We hear the words equity, diversity, and inclusion, or EDI, so often. We sometimes see them on websites and social media pages – especially before International Women’s Day, the start of Pride Month, or Juneteenth. And too often, the communications go quiet shortly after. But even more intriguing is, what is really happening behind the scenes? More specifically, what are the corresponding actions?
Written by: Sophie Warwick
Are you witnessing an example of performative action (increasing one’s social capital or company perception rather than a commitment to the cause itself)? I truly believe that in most cases, behind these campaigns are good intentions and a genuine belief in the cause. However, too often EDI initiatives are implemented without clear goals and don’t incorporate the same operations and management tactics we use for other business strategies. They can be chaotic and carried on the side of the desks of the minorities within a company who need that support the most. Since, the impact of policies and initiatives is often not measured, is the time, resourcing, and financial commitment leading to meaningful change?
Setting thoughtful and intentional EDI targets that align with company culture and reflect the surrounding community are critical to creating positive change. In addition, they need to be diligently tracked to ensure the targets that have been carefully selected (I’ll tell you how to pick them shortly) are being achieved within the intended timeline. And finally, they need to be communicated to the entire company so it becomes embodied in everyday activities and decision making. That is how you confront performative action and translate it into impactful change for gender equity in the workplace.
Here are my five fundamental principles needed to create an effective EDI dashboard to achieve your goals in an ambitious but realistic timeline.
Defining realistic and ambitious goals to make impactful change. If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, then you can’t achieve it. There needs to be clear, purposeful targets that are reviewed and approved by all senior leadership. Without knowing these goals, it’s not possible to select appropriate policies to attain them. For example, it may be decided to sponsor a university level women’s organization which is a great way to connect with junior level talent. However, if the largest gap is in senior leadership, investing in university level talent won’t get the required results for many years. Invest time up front in deciding exactly what the goals are and what timeframe is appropriate – but ambitious – to achieve them.
How to identify key metrics to track in your organization. Once you’ve set your goals, it can seem easy enough to track your progress. For example, let’s say you’ve set a target for 50% of your Board of Directors (or maybe shareholders if appropriate) to be women or non-binary individuals by 2030. If today you have 30%, then you need at least 2.5% growth per year over the 8 remaining years to achieve that goal. To do that, you’ve decided to 1) revaluate your succession planning and implement a standardized scoring system for all potential promotions, and 2) introduce a recruitment strategy to target mid-career women who are re-entering the workforce after leaves (perhaps by sponsoring or partnering with local women’s organizations).
Now fast-forward to the end of 2023 and you’ve averaged 2% growth instead of the ideal 2.5%. Not bad, but how do you know which is the most effective action and how much effort is going into implementing each? It’s safe to assume each didn’t achieve 1.25%, and it’s safe to assume the same number of hours and budget didn’t go into each. Maybe 1) had less up front cost but required more meetings to ensure buy-in and adoption from senior leadership, but 2) required little time spent and instead required a larger up front sponsorship cost.
Measuring efficacy and input is so critical to success in EDI. If I walked into an MBA program and said the same thing for business development tactics, I’d probably get a “duh” or worse an eye roll. But so often we don’t use these same strategies in our EDI initiatives. First, for both initiatives I would ensure that the time input and budget is tracked diligently (so the cost input is known). Second, I would make sure it’s possible to measure the efficacy of both. For example, in the first policy, I would track the gender ratio of all successful promotion candidates, the total pool (including names put forward who were and weren’t successful), and the gender ratio at each level including the level of the least senior promotion. By tracking and measuring this data regularly, you’re able to identify patterns and changes in the program and determine with certainty if what you’ve implemented is achieving the results you sought.
How to interpret results and when to make policy changes if the needle isn’t shifting. Start with setting an appropriate cadence for reviewing the data. Similar to investments, you don’t want to be checking everyday (especially right now). However, you also can’t wait until 2030 to find out the needle didn’t move. I’d recommend a quarterly check-in of higher frequency items (these might include recruitment initiatives or interview practices), and a longer annual check-in that’s inclusive of all policies.
If the desired results aren’t being achieved, consider what growth is required to maintain the original long-term goals. In the example above, if it’s the end of 2023 and senior women and non-binary individuals has only grown by 1% to 31%, higher growth now needs to be achieved annually in the remaining years. It’s also indicating what’s been implemented is not as effective (or takes longer to see results). At that time, I’d recommend revaluating the policies and looking for opportunities to try new initiatives. Always pair reviews with the input budget as well. If a policy is making small, consistent change, but requires lower resources and budgets to implement, it doesn’t necessarily need to be shut down.
Enroll senior leaders in engaging your entire group. Any new initiative needs to be introduced top down for it to be truly successful. Furthermore, to make meaningful change it needs to be integrated into everyday activities. EDI targets should be presented at senior leadership meetings and should be agreed upon by the entire group before announcing company wide (or externally). Once the goal is given the green light, it’s much simpler to bring forward policies or initiatives for approval – especially when as mentioned above, they’ve been paired with metrics to track their efficacy in the pitch.
Select a few key leaders who can champion your goals and share with the broader company. They don’t necessarily need to be active in implementation, but their communication with the entire team is crucial to displaying the importance at all levels.
Communicating the right information effectively to the whole team. Communication is so critical. Employees working on EDI initiatives can so often be the unsung heroes of the office. And worse, without sharing their efforts, the broader company and external community (think clients and potential candidates) may think you’re doing nothing at all. It also has the added opportunity to bring new employees into the group and help support with new policy implementation.
Even though it’s scary, share the mistakes or misses too. You don’t want your team to wonder about that great policy that was announced last quarter and why it’s suddenly gone silent. It’s okay that it didn’t achieve the results intended. Share that. And share what you’ve decided to work on instead – including the data that supports the expected value.
EDI targets and the policies to achieve them should be thoughtful and carefully implemented. So often the heavy lifting is done on the side of a desk of someone with an already full workload. If you’re in need of advice and direction in achieving your goals, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more. We tailor our support to your company needs, recognizing the unique environments that exist within different companies, industries, regions, and cultures. Your EDI initiatives should mirror your business operations and core values in their execution and implementation to truly be successful.