For some, the idea of creating an inclusive work culture has a delicate aura. There is a belief that effort, while it feels good, can be hopelessly “confusing,” driven by qualitative criteria that are vague and difficult to measure. It is true that there is an art in addressing diversity, equity and inclusion. But that doesn’t mean that organizations should abandon science.
Metrics are important when it comes to inclusion efforts. Measuring the results you want and your progress against them is essential. After all, you cannot manage what you cannot measure. This emphasis on hard numbers shouldn’t be alien to executives. Every organization lives and dies by its numbers, whether it is the financial performance of a publicly traded company or the fundraising efforts for a nonprofit organization. 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 divided equally 50/50 by gender, but the executive level has a division of 90/10, that tells you that something is happening between the time that women are hired or people of color and when they should. start climbing the ladder. Is there some kind of implicit bias in the systems that exist for performance evaluation? Are there barriers or policies that would encourage a high-performing worker to voluntarily leave the organization? Similarly, if the composition of your board is totally different from society at large, that tells you that something is wrong with the way that talent is recruited and appointed to your organization. It would be easy to say that the lack of diversity at that higher level is a “channeling problem”; the hardest way is to examine the processes and practices that could 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 force them to start looking differently at the way their operation is structured. And that’s where art comes in. As an organization, you will need to do some deep introspection around the systems for everything from hiring and recruiting to talent development, and think about how they might need adjustments. You will also need to interact with your workforce and ask them direct questions about what they perceive as barriers. However, you won’t be able to do any of that effectively without that database. Science has to come first, helping to identify problem areas. The art continues, helping you address those problem areas. Information Transparency It is worth noting that in the midst of all this art and science, data transparency is something that should be encouraged. The numbers should be shared with the entire workforce, even if, or rather, especially if you discover 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 are not fooling anyone by not sharing your diversity numbers. This kind of transparency requires an environment in which people feel “comfortable being uncomfortable” and dealing with potentially unflattering portraits of the organization. You should start with the numbers and what they show, and use that as a guide for the next steps. However, there will still be some organizations that are reluctant to embrace transparency if the numbers reveal significant under-representation among certain races or genders. That’s because the next natural question is: Why does the data look like this? Why do trends look the way they do? In most cases, the answer will be “We don’t know,” which is an answer that executives don’t normally like to hear. Rather than taking what the numbers show personally, think of it as a call to action. If leaders aren’t willing to at least look at the numbers and then explore the reasons behind them, how committed are they really to making significant change around diversity, equity, and inclusion? And when looking at the numbers, we have to be honest about what we do or do not see. That does not mean that it is adopting quotas. That’s not the point. But we have to take skin and other aspects of our organizations seriously. Colorblind, which leads to a mania. It drives me crazy when executives say they don’t see color. What that tells a person of color is that they don’t see “me.” I don’t believe in that because actually, to progress in all facets of the talent lifecycle, you have to see color and other things that are missing from your organization. Executives are expected to perform against the numbers in all other areas of their professional life. 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 fuel the effort. Because diversity, equity and inclusion is not just about counting numbers. It’s about making the numbers count. Anne Chow is CEO of AT&T Business, AT & T’s business customer division, and co-author of “The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Biases: Rethinking Biases, Cultivating Connectedness, and Building High-Performance Teams.”