To some, the idea of creating an inclusive workplace culture has a touchy-feely aura to it. There is a belief that the effort, while feeling good, might be hopelessly “fuzzy,” driven by vague and hard-to-measure qualitative criteria.
It’s true that there is an art to approaching diversity, equity and inclusion. But that doesn’t mean that organizations need to abandon the science.
Metrics matter when it comes to inclusion efforts. Measuring the outcomes you want and your progress against them is essential. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure.
This emphasis on hard numbers shouldn’t be foreign to executives. Every organization lives and dies by its numbers, whether it’s financial performance for a publicly traded company, or fundraising efforts for a non-profit.
A similar approach should be used when building an inclusive culture.
Start by using data to identify trends. For example, if your entry-level employees are evenly split 50/50 by gender, but the executive level has a 90/10 split, that tells you that something is happening between the time women or people of color are hired and when they should start ascending the ladder.
Is there some type of implicit bias baked into the systems that are in place for performance evaluation? Are there any barriers or policies that would encourage a high performer to voluntarily leave the organization?
Likewise, if the composition of your board is totally divergent from society at large, that tells you that something is amiss with the way talent recruited and appointed for your organization. It’d be easy to say that a lack of diversity at that upper level is a “pipeline issue”; the harder path is to examine the processes and practices that might be causing that gap.
Art and science
This is how art and science work together for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. The data will help identify trends, and surface gaps and inconsistencies. In any committed organization, this will then compel them to start looking differently at the way their operation is structured.
And that is where the art comes in. As an organization, you will need to do some deep introspection around the systems for everything from hiring and recruitment to talent development, and think about how they might need to be tweaked. You will also need to engage with your workforce and ask them direct questions about what they perceive as barriers.
You won’t be able to do any of that effectively, however, without that foundation of data. The science has to come first, helping to identify problem areas. The art follows, helping you tackle those problem areas.
Transparency with information
It’s worth noting that amid all this art and science, transparency of data is something to be encouraged. Numbers should be shared with the entire workforce, even if — or rather, especially if — it uncovers some glaring discrepancies or disparities between gender, race or other groups within the organization.
Why? For starters your employees are sentient beings. They have eyes. You’re not fooling anybody by not sharing your diversity numbers.
This type of transparency requires an environment where people are “comfortable being uncomfortable” and dealing with potentially unflattering portraits of the organization. You have to start with the numbers and what they’re showing, and use that as a guide for next steps.
Nonetheless, there will still be some organizations that are reluctant to embrace transparency if the numbers reveal significant underrepresentation among certain races or genders. That’s because the natural next question is: Why does the data look like this? Why do the trends look the way they do?
The answer in most cases will be “We don’t know,” which is an answer that executives don’t normally like to hear. Rather than take personally what the numbers show, view them as a call to action.
If leaders are not willing to at least look at the numbers and then explore the reasons behind them, how committed are they really to making any meaningful change around diversity, equity and inclusion?
And in looking at the numbers, we have to be honest about what we see, or don’t see. That doesn’t mean you are embracing quotas. That’s not the point. But we need to take seriously the complexion and other aspects of our organizations.
Which brings me to a pet peeve. It drives me crazy when executives say they don’t see color. What that says to a person of color is you don’t see “me.” I don’t believe in that because in actuality to make progress in every facet of the talent lifecycle, you have to see color — and other things that you’re missing in your organization.
Executives are expected to deliver results against numbers in every other area of their professional lives. Building a culture of inclusion within your organization should be no different, and a combination of art and science is the only way to successfully drive the effort forward.
Because diversity, equity and inclusion isn’t just about counting numbers. It’s about making the numbers count.
Anne Chow is CEO of AT&T Business, the business-customer division of AT&T, and co-author of “The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias: How to Reframe Bias, Cultivate Connection, and Create High-Performing Teams.”