectives, objective external research, and subjective external analysis - try to prove yourself wrong.

Compile all the information and look for commonalities. For example, if you don’t have a formal nondiscrimination policy but others in your industry do and employees shared they feel discriminated against, you may have a problem. From an intellectual perspective only, debate whether the identified trend is 1. Real and 2. Focused on D&I. In this example, the answer to both is most likely “yes, this is a problem.” However, for another initiative like not having a quarterly retreat to a ski lodge, the answer is far more complicated. It could be a “yes” from a talent retention perspective if all of your competitors are doing it, but it’s likely a “no” from a D&I perspective because it’s not tied to the definition of workplace D&I.

Also collect outliers - data points that only exist in one of the four categories - and scrutinize whether it’s a problem tied to D&I. In many instances, edge cases are interesting anecdotes but not the root of the problem.

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Observe, Collect, and Plan Next Steps

Collecting all the data outlined in this article and taking a ‘sober second thought’ will give you the information you need to identify if you have a D&I problem. The next step is to get started with D&I and plan for solving the challenges you uncovered.

Each pillar in this article has value to bring to the table, so ensure you look at each data point with equal weight. They come together to help you validate your ‘risky assumption’ that you have a D&I problem instead of a different problem - or no problem at all. Use this information to show how crucial D&I is for your organization and clearly indicate there is no fad at play, only a desire for long-term company growth and an environment where hard working individuals can thrive.

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See more of the Guide to Getting Started With D&I!