May 18, 2021

Achieving your diversity and inclusion aspirations through data: Virtual roundtable review

Darshan Baskaran
Darshan Baskaran Consulting Manager

Business challenge:

Diversity and Inclusion
People Analytics

I recently had the pleasure of co-hosting a virtual roundtable with my colleague Mingyang Tham, a Data Scientist at TrueCue, and eminent HR leaders from businesses across the world, to discuss how data and analytics can help achieve diversity and inclusion aspirations.

In this article, I will summarise a few of the key topics we discussed and the conclusions we reached. 

Our meeting took place in the middle of Black Inclusion Week – an initiative to raise awareness of the importance of Black inclusion and create a platform for change – so could not have been better timed. Sadly, after years of effort, progress on increasing diversity at leadership levels in the UK is still not where it needs to be, with only a tiny minority of the most powerful roles being held by people from ethnic minorities. The same could be said for all aspects of our diverse population. 

To address this, in 2018 Business in the Community launched the Race at Work Charter, committing to five key actions: 

  1. Appoint an executive sponsor for race. 
  1. Capture ethnicity data and publicise progress. 
  1. Commit at board level to zero tolerance of harassment and bullying. 
  1. Make it clear that supporting equality in the workplace is the responsibility of all leaders and managers. 
  1. Take action that supports ethnic minority career progression. 

In this article, I am going to focus on the discussions about two of the five action points above; the need to capture ethnicity data and publicise progress and taking action that supports ethnic minority career progression. 

What ‘Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’ means for organisations 

Whilst there may be some minor differences in the way that our group defined Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, it quickly became clear that any DE&I strategy must foster a sense of belonging for everyone and remove any barriers to entry, progression, or mutual respect. We also recognised that there is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy – different industries, geographies, cultures, and organisations will have different levels of progress and therefore priorities. 

To achieve a fully inclusive organisation, a DE&I strategy must have a wide scope that starts with how to attract candidates from a diverse talent pool, manage their employment lifecycle all the way through to off-boarding them as an employee, and their ongoing role within the alumni. All our group believed that this was the case in their organisations, although there was some variation on where the most pressing priorities were. 

Underpinning all of this is developing a culture of inclusion – irrespective of gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, socioeconomic status, etc. In discussion, we all acknowledged that, whilst much has already been achieved, there was still a lot to do. 

Tracking the impact of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives  

Our second discussion focused on tracking progress against achieving strategic DE&I objectives and this is where our first big common challenge was identified – data! When asked, the whole group said that they were engaged in some form of measurement exercise, but that access to sufficient high-quality data was a problem. 

No measurement program can succeed without data, but many of the group stated that they were still struggling with employees volunteering the data needed. Irrespective of how the data was gathered, one word kept coming up- ‘trust’. You are asking your colleagues to share sensitive information with your organisation, but many of these employees still have reservations about who will see the data, how it will be used, and whether it will be stored securely. As a result, DE&I data is often either incomplete or inaccurate. 

This was also reflected in our recent HR challenges benchmark, which surveyed 222 HR leaders across a variety of questions relating to key HR challenges that businesses are facing as they navigate the return to work. A resounding 73% of respondents reported that they find tracking progress towards diversity and inclusion goals challenging, despite setting themselves ambitious D&I goals in 2021 and beyond. It’s worth noting that this is a pressing challenge even for the data-savvy HR professionals – a minority (14%) of survey respondents who appeared to be on top of most HR challenges in the benchmark. 

Read our white paper on overcoming the top HR challenges through data

The data gap presents a significant challenge: without good data, it is impossible to know where you are, and the progress made towards your strategic DE&I objectives. To overcome this, you need to offer employees an easy, secure and trustworthy mechanism for them to enter data.  

In addressing the issue of trust: 

  • Be clear – set an expectation and deliver against it – say what you are doing and why, then do it.  
  • Do the right thing – even when it is not in your immediate interest.  
  • Exhibit Empathy – understand what your colleagues really want and act accordingly.  
  • Be competent – do a good job, consistently! Also measure and learn. 
  • Forge connections – treat your people like people and not just ‘employee numbers’. 

How data and analytics supports Diversity, Equity & Inclusion goals 

Whilst gathering data is important, it is for nothing if no action is taken as a result – it is simply measuring the status quo. When you are presented with reliable insights and options, you can take the informed decisions that have the highest likelihood of achieving your goals.  

Our group also agreed that this must come ‘top down’. Leaders must exhibit the behaviours they expect from their staff, choose appropriate key performance indicators, and set objectives accordingly. It is here that the ‘data gap’ can become the ‘insights gap’ – without data, you cannot tell what progress is being made and when (or if) your objectives will be met. 

“[Only] what gets measured gets managed”

Peter Drucker

Insights can also give early warning of the unintended consequences of a strategy or tactic. We all use KPIs and personal objectives to influence behaviour, but it is not always possible to anticipate how those will be interpreted or put into practice. That being the case, you or your colleagues should not focus all your attention on just a few measures. Neither should the measure become the goal – a KPI is nothing more than a way of measuring progress against the real goal – a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organisation. 

In addition, you should set strategic objectives at the organisational level, but never lose sight that you are making changes that affect the individuals and their ‘lived experience’. That said, when you get it right, when you can measure progress effectively and the impact of what you do, you can put DE&I on the balance sheet and show that it is not just the ‘right thing to do’, it is the smart thing to do.  

If you would like to find out more about how TrueCue can help you use data and insights to achieve your Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy then please contact us at peopleanalytics@truecue.com.

Business challenge:

Diversity and Inclusion
People Analytics
Darshan Baskaran
Written by Darshan Baskaran Consulting Manager

Data is in Darshan’s DNA – both literally and figuratively. Data story-telling is his passion. He obtained a DPhil. (Ph.D.) in “Molecular Cell Biology of Health and Disease” at the University of Oxford prior to joining Concentra's Analytical Consulting Team - now TrueCue Services. As Analytics Lead and Consulting Manager, he manages the delivery of analytics projects, develops analytics solutions and oversees the operational running of the Analytics Consulting Team. When on holiday, he can be found globetrotting, snowboarding, diving or taking a nap.

White Paper: Overcoming the Top HR Challenges through Data

In April 2021, TrueCue partnered with the Human Times, to run an HR challenges benchmark, with over 200 leading HR professionals from across the UK taking part. This white paper shares some of the key insights from the benchmark, with practical tips, examples and learnings from several HR leaders bucking the trend for a data-driven HR of the future.

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