In recent years, there’s been a rise in public discourse around the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in the workplace. While progress has been made, underrepresented employee voices continue to experience inequitable challenges with doing their best work in small and large companies alike. At the same time, research continues to demonstrate the value that diverse workforces create for business success

Effective workplace DEIB efforts are not only desperately needed, they are rightfully expected and demanded by workers—but that doesn’t make the work of DEIB any easier for companies looking to truly enable positive and sustainable change. Let’s take a look at some best practices—and some practices that, while well-intended, don’t typically lead to success.

Remediation is not sufficient

The intention behind DEIB work matters. DEIB efforts that are implemented solely to fill legal or compliance requirements, or for marketing or PR purposes, tend to fall short when it comes to real impact on the employee experience. The reasons why a company puts resources into DEIB efforts is key to the outcome. 

It’s important to ask: Is the activity or process primarily a reactive response to a specific issue? If it’s a reactive remediation activity, then the real work may be centered around perception of the brand (a “PR problem”). In this scenario, DEIB is perceived as a problem to be fixed so leaders can refocus on their business responsibilities—and it’s likely that any solutions put forward are not focused on the deeper systemic work it takes to make real progress.

Put simply: platitudes don’t lead to meaningful, sustainable change. To succeed, DEIB work must be connected to a deeper belief that comes from real introspection about the company’s culture and practices, its goals, and commitment to change. 

Right-size DEIB efforts

As a first step, before launching DEIB programs or strategies, I recommend that leaders realistically assess their organization’s capacity for change. I refer to this as right-sizing DEIB efforts to align with current capability. It’s so easy in today’s social world to get caught up in “keeping up with the Jones,” where companies are hyper ambitious on trendy DEIB efforts that don’t reflect their reality. Smaller, scrapper organizations like early-stage startups may be so focused on keeping the lights on that DEIB efforts need to be more grassroots and episodic. Their initiatives should vary greatly from larger, more complex organizations where DEIB becomes more strategic and integrated. There are real operational, resourcing, cost, and logistical considerations that must be factored to get DEIB programs up and running. Regardless of organization size, it all comes back to having an honest dialogue about organizational conviction: how much does the company want to change, where, how, and what areas are most pressing? Programs can be appropriately resourced and executed based on this information. Most importantly, see this as a continuous journey of growth—not a destination. Think about what can be achieved now, and how that enables the next phase. 

Starting the conversation

In literally every conversation I’ve had with DEIB leaders, there is a direct correlation between the success of their efforts and the senior leadership’s belief in the value of DEIB. My dad always said, “fish never see the water,” meaning it’s easy to forget that what surrounds you is only “normal” to you because it’s all that you’ve experienced. In the typical company, the majority of leaders are not from a minority or marginalized group—so they must intentionally put themselves in uncomfortable situations, pull themselves out of the water, and go on an educational and awareness journey to have meaningful breakthroughs. When they step back and recognize the magnitude of how different their lived experience can be from others of much different backgrounds, it can be shocking. Leaders of companies can start by asking each other a few simple questions: 

  • What is the real value proposition for us focusing on DEIB? How does it make us a better company?
  • How is DEIB reflected in our mission, vision, values? What does our culture compel for DEIB?
  • What are our blind spots? What do we need to better understand about our company and our people to better enable a focus on DEIB? 

By responding honestly to these questions in preparation for making changes, leaders will be better equipped to put metrics in place that hold themselves and the company they serve accountable. Metrics and data are the next step. Sound data as the foundation is an obvious expectation for business decision making, and DEIB shouldn’t be any different. If we want change, we need to work to achieve it—and measure our progress.

How to approach DEIB analytics

Too often, DEIB challenges are treated like a software bug—as if it’s a system error to be decoded and fixed. While well-intentioned, this approach is problematic. DEIB is an ongoing practice, not a one-and-done endeavor. To truly understand the nature and root causes of challenges impacting a healthy DEIB program, we need to measure beneath the surface and evaluate the holistic employee experience to gauge how it is performing against the intended design. The real power of people analytics arises when we understand both the collective and underrepresented experience. It’s important not to analyze insights from underrepresented employee groups in a vacuum. Collect the same data from everyone, then compare answers across demographics. The delta represents where something is getting in the way of having a well designed experience for all. Identifying patterns is key.  

Analysis that is focused on better understanding differentiated employee experiences will require data inputs to be more dynamic. This empowers you to find insights beyond the obvious.  Consider how companies collect demographic information. While much of the purpose of collecting demographic data might be driven by compliance requirements (like Equal Employment Opportunity reporting in the U.S.), this can be very limiting for driving employee experience insights. For example, The broad demographic category of “Asian” does not recognize that the fully lived experience of a Southeast Asian person can be far different than someone who is East Asian or American from Asian heritage. Similarly, data on “African-Americans” might include individuals who have recently immigrated from Africa as well as Americans who identify as Black—a fundamentally different experience. We must preserve the capacity to unlock it in all dimensions by being more expansive in categorical representation. Simply providing the option to select multiple categories along with an open text option can go a long way for collecting more insightful data, as well as enabling employees to feel more seen.

Measuring the moments

Timing for when you collect data is important as well. Periodic census and pulse surveys are  helpful, but it’s important to consider practices that measure the everyday employee experience as well. It’s essential to evaluate the employee journey in totality across different intersections within the organization, particularly for core HR programs. Then, discern patterns and differences—and ask more questions. Does the black employee experience look different when compared to the normative data? If you find a gap, it’s time to dig in and understand why it exists. Programs intended to serve everyone’s needs equally may be biased, leaving employees engaging and experiencing it differently. Data collection and analysis will help you to uncover this.

Tap every opportunity to learn and capture insights. This includes when candidates are interviewed and onboarded, as well as when performance and development conversations happen. The power comes in aggregating data to get a full-spectrum, holistic view of someone’s employee journey. When you can aggregate data from one-on-ones, updates, recognition and feedback, then combine that with survey data, that’s when patterns emerge. For instance, if certain populations aren’t having one-on-one meetings regularly, why is that? All touchpoints are important, so if certain groups aren’t getting as many, your organization has an opportunity to make it right.  

The key takeaways

There’s no doubt that diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging programs are vital to the health of any organization. Efforts often fall short when they aren’t approached from a place of true understanding from leadership and alignment with organizational values and priorities. Right-sizing your DEIB programs to your organizational capability is a good approach when first beginning DEIB efforts, and actively building out a roadmap for growth that aligns with increased capability and conviction.

Analytics are a good forcing factor, so take a holistic approach that combines point-in-time surveys with ongoing insights across touchpoints. Data modeling that is flexible and customizable will enable you to parse information and dig deeper as needed to ensure your employees have a consistent experience, regardless of their intersectionality. By removing barriers that prevent employees from bringing their authentic selves to work, you’ll have a better chance for sustained and meaningful DEIB success.

Maurice Tuiasosopo Bell Maurice Tuiasosopo Bell is leading the IDEA team at Lattice as Sr. Director, DEIB & People Analytics. He previously led Lattice's People Operations department overseeing People Operations, Total Rewards, Workplace Experience, and the HR HelpCenter. Before Lattice, Maurice led the People team at Off the Grid, a food technology & services startup. He has extensive prior experience leading employee engagement and various cultural programs across various industries with companies such as Union Back, Facebook, Electronic Arts, and Pacific Gas & Electric. Maurice is deeply passionate about cultivating culture through a focus on the intentional design of programs, practices, and processes that bring to life a company's mission and values.
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