Moving beyond diversity quotas: How and why businesses should measure diversity and inclusion within their organisations

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Written by Raafi-Karim Alidina and Stephen Frost on 22 February 2021 in Opinion
Opinion

Time to move beyond quotas to real, lasting change that's beneficial to everyone, say Raafi-Karim Alidina and Stephen Frost.

Diversity is a social and ethical imperative, but not necessarily an end game. Leveraging diversity successfully requires ensuring an organisation and its employees are being as inclusive as possible – that employees of all backgrounds and demographics feel comfortable bringing their entire selves to work. It’s about people having a sense of belonging, and feeling respected, valued and seen for who they are.

If diversity is about getting the right mix of people, with the right skills and competencies, then inclusion is about making sure the mix we have works.

But to get this right – and to know we are getting it right – we need to measure it.

101, 2.0, 3.0

The standard organisational approach to diversity and inclusion (D&I) has been a basic ‘101’. This has been about attaining a minimum, not a maximum. It tends to tackle legal requirements and may include gender quotas for women or ethnic minorities. It is broadly a compliance-driven approach with legislation being the impetus for change.

Some organisations today have exceeded the Diversity 101 model and the extent to which they were obliged to comply with the law. To derive more benefit they are venturing into the world of ‘taking a stand’. This has never been more visible than in 2020, with organisations crafting and publicising responses to the Black Lives Matter movement. This marketing-led approach can be labelled Diversity 2.0.

Organisations need to go further and work towards truly embedding inclusion in leadership behaviours. This approach could be called ‘Inclusion 3.0’. One of the most common, and most critical, challenges organisations have is truly understanding the distinction between diversity and inclusion.

As well as other critical concepts such as equality, equity and belonging, we need to ensure both are applied successfully.

Measuring diversity

Organisations are becoming increasingly vocal about collecting diversity data and setting and publicising diversity quotas targets. 

Organisations need to go further and work towards truly embedding inclusion in leadership behaviours.

Many organisations are strong at gathering ‘snapshot’ or ‘current state’ pictures of their diversity. However, a lack of understanding about the drivers leads to inaccurate forecasts and potential public embarrassment over missed targets. By accounting for the key recruitment, promotion and retention trends and forecasts, organisations can better understand what they will look like in three, five and ten years’ time.

Without being intentional, organisations tend to become less diverse over time. By projecting the future as well as measuring the current state, they can course-correct before it’s too late and to determine what interventions they want to make to end up with a diverse and inclusive organisation.

Measuring inclusion

Diversity is only one part of the picture, and very few organisations are adequately measuring inclusion. Most organisations undertake engagement surveys and pulse surveys that offer limited insights and little that is actionable. A typical engagement survey may ask something like:

‘Do you feel this is an inclusive organisation?’ or ‘Do you think that your leaders role model inclusion?’

But we know that it is more effective to test concepts such as:

‘I am often interrupted in meetings’ or ‘I feel safe to offer a dissenting point of view’

In doing so, we can better determine those behaviours that contribute to, or detract from, greater inclusivity, and then cut that by geography, function, demographic and other categories. This allows organisations to allocate resources to areas that will have most impact.

 

This benefits all colleagues in an organisation, not just those who identify as a ‘minority’. However, by everyone gaining insights into behavioural adjustments they can make, it will disproportionately benefit those currently least included.

The quantitative nature of this form of inclusion measurement provides data to either support or refute anecdotal evidence. When paired with qualitative measures gathered through staff and stakeholder engagement, organisations can build a convincing picture of behavioural and experiential trends.

Key indicators

Some fundamental indicators that organisations should be aware of when embarking on D&I work:

  1. Psychological safety is the most important factor in what makes people feel included in an organisation.
  2. To better retain talent, organisations need to ensure transparency and objectivity in their performance and reward structures.
  3. Micro-behaviours, often unconscious, sometimes unnoticeable behaviours such as language, tone, and gestures, have a significant impact on various organisational outcomes including team effectiveness and perception of company values.

Where a low level of psychological safety exists, it manifests in a fear of dissenting, fear of being marginalised, embarrassed, and fear of being authentic. A state of strong psychological safety enables individuals to feel safe to dissent, to contribute authentically, and ultimately to feel included.

When organisations launch interventions intended to build more inclusion, they often do so without the data of what behaviours are making people feel more or less included. As such, these interventions often miss the mark and end up not producing the intended results.

However, if we can diagnose more precisely what is broken in the system, we can intervene in a more targeted way. This is the effect of measuring inclusion, and as a result we have found that interventions are more likely to produce real results.

Benefits

It is only in those organisations that are both diverse and inclusive that positive outcomes can be realised, and those benefits can be substantial. Inclusive and diverse organisations are more productive, generate more revenue, perform better on problem-solving and strategy tasks, think more creatively, are better at negotiating, and make enhanced decisions.

Additionally, employees at these organisations report feeling increased engagement, motivation, trust, and wellbeing in the workplace.

As the case studies in the 2020 Impact Report show, organisations that move beyond 101 concepts such as diversity quotas, and into deeper measurement methodologies, can reframe D&I as something that benefits their overall outputs and impact.

 

About the authors

Raafi-Karim Alidina is an associate and Stephen Frost is founder of global diversity and inclusion consultancy Frost Included

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