Diversity and inclusion: how lack of traction is a road paved with good intentions
Why do so many diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives fail? Because we’re not measuring what we need to and the way we set objectives is stuck in the past.
‘I am proud to say that our organisation has resolved their diversity issues. We have a great people leader in our Chief People Officer who has always held diversity, equity and nclusion as a top personal priority. In fact, we agreed that it was to be one of their key objectives this year. It’s also down to all of you, the members of staff who are passionate in their support for this initiative.’
Sadly, I’ve never heard a CEO stand up and be able to say these words. And yet it seems so logical – your organisation, and in particular your leaders, are passionate about the diversity of the business. The employees all support the initiatives that should make this change a reality. In fact, I am certain that many businesses would be able to read the statement above if the first line was removed.
So what could be holding your organisation back from making serious moves forward on your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journey?
In my opinion there are two key factors at play here – the lack of effective measurements and the way that traditional objectives are set in organisations.
‘Measure what matters’
To make a journey forward, you have to establish a baseline before making a decision on how far you are going to try to move. Although you may be recording diversity data in your HRIS or in your recruitment record, is that data accurate?
Did you ask your employees when they first joined your organisation 20 years ago, and have not asked or updated since then? Do you ask about all the different diverse elements of their life, such as religious beliefs, sexual identity and sexual orientation, and have you developed a culture that would allow your employees to feel safe in providing such information?
Making sure this information is recorded is a starting point, but it is only the tip of what you really need to know – much of diversity, equity and inclusion stems from perceptions and feelings of the employees. How comfortable do they feel? Do they believe that they have an equitable voice to their colleagues? Would they recommend the organisation to their network of friends from more diverse backgrounds?
Are you just going to state that diversity, equity and inclusion are important to you, and carry on failing to be the change that you proclaim you want to be?
One of the best ways to carry this out is by utilising a survey tool. Importantly, when you are looking at the tools make sure that it is able to carry out sentiment analysis – an employee may be checking a box that gives a positive response to the company, but then writing a comment that makes it clear that they don’t really feel that way. Each of those two aspects are important and the disparity in itself can give you hints as to key areas where the employees may need help to feel comfortable in coming forward.
The survey is great for setting a baseline and allowing you to create aspirational objectives of how you want the needle to be changed. Not only are you going to measure the changes in the diverse makeup of your organisation, but also the important changes in sentiment that occurs when the survey is repeated.
Objectives require transparency and action
Those of you who have read my previous articles will know my negative feelings towards traditional ‘Managing by Objectives’ methodology that is currently used by a large proportion of organisations. Instead I’m a proponent of ‘Objectives and Key Results’, the goal setting methodology used by Google and many other forward-looking companies to achieve the great levels of performance that they enjoy. Looking at this specific diversity area is a great way to understand why.
In the traditional objective model, the Chief People Officer (CPO) or HR Director (HRD) will set the diversity objective in discussion with the CEO or a few of the senior executives. It may be proclaimed as a ‘Key Initiative’ in the company meeting, but the objective itself is likely to remain visible only to the senior team and the CPO or HRD.
An employee on the front-line is unlikely to know the full details of the objective – what is the measure of success that has been put in place? How are we tracking against that measure? These are two areas that are likely to be hidden from everyone else. Very quickly, the lack of transparency and the lack of tracking mean that this objective is forgotten by all but the objective holder.
And the CPO is busy, and has many competing objectives. Diversity is hard to change, so it naturally gets left on the ‘important to focus on, but I’ll have to work out how’ list. Perhaps cascading the objective down to the People/HR Managers? But what can the CPO cascade? The objective of focusing on increasing diversity is not something that is easy to split out.
When dealing with DEI objectives, it is important first to set the benchmark and present the objectives in a way that makes them trusted, transparent and collaborative.
Often this leads to a cascade of ‘projects’ to the People Managers – again, agreed between the CPO and individual manager with no further visibility. These can be cascaded down again, with a dictate from manager to team member on what they should focus on achieving.
This causes two issues – the team member often ends up with project tasks that they don’t understand in the wider scheme. ‘How is carrying out ‘X’ going to help us become more diverse?’ and also because of the cascade, they end up with objectives that weren’t organically created by them to fix the actual problem – they are watered-down cascades of a subset of someone else’s objectives.
Also, two people can be working on similar objectives in different parts of the team or organisation, and have no knowledge that they could be supporting and helping each other. This means potential duplication, or worse, two separate tasks being created that pull the organisation in conflicting directions.
And who knows how many of these objectives have been completed? I might achieve mine, but the rest of the team might not. It’s possible I’ll never know!
What about the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology?
The OKR methodology is different due to the transparency in place. Everyone will see the progress of the objectives, which holds the CPO accountable to the progress. Any roadblocks to the achievement of any of the aligned objectives are also easy to see and to help. And if the aligned objectives are not the right ones to achieve the main diversity goal, agile changes can be made, with objectives being altered, created, reassigned or removed.
Also, the key results aspect of the OKRs allows for the linking of the specific targets to a number of measurable results. Rather than holding a single target, this allows a balance of targets to be placed against an objective. When dealing with a complex objective such as improving DEI, multiple factors can be included to make a truly multi-faceted goal. And, because you are surveying your employees, the improvements in results from the survey can be used to measure and prove the effective changes that are being made.
Importantly, because the framework allows for the concept of objectives being aligned upwards as well as cascaded down, those within the business who come up with initiatives that will help achieve the main objective can become part of the measures and part of the overall solution.
So, in summary, when dealing with DEI objectives, it is important first to set the benchmark and present the objectives in a way that makes them trusted, transparent and collaborative and holds the business measurably accountable, and then to measure to show the progress.
Ask yourself the question – are you set up to make this important change happen in your organisation, or are you just going to state that diversity, equity and inclusion are important to you, and carry on failing to be the change that you proclaim you want to be?
Bruce is an expert in HR Software, with a particular focus on Performance Management, Talent and Agile Execution of Business goals. He is an advocate of the OKR Methodology and aims to help businesses understand how they can better help their employees to adjust to the changing world we all exist in. He believes in the power of Software to...