Moving the Needle on Strategic Diversity: 6 Steps to Advance Your D&I Program

In this blog post, Affirmity’s Diversity Advocate, Pamela Pujo, reviews results from our 2019 Strategic Diversity Measurement Survey and offers six steps to advance your D&I program.

The statement “Diversity and inclusion work is never finished” not only reflects the reality of the continuous process necessary to grow a sustainable strategic program, but also the adjustments required due to ever-evolving workforce demographics, new generations entering the workforce, and culture shifts. Our D&I team has seen first-hand that diversity programs do not grow and advance linearly, but with a sporadic progression and require iterative adjustments to continue enhancing the workplace and improving business outcomes.

Strategic Diversity Measurement Survey

To better understand the traits of leading and trailing organizations’ measurement of their strategic diversity programs, Affirmity partnered with Human Capital Media Research and Advisory Group on the 2019 Strategic Diversity Measurement Survey. This year’s study built upon our 2015 D&I study with HCM. The findings show that the needle has moved significantly on what constitutes an advanced D&I program. But the key finding from the study was that most respondents still feel their organizations need to improve measuring and assessing the impact of their D&I programs.

D&I Challenges Faced

In both 2015 and 2019, many organizations surveyed reported struggling with advancing their mission and commitment to D&I. The challenges they face show great commonality, including obtaining diversity demographic metrics, establishing benchmarks against industry standards appropriate for their organization, and measuring their progress against business goals. The issue most cited for not improving the effectiveness of their D&I measurement is the availability of measurement resources with an appropriate skill set, with nearly 60% having no measurement expertise available on their team.

Six Steps to Sustainable Success

Our years of experience in the field have demonstrated six essential steps that are required to elevate to a strategic diversity program. The specific goals and objectives will differ by organization, but the overarching aim in a strategic program must be embedding D&I activities throughout the organization. A strategic program’s goals should also include:

  • creating an inclusive culture
  • increasing employee engagement
  • fostering innovation
  • improving collaboration.

To move the needle, below are the best practices to elevate your program to a strategic diversity level.

1. Track Your Workforce Demographics and D&I Program Effectiveness

Our survey with HCM showed that nearly all organizations track basic workforce diversity demographics in some manner, either using an integrated system, specialized software, or a manual process. However, there is a sharp drop-off in tracking secondary and program effectiveness metrics. Collecting information that’s as granular as possible on your current workforce and your program’s effectiveness is a basic tenet of a strategic diversity program. Below are the demographic categories that we recommend tracking:

Affirmity's workforce demographics diagram with the organizational, secondary and primary goals we recommend tracking

But just tracking a lot of metrics is not the goal. The secret is to get at the measurements that are going to provide your leadership team with meaningful insights to uncover issues and opportunities. Tracking demographics and program effectiveness elevates your program from “gut feel” judgments and provides an objective perspective, allowing you to more easily spot, analyze, and address problems.

2. Assess Demographic Representation and Program Effectiveness

After you have put the measurement tracking in place , you must analyze the activities you are performing, determine if they are meeting your workforce needs and organization goals, and ascertain whether they provide an accurate view of your demographics. To bring the data to life, you need to paint a picture that clearly highlights to your organization and leadership the areas requiring more focus.

For example, identifying issues like problematic drop-offs in recruiting pipelines, or developing key predictors for dissatisfaction and turnover, and determining areas for intervention. Organizations also need analytics expertise to understand workforce diversity data and to clearly and succinctly communicate the information. Whether internal or external, access to experts in workforce analytics is critical to a successful strategic diversity program.

3. Design Your D&I Framework and Strategy Based on the Results of the Assessment

It’s important to consider several factors when determining your framework and strategy. Most importantly, align the D&I framework and strategy with your organizational objectives and needs. The framework needs to be data-driven to ensure you get the attention of leaders, managers, and employees. Be sure to consider not only long-term targets but also intermediate and short-term goals.

You need to also take into account qualitative factors to complement your quantitative efforts, ensuring you do not lose the human element in your analysis. Through conversations with staff and leadership, you can learn if your framework and objectives are realistic and relevant. Your objectives will be unique and differ by department and team. However, the overarching goal should focus on strategically embedding D&I throughout your organization.

4. Measure and Benchmark to Highlight Progress or Lack of Progress

The power of data is when it can be put against a backdrop to make more relevant and tell a complete story. Tracking a variety of internal workforce data is just one piece of the diversity puzzle; you must also benchmark the data against applicable industry data. Comparing to industry and census data can pinpoint where your organization stands in its diversity and representation compared to relevant industry or community information.

5. Report Results to Leadership, and Internal and External Stakeholders

Critical to leveraging the metrics you are tracking is establishing a regular cadence of reporting to leadership to identify areas of success and those in need of improvement. This will increase program transparency and instill accountability across the organization. Create reports that align with your structure and tell a story to improve relevance for your audience. Make sure your reports provide insight into root causes, initiatives to address, and progress to date.

6. Repeat the Above Steps and Make Changes Accordingly

“Rinse and Repeat”—continue iterating and moving through the above steps as your program matures and the workforce evolves. Ensure you provide regular updates to both management and the entire organization. Create and distribute detailed action plans with expected outcomes and a timeframe that support your D&I objectives. Our survey proved that advanced D&I organizations have more leadership buy-in because they secure this support through clear and consistent reporting to leadership.

Integration, Not Isolation

Based on our years of experience partnering with organizations on their D&I programs and verified by countless studies, having a strategic diversity program is imperative for all organizations. Those without a comprehensive D&I strategy face being left behind. To move the needle on developing a strategic diversity program, you must continually focus on integrating D&I initiatives throughout the organization and not isolating them as a side project.

A strategic D&I program also means collecting a thorough set of workforce diversity metrics, benchmarking against industry peers, utilizing robust analytics, developing clear accountability, and communicating frequently with executives and staff. Approaching D&I from a strategic business perspective will embed workplace diversity, produce better business outcomes, and boost the bottom line.

To learn more, download our white paper.

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