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Diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace: Setting goals and measuring success

The past year has been one of tremendous turbulence and tumult. The good news is that many organizations have begun to look inwards at their own policies, practices, and organizational cultures and have made deep commitments to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). If this sounds like you, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll show you how to set realistic, achievable DEI goals, measure progress towards those goals, and make sure your organization reflects, champions, and celebrates America’s diversity.

What do we mean when we talk about DEI in the workplace? Simply put, we’re describing any actions taken by employers to create meaningful change that will address the marginalization of underrepresented groups within the workplace. That means making sure that everyone has the same opportunities to get hired, be promoted to management, contribute to your organization, and be paid fairly, regardless of their gender identity, their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, or any other characteristic.

Many companies make public commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion, but make little real progress. One of the problems is that these three distinct terms are treated as interchangeable, and there is a lack of understanding about what each really means for breaking down the barriers and obstacles to fairness in the workplace. Before you start to intentionally set DEI goals and implement supporting initiatives, it's important to get the terminology right. After all, if we don’t know what DEI really means, then how can we come up with clear strategies to pursue it, and how can we know if we’ve achieved it? Once you understand the different dimensions of DEI, you can begin to create meaningful goals and strategies that will drive representation, inclusion, and fair outcomes for all. Let’s break it down.

  • Diversity simply means difference, and so if you have a diverse workforce, you’ll have a workforce where a range of different identities across traits like ethnicity, race, gender identity, language, socioeconomic status, and (dis)ability (among many other characteristics) are represented. 
  • Equity is a term that is often mistaken for equality, but the two are not the same. If you are pursuing equality goals, you believe that everyone should be treated in the same way, regardless of differences in background, needs, opportunities and experiences. However, equality does not recognize that different people have different privileges and barriers to opportunities. So, if everyone is treated equally, it means that people who have fewer resources (for example, fewer personal connections or financial resources to gain access to a prestigious college), remain worse off. Equity, on the other hand, seeks to level the playing field by recognizing the systemic barriers that oppress marginalized and underrepresented groups and by distributing resources more fairly. In the workplace, that might mean, for instance, setting up a leadership mentoring program for groups, like women or minorities, who traditionally have fewer pathways to executive roles.
  • Inclusion is about making people feel that they are valued and welcome, and that they have opportunities to contribute. It is possible to have a diverse workforce, but one that is not inclusive. For example, you might have a workforce made up of people with a range of different religious identities and people who have none at all, but if your organization only recognizes Christian holidays, non-Christians are likely to feel excluded. You can work to improve inclusion by making sure diverse voices are heard, resources are distributed equitably, and people from different groups participate in decision making.

If you’ve already made a commitment to DEI, you’ve taken the first step on a challenging road. That’s because DEI is about so much more than a public proclamation, or the writing up of a new policy. Gestures like this are a good start, but if you are to see real change, you’ll need to follow them up with a plan for implementing specific DEI initiatives, and measuring their impact. That means setting some ambitious but achievable DEI goals, and tracking progress towards those goals. If you do this, not only will you put yourself in the best possible position to drive change, but you’ll also be demonstrating your values and commitments to your workforce and other stakeholders. 

How should goals be determined? The starting point is to think about what you want to achieve from your DEI program and initiatives. If you’ve already created a DEI strategy, you can also pull your goals from there. However, if you haven’t, this information can be gleaned from talking to your workforce to get feedback and ideas, and to learn where the gaps lie. Below, we go into more detail about how you can capture insight from your employees and other stakeholders using a survey. You can also get inspiration on how to conduct DEI research here

Once you’ve gathered your data, you’ll be able to identify where you’re lagging, and where you want to make progress. For a comprehensive DEI strategy, you should be determining goals for each of the three areas:

  • Diversity goals might include goals around recruitment, representation, and retention. For instance, you might set a goal to increase the proportion of diverse candidates in recruitment or hiring efforts, or a goal to increase the representation of traditionally marginalized groups in senior leadership.
  • Equity goals might involve investing in training initiatives that will help bring the pay rates of diverse groups into parity, or goals around improving access to promotion pathways for underrepresented groups.
  • Inclusion goals might include increasing the proportion of employees who feel that they belong at the company, or setting a goal around the establishment of employee resource groups and outreach committees.
  • Opinions, feelings, and perceptions. Organizational culture is, by its very nature, intangible and difficult to describe. So, it's vital that you regularly survey employees on their feelings and perceptions, as these insights are the clearest indicator of whether your climate is inclusive or oppressive. We recommend the use of ranked method metrics, in which you present employees with a series of statements to which they indicate their agreement, for instance on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree)  to 5 (strongly agree). Example ranked method statements you could use are:
    • I have opportunities to learn and grow here
    • I feel like I belong
    • I am listened to at this company
    • I know my contribution is valued

You can then use the results, either in aggregate or independently, to gain insight into how inclusive your organizational culture really is.

  • Demographic metrics. These are especially important in measuring progress towards your diversity and equity goals. You should capture identity metrics like LGBTQIA+ identities, gender, religious affiliation, age, and nationality, as well as data that helps you understand your employees’ backgrounds and skills in terms of aspects such as the languages they’re able to speak, the countries they’ve lived in, and where they went to school. Of course, it's important to understand how diverse your workforce and management are in terms of demographic characteristics like gender and race. However, for a really powerful analysis, use demographic metrics in combination with ranked method metrics to gain insight into how different groups perceive your organizational culture.
  • Employee metrics. These metrics can be used to evaluate how fair your policies and procedures are, as well as how inclusive your organization is. Example employee-level metrics you could track include:
    • Pay rates
    • Productivity rates
    • Promotion rates
    • Turnover rates
    • Employment status
    • Employee satisfaction
    • Intentions to quit

Combining this data with demographic metrics can be a major eye opener into your progress towards your DEI goals.

  • Initiative-level metrics. A major part of your DEI strategy will be the implementation of initiatives to reorient your company around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Although these should have an impact on employee perceptions and feelings and employee level metrics, it's also a good idea to track the immediate impact of those initiatives too. For example, you might capture data on the percentage of employees that have undertaken DEI training, or how often employees are taking you up on an offer for additional PTO days for religious holidays.
  • External metrics. Finally, in recognition of the fact that DEI shouldn’t end at the company door, consider tracking metrics on your external DEI impact. For example, you might wish to consider diversifying your supplier list or improving accessibility to your stores for people with physical disabilities. Tracking this data can help you broaden your impact to the communities you serve, and beyond.

If you’re just beginning on your DEI journey, the first thing you’ll need to do is to establish some benchmarks. These are simply points of reference or standard against which your metrics can be compared or assessed. There are three main types of benchmark we recommend:

  • Baselines. As a starting point, you’ll need to take the pulse of your organization, through a climate survey (we have customizable templates here). You might ask questions like:
    • What is the current gender breakdown by department, or managerial level?
    • Do staff know what DEI means?
    • To what extent do employees sense an inclusive corporate culture?
    • Are certain demographic groups less satisfied, or have greater intentions to quit than others?

Once you have data on this and other metrics of interest, you have a baseline to compare progress as you embark on your DEI journey. Regularly gathering the same data over time will allow you to see the impact of your initiatives—giving you something to celebrate and further motivate your workforce, or helping you to understand what isn’t working.

  • Targets. Targets shouldn’t be confused with goals. Goals are what you want to achieve through your DEI initiatives, while targets describe the change you want to see through your metrics. For example, in order to achieve your goal of better representation of minorities at the executive level, you might set a target of recruiting 50% more minorities annually. Then, you can gather data and compare it against your targets to see if you’re on track to reach your goals.
  • External benchmarks. Although DEI is about your internal practices, it's a good idea to look beyond your company to see how you’re doing relative to your competition. If competitors are doing well on DEI, they’re likely to shout about it (here’s a good example from Airbnb), and you can use that information as a benchmark to track your own performance. Your competitors are also a great source of information on best practices to help you achieve your goals.

A starting point for your research is an employee survey, which can gather information on your workers’ feelings about inclusion and opportunities, their perceptions of the organizational culture, and their experiences (more on that below). However, don’t overlook the other data at your fingertips. Other useful sources of information include:

  • Exit surveys which offer useful feedback on your organizational culture, policies, procedures, and practices
  • Employee records which can help you determine how diverse your workforce is, including how diverse different layers of the organization are 
  • HR data on things like employee turnover, overtime hours worked and absenteeism rates—a useful barometer of how supportive your climate is, and how satisfied your employees are
  • Performance management reviews to help track whether rewards are being distributed fairly

Need more inspiration? Take a look at this article on how different companies undertake their own DEI-focused research to inspire their goals and strategies.

Diversity, equity and inclusion surveys are a great way to track and measure DEI in the workplace. Although you’ll be able to gather some insight into your organizational culture and the impact on your employees from surveys like employee engagement surveys, only a specially designed diversity, equity, and inclusion survey will help you get a full picture. If you’re curious, you can learn how we did this here. A DEI-focused survey can help you gather:

  • Insight into employee commitment to DEI. We said it above but it bears repeating: DEI programs are doomed to failure unless every member of the organization is on board. A DEI survey is an excellent way to make sure that your leaders and employees are on the journey with you. We recommend asking survey respondents to indicate their personal commitment to DEI on a Likert scale or similar.
  • Evaluations of the overall diversity, equity, and inclusion culture. For example, you might ask employees to indicate their agreement with statements like “This company celebrates diversity,” or “Leadership at this company prioritizes diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
  • Specifics on employee experiences. For example, employees might be able to comment on how fair they believe performance management reviews have been.
  • Awareness of, and feedback on DEI initiatives. This can help you to track knowledge and awareness of any new initiatives you’ve implemented and whether employees find them useful and fit for purpose.
  • Comments or suggestions for improvements. Mostly, you’ll be collecting quantifiable data via surveys, which will allow you to set those all important benchmarks and track progress towards goals. However, don’t miss the opportunity to use open-ended questions to gather comments and suggestions about what’s working, and what isn’t. While you could use a focus group or similar to gather this insight, employees are more likely to disclose their true feelings on an anonymous survey

We have a range of templates available to get you started. And, once you’ve designed your survey, you can re-run it quarterly or annually, to track progress on your key metric. If this seems overwhelming, SurveyMonkey HR solutions can help you gather a vast range of employee level data, with anonymity settings that will empower your employees to really speak their minds. 

So you’ve set some DEI goals and metrics and started to measure progress towards those goals. The next step is to apply some existing best practices to accelerate your progress and make sure your DEI focus becomes a movement—not just a moment. Here are some tips.

  • Establish accountability and responsibility—from the top down. One of the fastest ways to undermine your DEI goals is to fail to make sure that every member of the organization knows that they are accountable for their achievement. It's fine to recruit a specialist DEI champion, or even to create a department that is responsible for measuring and tracking metrics—many organizations do. However, all employees should know that they need to do their part to make sure that DEI goals are met. That starts from the top—leaders need to demonstrate their commitment through, for example, codifying behavioral standards, holding their direct reports responsible for their DEI actions, and identifying DEI awards for the company to pursue.
  • Celebrate Heritage and History Months.  Every month of the year gives you a new opportunity to demonstrate your support for marginalized groups. For example, October is LGBTQIA+ History Month, February is Black History Month, and May is Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month. Organizing events around annual heritage and history months is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Set up some Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Employee Resource Groups are networks of employees organized around employee identity or employee experiences. For example, you might establish a women’s leadership ERG, or an LGBTQIA+ network. They can build community, provide support members, aid in professional and personal development, and provide you with crucial feedback on your DEI strategy. Most ERGs are voluntary, but you might consider supporting participation by giving employees some percentage of paid time, or recognizing their contribution through leadership development opportunities.
  • Offer DEI Training. DEI training is now available from a wide range of providers, and may be valuable in helping foster an understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion, promoting positive interaction between employees, and reducing discrimination and prejudice. In particular, unconscious bias training can help people to recognize stereotypes they hold of others—stereotypes they may not even be aware of.
  • Share your successes, as well as your failures. In addition to setting DEI goals and tracking progress towards them, regularly reporting on your results is crucial, even if you’re not quite hitting your targets yet. Not only does reporting on your progress promote awareness of all the hard work you’re doing, but it demonstrates your commitment to DEI among key stakeholders, including employees, partners, customers, and suppliers. This will help you build a stronger DEI-focused culture, build legitimacy and trust, and put you in an excellent position to achieve your goals.

For more ideas about how to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace, we’ve prepared this handy guide.

Ready to set some DEI goals? Let us help! If you’re ready to go it alone, we have templates and guidance from experts here. Or, tell us what you need and let us do the hard work for you.

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