Using metrics to cement the case for DEI

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Using metrics to cement the case for DEI

In a field focused on improving subjective lived experiences, data tells a story that can't be misinterpreted or ignored.

Colette Des Georges

April 13, 2022 | 7 min read

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It’s easy to get companies on board with supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in principle. Few people think that inequality is a good thing. Yet even among leaders who are fully committed to DEI, getting resources for DEI initiatives can be like pulling teeth—to say nothing about leaders who only pretend to care.

Some of this hesitancy comes from the fact that many people think of equity and inclusion as unmeasurable. If there’s no way to understand whether a program is working, is it worth investing in? If you can’t prove that a cultural problem exists, how do you know it’s really there?

The best way to build a case for DEI programs or make it more of a priority for bigwigs is to start collecting metrics—or to promise to in the future. 

How metrics can facilitate the DEI commitment

Outside of high-level demographic numbers, DEI metrics can be elusive. Capturing an accurate and complete picture requires you to understand multiple viewpoints, which might be different or even in direct conflict with one another.

It can be tempting to rely on a “general sense” when it comes to equity or inclusion. But that can be dangerous—especially for leaders who tend to have a very different perception of their company than their teams do.

Our recent DEI disconnect research revealed some profound discrepancies between senior leaders and the average employee:

  • Nearly 50% of Latinx employees reported feeling pressure to change aspects of their behavior or appearance to fit into their workplace culture, while only 30% of white managers believed their diverse employees experience such pressure.
  • While almost 80% of leaders thought their diverse employees have “professional allies”, only 61% of Latinx, 63% of Black, and 62% of multi-racial employees agreed.
  • Fewer than 30% of white managers think employes worry that reporting discrimination would result in some kind of backlash for them, but almost half of Asian employees reported feeling that concern.

Leaders are unlikely to face bias or harassment at work, or to hear about it from employees who want to maintain a good impression. And much of inclusion has to do with internal perception—do people feel comfortable being themselves at work? Do they know about the opportunities available to them? Do promotions seem fair?

Equity and inclusion are just as important as diversity, even if they’re harder to measure. But the right statistic can tell a story that’s impossible to ignore. Our own DEI audit certainly did—both in what we’re doing right and where we need to invest in improvement. 

  • Some of our findings were deeply affirming: 96% of our employees agree that Momentive is a better place to work than other companies and 93% would recommend it to a person with their background or identity. And 97% agree that DEI is important to our leadership team.
  • Others made areas for growth crystal clear: Our workforce overall is 25% white men—but white men make up 44% of our leadership team. And, 22% of those surveyed reported feeling the need to hide some aspect of themselves in order to “fit in” (a percentage that was consistent across race and gender groups).

    These findings prompted us to kick off a career development program for people of color, to set them up for advancement into eventual leadership roles, and to think about ways to make our culture more inclusive. 

Statistics based on feedback can be just as telling as demographic numbers. Best-in-class companies track all three. DEI surveys can help you do that.

Tips for designing DEI surveys 

Protect respondents’ privacy: In designing DEI-related surveys, remember that failure to assure anonymity is a deal breaker. You need for participants to be honest and forthcoming, so they need to be certain there will be no fallout of any kind for saying things their bosses would prefer not to hear. This article explains how to keep IP addresses anonymous with SurveyMonkey. Identifiable respondent information will only be tracked and stored if you proactively choose to do so.

Keep surveys quick and easy: Maximize response rates by keeping surveys brief and to the point. Even a few statistics can be incredibly powerful. You want to ensure more people will take your survey and respondents will remain engaged to the end. You’ll need that engagement in order to support statistically valid conclusions. SurveyMonkey’s sample size calculator offers useful guidance for defining sample needs based on your target population.

Build questions from the statistics that you want: Focus on topics and issues for which findings can be actionable, where you have ideas about how to make improvements or know resources are potentially available. If you have the opportunity to tap resources to support hiring diversity, explore gaps in your company’s demographics and how they impact the organization. If you have an idea for a mentorship program, investigate people’s experiences and needs around mentoring. Avoid questions that will generate non-specific findings that offer no direction for how to respond, e.g., “People don’t think we’re a good employer.” Without knowing the reason(s) for that perception, it’s virtually impossible to do anything about it.

Allow space for feedback in areas you didn’t personally consider: Beware of letting the “DEI disconnect” color the wording or the way you frame questions. You only get answers to the questions you ask, so include at least one or two open-ended questions that give respondents the opportunity to answer questions they think you should have asked. That provides a sort of reality check that you are not overlooking or simply oblivious to an issue or experience that could be important.

Be precise, nuanced, and fearless. Pose questions neutrally and with sensitivity. Don’t shy away from questions that might elicit uncomfortable answers. That in itself telegraphs to respondents that their candid input is valued.

Tell a story that leaders can hear

Any successful storyteller will tell you the first step is to read the room. Here are a few tips for making sure your leaders grasp the key insights and implications you need them to act on.

Make clear links between DEI insights and the business outcomes leaders care about: Sharing DEI data with the leadership team will involve telling them what they should care about and how and why to act on it.To do that effectively, you need to start with what they already do care about. For example, you might have stark data points relating to employees’ feelings about inclusion and a roomful of executives who are deeply concerned about talent retention. They won’t care about your inclusion data unless you provide the clear link between the two. This might involve offering external data points for context and benchmarking, to help ground your findings and recommendations in the real competitive landscape in which the leadership team operates. 

K.I.S.S.: Keep It Short and Sweet: “That presentation was way too short!” said no C-suite denizen, ever. Communications expert Joey Asher recommends keeping presentation decks down to 10 or fewer slides. Lead with your most compelling information and call it a day. 

Look at findings through corporate values: How do the DEI survey findings align–or not–with corporate values? This analytical lens can help you prioritize the findings and tie the results to the company’s core mission as well as give leaders valuable context and help them frame their decisions for directors and shareholders.

Be tactical: Always pair a cultural finding with a proposed solution including a clear estimate of the cost. Compliments for well-executed research are great but what you’re after are endorsements of resource allocations. Make granting those wishes the course of least resistance.

Along the same lines, while the “negative/room for improvement/serious shortfall” findings provide direction and impetus for change, it’s also important to highlight the positive. Where real progress has been made, it can instill hope and enthusiasm among leaders and also provide material for the organization’s employer brand marketing, which is more important than ever as The Great Resignation continues.

DEI is inherently tricky, involving disparate experiences and points of view and, inevitably, the occasional uncomfortable conversation. For business leaders accustomed to acting on hard data, it can feel impossibly ambiguous if not downright squishy. By building the case for DEI initiatives with metrics, you give the leadership team the firm footing they need to back up the company’s talk with the resources that will drive real change.

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