4 Problems With Diversity and Inclusion Metrics — And How to Fix Them

As organizations large and small scramble to at least sound like they are embracing principles of D&I (Diversity and Inclusion), one thing has become very clear: words don’t cut it any more. When any organization comes out with a “statement” about the recent protests, Black Lives Matter, racism, or whatever they feel they need to talk about, it takes only a minute or two for the Twitter-verse to discover whether they have passed or failed the diversity test.

Ragan’s PR Daily published a great list of reasons why most D&I programs fail. I would boil down their good advice to a few of my favorite words: lack of good, valid measurement.

Here are some examples of what goes wrong with Diversity and Inclusion metrics, and some ideas on how to do better:

1. Incomplete definitions of diversity

When you say the word “diversity” to many managers, a lot of them will assume they’re doing fine if they see a sufficient number of black and brown faces when they look out into an all-hands meeting. But today’s good D&I programs require diversity across a far broader and frequently invisible population, including LGBTQ, people with disabilities, and, according to recent research, those with different perspectives.

Do better: Make sure when you are measuring D&I communications that you make your questions inclusive and broad enough to include every minority or previously disenfranchised group.

2. Defining success by the wrong numbers

Far too many D&I programs begin by defining “diversity” success as having sufficient numbers of minority employees and vendors on their rosters to get good grades on their ESG scores. But, as we’ve learned, those numbers are wrong and misleading and don’t help. Too many minority employees end up at the bottom of the salary ladder. As far as minority vendors, it’s also too easy to qualify as a “minority-owned” business. I know because I fill out those surveys every year. Yes, Paine Publishing is minority-owned by a woman. But I am a tiny supplier, and most of the large marketing and PR firms that get most of the budgets are owned by white men.

Do better: If you must base your “diversity” score on headcount, you need to measure by team and by title. Make sure that when you’re putting together a new department or a new task force, you’re measuring diversity of opinions and perspectives. (There are more ways to measure diversity, see #3, next…)

3. Making decisions based on inherent and unrecognized racism

In one company, a minority woman was hiring new staff for her team. Her top choice was a minority woman like herself. The white supervisor expressed a concern that the hire “would look bad” if the entire team was made up of minority women – clearly oblivious to the dozens and dozens of teams in the organization that were made up entirely of all white men. Fortunately, in this case the minority woman was hired to the new position. But it is comments and decisions like these that have perpetuated the lack of diversity in corporate America.

Do better: Don’t just measure head count, measure the words you use. Run a content analysis of your emails, website, and intranet to check for diversity in words, photographs, and videos.

4. FOFO: Fear of Finding Out

When you’re crafting surveys for employee communications, you learn a lot about company culture. Far too many are afraid to ask questions about personal feelings, race, ethnicity, or perception.

As anyone who has read this newsletter knows, I’m a big fan of Leader Say Do Surveys. These test the extent to which leaders and managers actually take action in support of strategic priorities, as opposed to just talk about them. (See our how-to article here, and our interview with Mary Miller, an ardent supporter of Leader Say Do surveys.) But I have yet to see anyone add D&I questions to their survey. Many clients won’t even put a “prefer not to say” option when asking about race or gender, for fear of offending someone. Or, more tellingly, an inability to address a problem if it emerges.

Do better: Don’t ever be afraid to ask an opinion. People like their opinions to be heard, and you’ll probably learn something.

The good news in all of these troubled times is that there probably has not been a better time for change than right now. To learn more about measuring the success of your D&I communications, see our article “5 Steps to Measure the Success of Your Diversity and Inclusion Communications.”∞

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.