Data for Diversity: How to Measure Your DEI Performance

By Alfredo Mendez on August 5, 2022 at 7:30pm

By Alfredo Mendez, Vice President of Experience and Inclusion, Robert Half

When considering the impacts of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, as in any area of business, metrics matter. By tracking, analyzing and reporting the successes and failures of your DEI programs, you can help drive improvements and dedicate resources where they’re most needed.

So, where do you start? Here are some tips to help you determine what aspects of your DEI strategy you should be measuring and how to use the data you obtain to good effect.

Distinguish goals from metrics

Your DEI efforts must begin with the end in mind. First, decide on your goals. Then, use metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) to gauge progress toward those objectives.

Metrics are relative and flexible. Two organizations with similar goals might employ different metrics or interpret the same metrics in contrasting ways. Metrics, like KPIs, should help leaders make informed decisions and provide insight into how well the company is or isn’t achieving its DEI goals. Goals tend to be fixed and absolute, as these represent the desired outcomes and objectives you are trying to achieve.

Let’s say one of your goals is to achieve equal gender representation in leadership roles by 2027. For that single goal, you might use multiple metrics. For example, you could measure the number of candidates shortlisted for senior positions who are women and break down promotions by gender.

Don’t confuse a strong performance on a single metric with achieving your goals. Equally, note that doing poorly on a metric can actually help you reach your DEI goals, provided you use the insights gained to fix whatever is causing you to fall short of your objectives.

Work out where your baselines are

To assess how well you’re doing on the journey toward achieving your DEI goals, you need to know where you started from. Therefore, one of your first tasks is to establish some baseline KPIs that measure your company’s current performance in areas like recruitment, retention and representation.

How diverse are the applicants for your open positions? Do people with certain backgrounds, experiences or abilities tend to stay longer with your organization than others? Is your leadership team more or less diverse than the company as a whole? These are all frames of reference against which you can measure your progress.

See this post for more insight on the value of building an inclusive workforce and tips for motivating your employees to embrace DEI at work.

Choose the right KPIs for your DEI goals

Once you’ve set the goals or intended outcomes of your DEI program, you can start attaching metrics to each one, establishing baselines as detailed above. For some KPIs, such as diversity of job applicants, you’ll analyze numerical data your human resources department likely already collects.

Use ranked or multiple-choice surveys for non-numerical items like employee perspectives and feelings. For example, you can ask workers to rank the statement “I feel comfortable speaking up in team meetings” on a scale from one to four, where one is “not at all,” and four is “extremely comfortable.”

To help you get started, here are five tried-and-trusted KPIs for measuring a DEI strategy:

  • Number of diverse employees in the organization — If your goal is to build a more representative workforce, it’s not enough to measure the diversity of your talent pipelines. You also need to know how many people from underrepresented groups who reach the interview stage end up being hired. If your shortlists are becoming progressively more diverse, but your company isn’t, you might use this data to support offering DEI training courses to hiring managers.
  • Retention levels by employee groups — Drill down into your retention data to discover whether certain groups of employees are more likely to quit than others. If you identify a group with particularly high levels of turnover, you can take actions such as setting up mentorship programs to help these workers feel more included and engaged. For deeper insights into why members of a group are leaving, combine retention rate data with exit interview results.
  • Diversity of leadership roles — If entry-level and mid-ranking employees from underrepresented groups struggle to rise in your organization, that’s an invaluable DEI roadblock to identify and demolish. Senior executives are the public faces of your organization, and if all those faces look the same, that could impact your employer brand and ability to attract values-driven talent. To explore whether unconscious bias or other aspects of your organizational culture could be holding back certain employees, combine this KPI with related metrics such as the demographic breakdown of workers applying for promotions.
  • Number of incident reports — It is important to require and analyze robust data before drawing wide conclusions. Most leaders will instinctively want to see reports of discrimination, microaggressions and other toxic practices decline against your baselines. However, if your organization has a history or culture of underreporting incidents, you may prefer to see this number rise in the short term and use the data to promote initiatives such as cultural awareness training. Remember that for every incident reported, a few instances were likely not. Take this data seriously.
  • Employee engagement and happiness — Don’t assume your organization will automatically become more inclusive and equitable as it becomes more diverse. Employees can become disengaged and demotivated (and consequently less productive) for reasons that have little to do with their identity or demographic. Engagement surveys will help you measure the extent to which workers feel heard, respected and fairly treated. Avoid overly abstract questions like “Do you feel included?” in favor of more specific prompts such as, “Would you advise a friend to apply for a job at this company?” and “Do you feel your manager is invested in your success?”

If your recent DEI initiatives have included Pride Month or Juneteenth celebrations, tracking KPIs may seem dull by comparison. But events and initiatives, however inspiring, are temporary. If you want to embed DEI principles into your business strategy permanently, few things are more important than measuring your progress and performance over time.

Follow Alfredo Mendez on LinkedIn.

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