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Jun 15, 2023

There’s nothing wrong with having good intentions. Targets, aspirations – whatever you want to call them – create action plans, which create (one hopes), change.

Nowhere is this ‘heart in the right place’ more evident right now than when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Spend in this area is rocketing.

With data from McKinsey finding that 39% of job seekers alone have chosen not to pursue a job due to a perceived lack of inclusion, we’re seeing record levels of expenditure being earmarked to improve things. A recent report by Global Industry Analysts Inc. found US organizations spent $7.5 billion on DEI initiatives in 2020, but this already enormous figure is predicted to more than double to $15.4 billion by 2026.

The trouble is though, intention may be laudable, but it doesn’t always guarantee results.

Lack of the ‘right’ DEI data

The simple fact is that much of this spend could be going to waste because far too often, organizations are not putting in effort to collect and analyze DEI comprehensive data.

Instead they only tend to do what is required by regulations to show they are compliant.

Few companies understand that quantitative data alone isn’t enough for a complete DEI strategy.

What they actually need are more qualitative inputs – stories show a much fuller picture of what an organization looks like and how it’s performing.

While boards may want to keep these stories under lock and key, it’s even more important that they begin to share them so that other organizations have a better idea of where to set benchmarks and learn lessons from others.

So where do HRDs need to start when it comes to building more comprehensive DEI data?

Thorough, thoughtful data collection

It makes sense to start at the very beginning – data collection. But, basic metrics are only just the start of where some of the problems begin.

For instance – many people are reluctant to self-identify – which makes it difficult to create data on who works for an organization and what their gender and race is in the first place. The trouble is, when barriers start to emerge for getting even this very shallow level of detail, it is typically where organizations stop.

They shouldn’t though. Within the big, broad boundaries – such as ethnicty – are micro-populations – like the neurodivergent, for example.

The reluctance to self-identify adds a challenging layer to surveying micro-populations, but if you only record data about the largest populations, you’ll be sure to lose the smaller ones that employees really identify with.

Remember: These are people, not just data records. If you only serve the largest populations, the small ones will be harder to retain and recruit, and will never have a chance to grow.

Another point to remember, is that a more comprehensive look digs deeper than just gender and race, and instead identifies thing like the roles employees hold, or who is being offered advancement opportunities, or who is leaving.

This additional dataset creates context for your organization, so you can better understand trends and what you may need to do about them.

For instance, in MiQ’s 2022 Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity Accountability (IDEA) report, year-over-year data revealed the biggest increase of BIPOC employees was at the leadership level — up from 11% to 21%.

We’re now able to put those numbers in perspective based on our hiring pace and retention rate.

Transparency of data and analysis

Making results public can offer further opportunities for progress — not just internally, but for other organizations, too.

One way to do this is to unite with industry partners in DEI efforts by offering your strategy and toolkit to them and tailoring it to their needs.

If we keep our demographic data private, we have nothing to benchmark and can’t work together to create the diverse and equitable industry we are all striving for.

For example, MiQ’s IDEA report, which is easily accessible from our website, shows progression in BIPOC representation, female representation, and a global gender pay gap of zero. Other organizations, particularly in the ad tech industry in MiQ’s case, have the opportunity to see how they fare against their peers.

Analyzing the data can tell organizations not just where they stand, but where they should improve.

Progress doesn’t come just by instituting a new program or making entry-level hires.

Investigating why people from other backgrounds aren’t involved in an organization or leave early in their careers offers a more in-depth look at what’s happening systematically and what kind of solutions are available.

By making this analysis available outside your organization, your entire industry can gain perspective on these trends, too.

Fostering inclusivity

Social initiatives can quickly garner participation, like hashtags on social media platforms.

But simply posting or sharing is just a performative exercise unless it is joined by action.

Uncomfortable conversations can identify any disconnects between what an organization says it is and how it is perceived internally and externally.

Traditional hiring practices and networking bubbles need to evolve for organizations to make their cultures more inclusive. Continuing uniformity in these realms will never allow us to make the progress we need.

To start creating this variety, institute programs that give a platform to historically marginalized voices, conduct allyship and bystander intervention training, and promote the integration of anti-oppressive best practices into the folds of your business strategy.

If we make these tools available to each other, we can exponentially increase the impact of those initiatives.

We can’t allow initiatives to merely become fads.

According to the World Economic Forum, 27% of organizations put a hold on at least most of their DEI initiatives, citing the pandemic.

This poor excuse has far-reaching consequences. reports 38% of workers have seen harassment at work since the start of the pandemic and 35% don’t trust their company to respond fairly to harm at work.

Those results should be unacceptable to organizations that truly want to prioritize DEI and not just check a box on a board-room agenda.

The impact of creating and maintaining a comprehensive DEI strategy goes well beyond any monetary investment.

It increases business value by making employees feel included, heard, and valued.

This has long been a societal goal, and one we can make a reality in the business world with the right processes in place.

As organizations define their strategies and determine how to set benchmarks against them, data will be key.

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