Any policy is only as valuable as the goal itself, the metrics used to track and measure progress and its implementation. We all know about SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time) goals in our own aspirations, but Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) goals can be more complex as there are many factors at play that can influence positive change. What’s the first step in setting your targets, and what on earth should you be tracking to know if you’re actually creating change? Why is it important to do this?
Author: Sophie Warwick.
The why is almost as important as the what. Why is gender equity important to your organization? You may be looking to grow new areas of your business and need innovative ideas. In this case, diversity is needed to explore fresh opportunities and generate creative ideas. Maybe it’s that the business case for gender equity is too good to pass up and what you need most is diversity in senior leadership making large scale decisions. Or, my favourite, it’s the right thing to do! Your goals may focus more on community outreach and growing diversity in the future talent pool. The “why” can help identify what policies and targets suit your mission and core values.
Not only is this valuable to define from a business management perspective – it’s also crucial to share with your employees. Culture and a company’s mission need to be authentic and fully engage everyone at all levels –change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s important to update your team so they know the work is in progress and they are every bit as important as you in developing the plan. Ask everyone for their ideas and create opportunities for these to be shared and developed. What’s better than your team giving you the answers?
Measure your baseline to be able to set intentional targets. I’m sorry to report that this may not be a quick process. A calculated effort upfront will simplify the policy and initiative definitions later when the intent is carefully defined. Collect input and data from all levels of your organization and carefully consider what it is you’re all trying to achieve. Is there an identifiable diversity balance in your community that should be reflected in the workplace? Your team should reflect your community, and a discrepancy would suggest a bias or obstacle exists that is blocking some of the best talent from joining the organization.
Team members at different levels will notice distinct challenges and barriers and may also suggest tools that would help them – seek diverse perspectives from the groups you engage. Every company is unique and there are distinct regional, industry, and academic factors that may influence your goals. Short term and long-term targets may look very different at two different organizations, even within the same industry.
As we think about goals, let’s remember to unpack any negative connotation with the words targets and quotas as they relate to EDI. There is often the misconception that by setting defined numbers, ratios of interviewees, short-listed candidates, and new hires that there has to be a concession, or at least a risk of compromise in performance. Let’s be really clear – when implemented appropriately, this is not a tangible risk. In fact, by not implementing quotas there is a greater risk of compromising performance, as all candidates are being reviewed with a limiting lens of bias. If there’s uniformity in your leadership and decision makers, you’re much more likely to select people similar to you and they may or may not be the strongest candidates.
Affirmative action is applying governance policies to increase inclusion of an underrepresented group of people based on their gender, race, sexuality, creed, or nationality. EDI policy implementation is about removing barriers, biases (both implicit and explicit), and breaking down social constructs that may be limiting opportunity and accessibility for some groups. In some cases, this may present as getting enough applications, interviewees, and shortlisted candidates in the room and limiting inherent bias in hiring, rather than setting a specific number of hires from a specific group. However, there may still be a need to set hiring targets for positions and industries that are strongly skewed to one gender. For example, if your Board of Directors is entirely one gender, there is an urgent need to take corrective action to push the needle. In contrast, a group that is 60/40 may no longer require hiring quotas and instead will rely on tools like reviewing job postings for gendered language and ensuring equity in applicants.
Note: No one is immune to bias. Bias training is strongly recommended to provide the tools to recognize and combat bias, but it isn’t always enough on its own. Additionally, we need to work as a team to recognize and reduce biases, because within a diverse group we likely will not share the same ones. If a group of 6 interviewers of the same gender, socioeconomic status, race, and nationality interviewed a group of candidates, it’s likely that they’d all select the same person. It doesn’t mean that person is not a fantastic candidate, but the selection was not without bias.
But what to track? Concentrate your efforts into key focus categories that target gender balance at different career milestones. Depending on the industry of the organization, it may be valuable to emphasize some areas more than others, at least at the onset.
Recruitment. There are two key areas within recruitment: the candidate pool itself, and how to attract the best from the talent pool. When considering EDI, it is easier to have more significant and traceable influence on the latter, through tracking the number of diverse hires, but outreach initiatives can still increase diversity in the candidate pool (and attract diverse talent).
Connecting with high schools to help share information about your industry can help encourage more students to pursue that field. Connecting with diverse groups in universities and setting up education sessions or mentorship programs can also be a great way to share this message. Growing the candidate pool, and growing diversity within that pool, will help connect your organization with the top future talent. Be in it for the long game – it’ll pay off.
Everyone wants to shout their EDI initiatives from the rooftops, but make sure the internal work is being done to reflect that. In today’s world, there is infinite data available to candidates as they research your organization and it’s hard to break through as the one that walks the talk. If everyone is saying “Diversity matters to us!”, be instead the ones that are saying “Diversity matters to us! And here’s what we’re doing.” For example, sharing your parental leave policies, flexible work environments, mentorship opportunities, diverse hiring practices, etc.
Retention. You can hire every woman you interview (we wouldn’t necessarily recommend this), but no meaningful change will be achieved if they don’t stay at the organization. How does the rate of retention compare by gender? We’d recommend getting into the details here since retention rates can vary notably at different levels and departments of an organization. Are support service staff leaving at higher rates than primary service staff? Perhaps they can’t see clear career development paths because the promotional structure is more suited to primary services. Is there better retention within senior levels? It might be that the women who leave do so in the early years of their career if they’re lacking mentorship opportunities. Meanwhile, the few women who “make it through” are those who have been lucky to connect with a mentor externally who continues to support them.
Retention rates also have a significant impact on promotion rates. If women aren’t staying, there won’t be any potential internal women candidates to promote. You may be starting to see how all these areas are interrelated. These issues can be divided and given varied levels of attention but can’t necessarily be observed in a vacuum.
Career Development and Promotion. Retention is partially dependent on growth and promotion opportunities. For many employees, if they don’t see a clear path for growth or promotion opportunities available to work towards, they will start looking elsewhere. As 10-year old Alice Paul Tapper wrote in her article for the New York Times, women are less likely to raise their hand than men – this goes for answering questions as well as asking for promotions. If the path isn’t clearly defined and communicated, you may be losing those who could have been your next senior leaders to competitors.
Track who is being promoted and in what timeline. Seek out and correct any discrepancies in promotions. Can you identify any leaders whose output ranks higher than those who have been promoted around them? Remember we have a habit of seeing potential in those we see ourselves in and capability in those we relate to less (see our Thought Piece Gender Equity in Engineering: A Recipe for Growth and Retention).
Reflecting on the promotional process can help correct any errors that are found. It may be that some standardization is required in initial candidate ranking to score more objectively, or that a certain level of diversity needs to be achieved in the candidate pool. There are many creative solutions to flush out biases and they can be tailored to a company’s unique scenario.
How often should you be checking in on the results? There is an old saying, “watched diversity metrics never change.” Or, it may have been originally about a kettle… You likely aren’t hiring, promoting, or losing employees every day so you don’t need to be checking that frequently either. Quarterly reviews are a good frequency for a pulse check on any growth or improvement. A high enough frequency that it remains in mind in more global business decisions (which it should), but is also spaced out enough to provide enough data to show reliable and meaningful growth or declines. We recommend creating a scorecard that is easily digestible and becomes familiar to leaders.
A more detailed deep dive review should be completed annually, similar to a year end fiscal review. Ask difficult questions about the targets set the previous year and whether they need any changes.
Are you progressing towards the targets in a meaningful way? If not, why not?
What areas are working and what areas are not?
Are senior leaders buying into the targets?
Are the targets you set still appropriate?
Or, after reflecting further were they too ambitious, or not ambitious enough?
Hopefully you find that only minor revisions need to be made to your original goals, but the intent is still consistent with the previous year. Or better yet, the policies implemented and actioned over the previous year have resulted in meaningful change improving gender equity in your workplace and there may be an opportunity to dream bigger the following year. You may find the great initiatives implemented resulted in change but not at the level hoped for. Use that drive to invest more time and energy next year.
Good or bad, tell your team about the results! Or, if as stated earlier, they are included and participating throughout, they will already know them! Defining equity goals and implementing new policies is challenging and important work. Communication and transparency are vital to equity and inclusion. Not only does it provide an opportunity to share this project with the broader company, but it also opens the door for holistic discussion on inclusion in the workplace.
Even if there are results that you’re not proud of, owning those shortcomings shows that you’ve identified a problem that needs to be addressed and the planned correction is important to the organization. There may be some valuable suggestions from team members that will help reach your goals for the following year. Remember the power of diversity in all forms. Racial, religious, sexuality, creed, and nationality diversity within your gender equity task force, will promote a variety of perspectives, which will help address the intersection of inequity in the broader group.
Note: Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group – inequity that may be overlooked by an otherwise homogenous group.
Consult an expert. Every region, industry, and workplace has their own unique characteristics and circumstances that define the equity obstacles they face. Two companies who have difficulty with diversity in their recruitment strategies may have entirely different causes and therefore distinctive solutions. It may be a candidate pool from an academic stream that is lacking diversity, or that the pool is diverse, but there is a challenge communicating diversity initiatives to candidates and attracting them to your organization. There are often many compounding and unique factors limiting equity and diversity in a firm – that’s why there’s no one size fits all solution.
Reach out to us at the firstname.lastname@example.org to book a consultation today. We advise companies on retention, policy and governance, informed by research. We help management teams and Boards implement practices that retain and engage women over the long-term, as well as policies that support best practice governance. Our goal is to implement structures that allow women to thrive over their full career.
Press, O. U. (2021, 11 13). Intersectionality. Retrieved from Oxford English Dictionary: https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/429843
Tapper, A. P. (2017, October 31). I’m 10. And I Want Girls to Raise Their Hands. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/31/opinion/im-10-and-i-want-girls-to-raise-their-hands.html