If business leaders hope to move the needle on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), it’s critical that they put measurements in place to track progress and hold managers accountable for results, something that few organizations are currently doing effectively.1
Indeed, the more than 2,200 executives who have signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge have committed to driving “measurable action,” but recognizing that something should be measured is not the same as knowing how to measure it. And for many organizations, a lack of understanding of precisely what metrics to collect, how to do so, and how to interpret the data is a common stumbling block in their DEI efforts, contributing to underwhelming returns on their diversity investments.2
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In this article, we draw upon more than three decades of collective research and practical experience to highlight six factors that should be considered when deciding how to measure and track DEI data.
Effective DEI Measurement Starts With Sound Goals
The first step to improving DEI measurement and the effectiveness of such efforts is to have a clear picture of the organization’s strategic goals and objectives for DEI. What is the point of collecting and tracking DEI-related metrics for the company? Does it want to improve representation for an underrepresented group, or ascertain whether there is pay inequity across employees and/or jobs? After determining broad goals, develop them into more specific ones that can provide an identifiable outcome and help frame plans and processes for measurement.3
One fundamental principle for such goals is that they should encourage steady improvement over time rather than simply target absolute numbers to be attained. Showing steady improvement compared with one’s past provides nuance that snapshot numbers alone fail to demonstrate, especially when making comparisons: At a certain point in time, organization A may have a higher percentage of employees from underrepresented groups than company B, but if A’s percentage has been steadily declining while B’s has been steadily growing, the seemingly less-diverse group is in fact making better progress. Tracking and comparing data over time can show that the organization is not only trying but succeeding at improving its diversity and/or inclusion.
After goals are in place, organizations can take a more strategic approach to collecting and analyzing DEI data.
1. E.J. Kennedy, “Can Data Drive Racial Equity?” MIT Sloan Management Review 62, no. 2 (winter 2021): 9-11.
2. P. Newkirk, “Diversity, Inc.: The Failed Promise of a Billion-Dollar Business” (New York: Bold Type Books, 2019).
3. E.N. Ruggs and D.R. Avery, “Linking Good Intentions to Intentional Action,” MIT Sloan Management Review 62, no. 4 (summer 2021): 95-96.
4. D. Huff, “How to Lie With Statistics” (New York: W.W. Norton, 1954).
5. P.F. McKay, D.R. Avery, and M.A. Morris, “A Tale of Two Climates: Diversity Climate From Subordinates’ and Managers’ Perspectives and Their Role in Store Unit Sales Performance,” Personnel Psychology 62, no. 4 (winter 2009): 767-791.
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7. A.P. Lindsey, D.R. Avery, J.F. Dawson, et al., “Investigating Why and for Whom Management Ethnic Representativeness Influences Interpersonal Mistreatment in the Workplace,” Journal of Applied Psychology 102, no. 11 (April 2017): 1545-1563.
8. M.J. Gelfand, L.H. Nishii, and J.L. Raver, “On the Nature and Importance of Cultural Tightness-Looseness,” Journal of Applied Psychology 91, no. 6 (December 2006): 1225-1244.
9. A.N. Smith, M.B. Watkins, J.J. Ladge, et al., “Making the Invisible Visible: Paradoxical Effects of Intersectional Invisibility on the Career Experiences of Executive Black Women,” Academy of Management Journal 62, no. 6 (June 2019): 1705-1734.
10. “Google Diversity Annual Report 2022,” PDF file (Mountain View, California: Google, 2022), https://static.googleusercontent.com.
11. A. Luksyte, E. Waite, D.R. Avery, et al., “Held to a Different Standard: Racial Differences in the Impact of Lateness on Advancement Opportunity,” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 86, no. 2 (April 2013): 142-165.
12. F. Hanleybrown, L. Iyer, J. Kirschenbaum, et al., “Advancing Frontline Employees of Color: Innovating Competitive Advantage in America’s Frontline Workforce,” PDF file (Boston and Oakland, California: FSG and PolicyLink, January 2020), www.fsg.org.
13. P.F. McKay and D.R. Avery, “Warning! Diversity Recruitment Could Backfire,” Journal of Management Inquiry 14, no. 4 (December 2005): 330-336.