Why we’re sharing the results of our Workplace Equity IQ DEI audit
We're sharing our extensive culture audit to inspire others to ask hard questions, uncover employees' authentic experiences, and keep working to be the kind of employer that always puts its people first.
Why would a company publish a sensitive internal culture audit? In our case, we know public disclosure drives more accountability. And we want to prompt a conversation that needs to be had.
By and large, corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs are not working. Despite highly public, highly emphasized efforts to improve, desirable employers like leading tech companies have barely budged their employment demographics in the past four years.
And this isn’t confined to tech. DEI has gotten unprecedented amounts of focus over the past few years from businesses in every field. A recent Momentive survey of over 2,000 HR professionals from different industries found that 87%¹ said that their companies had made DEI commitments in the past year and a half—but that only 20% were confident they would meet those goals. It’s easier to make promises than it is to effect change.
Part of the problem is that influential decision-makers aren’t seeing their workplaces clearly. DEI is a complicated topic, which means that getting honest feedback about it requires nuance, appropriate feedback channels, and courage.
As a chief diversity officer myself, I know the power of transparency. We decided to share our analysis into DEI at Momentive as a way to illustrate the power of insights and inspire an honest conversation about what it takes to grow and change.
The state of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Momentive
In August of last year, Momentive launched a new solution to help companies understand the state of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their workplace. The idea was to go beyond simple demographic numbers and dig deeper into employees’ lived experiences. We decided to pilot the program on ourselves.
We were scrupulous about gathering feedback in a way that gave us context about who was speaking without threatening their anonymity, so we’re confident in its accuracy. (The process involved assigning employees randomized IDs, running intersectional analysis and identifying key trends.) The results allowed us to see where different groups’ experiences diverged and get an overall picture of our company culture.
Where we are doing well
Many of our findings were validating: 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. What’s more, 97% of Momentive employees agree that DEI is important to our leadership team.
So, we know that our efforts to create an inclusive culture are having an effect. Our highly active employee resource groups, DEI-related company goals, and policies related to inclusion and social impact are all likely reasons that we rate so highly in these areas. Over the past few years, we’ve also prioritized mental health through “flex days” and digital benefits and led ambitious campaigns for equity in the workplace.
There are also some areas where we’re still weak, but trending positively. While our workforce is only 6% Black, our audit found that Black employees were more likely than any other group to have been in their current role for less than a year (indicating that they were either recently hired or recently promoted). Momentive has a lot of growing left to do when it comes to racial diversity, but the data shows our hiring managers are taking our DEI goals to heart.
One of the ways that we’ve held ourselves accountable for positive change is by setting public diversity goals every year. This transparency has worked well for us, and our intentionality around every hiring decision ensures that we get ahead of a hiring urgency by kicking off recruiting engagements early to mitigate bias creeping into our processes. We also believe that steps like these make our priorities clearer to our employees and prospective hires, setting the tone for our culture.
Where we have work to do
As we expected, our results weren’t perfect. We are still very much on a path to growth. The areas where we’re falling short are, unfortunately, extremely common. There were three that stood out.
- Diversity in leadership. I’m proud of the steps we’ve made toward diversity overall, but there is a radical disparity between the composition of our workforce (25% white men) and the composition of our leadership (44% white men). This problem is pervasive throughout the business world, and is one of the most insidious ways that we maintain systems of oppression.
I recently read that only 16% of C-suite executives at Fortune 100 companies are people of color, despite the fact that they represent 40% of the overall population. We as a society aren’t pushing hard enough for true equity. Changing the status quo doesn’t happen passively.
At Momentive, we plan to start leveling the playing field by investing in career development for employees from marginalized groups in an initiative called “Path to Growth.” The idea is to build up incredible leaders from within the company so that we don’t have to look externally for new talent. The program is still in its earliest stages, so we still have a lot of work left to do, but I am optimistic about its impact.
- Transparency around promotions: This was one of our most worrying findings. Twenty-two percent of employees did not agree with the statement that promotions are based on skills, rather than status or power.
There are two potential problems here—perception of inequity and lack of transparency. Though some employees do not believe promotions are awarded fairly and they are hungry for insights into the reasoning behind them. The next step for us will be to review related policies and practices to identify areas we can clarify, expand on, and improve. There probably won’t be easy answers, but there might be changes that will even the playing field.
This is a topic that we will continue to ask about and track over time so that we can measure our improvement. We may need to try a few different strategies before we see a difference.
In general, opaque promotion and compensation processes disproportionately harm people from marginalized groups. Yet, it’s still the overwhelming norm. Even Glassdoor, a company founded on transparency, only released the logic behind its compensation awards in 2020, and that was considered a radical step.
Part of my work at Momentive will be to help employees feel like they know where they stand—an effort that every company should be striving for.
- Reducing cultural pressure: Even though our employees rated our culture positively, 22% still said that they felt the need to hide some aspect of themselves in order to “fit in.” This number was consistent across every group, regardless of race, gender identity, etc.
The problem with “culture fit” has been heavily criticized in Silicon Valley. It’s often worked as a way to perpetuate bias and can make many people feel excluded. But it’s also hard to avoid. People tend to gravitate toward companies that share their values and people within those companies that share their interests and outlooks. The trick is creating a culture where differences are celebrated, so that being “out of place” is totally okay.
Some people will always prefer to keep their personal lives private, and certain topics are inappropriate for the workplace, but companies, including ours, should be encouraging and empowering free expression and continue to build a sense of belonging for all. Our work here will be to create more explicit openness to differences.
Deciding to publish these results wasn’t easy. We still have growth left to do. But these conversations need to be had, and companies need to understand that they have the ability to understand and improve diversity, equity, and inclusion if they’re willing to commit to asking some hard questions, while preparing themselves to hear the tough responses. We need to start following good intentions with meaningful action. Gandhi once said that, “Truth never damages a cause that is just.” I’ll have to trust his wisdom.
¹Methodology: From a survey of 2,400 HR professionals at the Equity at Work conference, hosted by Momentive on November 3, 2021.