We’re at an important inflection point for DEI.
Given the events of the past year, more companies are recognizing their role in creating true systemic change and fostering an inclusive workplace for their employees, customers, and partners.
Acknowledging that work needs to be done is just the first step. How can business leaders be kept accountable for making changes? Especially when results don’t happen overnight, how can executives continue to inspire and pave the way for more equitable workforces? What does all of this mean down the line?
Below, DEI experts share their thoughts on where we are with DEI and where we’re going. Read on for tips and advice from Alison Crawford, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Ripple, Natasha Kehimkar, CEO & Founder of Malida Advisors, Tamika Curry Smith, President of The TCS Group, Inc., and Ulysses Smith, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging at Blend.
Q: After a year of heightened conversations around DEI in the workforce, and a proliferation of job postings in the field, not much has changed. How can we actually start holding companies accountable to their DEI goals? What does that look like in practice?
Ulysses: I think we should expect that momentum is going to slow down around a lot of these topics, and one way to keep companies accountable is through DEI reports. Reports add an element of social responsibility and are a good way for companies to hold themselves accountable to the commitments being made.
However, it remains to be seen if this is the most effective method of quantifying the work that a company is doing. There’s a lot of data and analysis that goes into a report, especially around diversity. And we’re not necessarily seeing a unified set of metrics for a true comparative analysis, making it hard for us to investigate how DEI is actually coming along. Ultimately, I think it will come down to customers, partners, and talent being willing to stay at an organization and to engage the organization to keep them accountable.
Natasha: Looking at the metrics can help keep companies accountable. We look at standard metrics like representation and attrition, candidate experience data, hiring data, rejection rates, reasons for rejections, employee relations issues, and trends.
But one thing people need to keep in mind is that it’s a long haul, like any other culture change that doesn’t happen overnight. So if you are looking at metrics and expecting things to shift within six months, nine months, 12 months, even 24 months, it’s likely to be somewhat unrealistic.
You may get pockets of change, but this is a marathon, not a sprint.
There is a lot of conversation around what DEI data is useful, the parameters for it, and how it’s being communicated. What kind of data should companies be looking at and how does it help identify and change inequalities?
Alison: When you take a look at demographic data — especially in a global workforce — you can make shifts to create a more inclusive workspace for current and future employees.
We actually ran a Global Self ID campaign when I was at Uber and we recently launched one at Ripple, where I’m in the process of collecting data on demographic factors like race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation. We also expanded the survey to include socioeconomic status, education level, and caregiver status.
Some of this can be tracked through EEOC data, but actually doing a proper Global Self ID campaign that actively collects all this demographic data can help you better understand your workforce around the globe. Knowing how many of your employees are caregivers or have different ability statuses helps you know how to support them better and ensure that equitable practices exist across the board, from hiring through retaining talent.
Tamika: I think DEI needs to take a more data-driven approach to inform what we do and the way we do it. Gathering the data is just one step. But then you have to analyze the data and, just as with anything in a business environment, you have to set some goals. If you do see a gap in something that you need to address, set a goal and set a timeline for how to address it. Then, hold yourself accountable.
I think companies should follow what I like to call the “Three ‘I’s”, which are intention, integration, and investment.
So, if I see from that data that there are certain areas that are flashing red, I’ve got to be intentional about addressing those inequities and not letting them continue to happen. I’ve also got to take a cross-functional approach to address those challenges and really integrate the changes into my policies, procedures, and the way that I operate so that that same thing doesn’t happen again in a couple of years. Then, more importantly, I’ve got to figure out what that means in terms of investment: Do I need to invest in more benefits? Do I need to invest in more training? Do I need to bring in some external partners to help us because we don’t have the competency and headcount?
Data is almost like a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean that can really guide you on the right path for how you address the challenges that the data uncovers.
Especially as we’ve seen an influx in postings for DEI positions in the last year, what are trends you’re noticing about the profession and shifts in the industry?
Tamika: DEI goals need to be distributed throughout the business, with DEI leaders helping to inform business and people strategies that drive growth, creativity, innovation, and business outcomes. I think this entire body of work needs to be turned on its head so that we can really approach the work from the right perspective, position the person who’s doing the work with a set team, and more importantly, share the responsibility throughout the organization so changes actually get made.
Natasha: Everyone in a company should be expected to be a good steward of diversity and inclusion. We have to reframe how we look at diversity and leadership if we want to make changes by, say, 2025. Otherwise, we’re not going to drive the outcomes we want — with DEI being separate in a vacuum, it won’t be truly embraced by the whole organization.
It’s time for a change, and I encourage everyone to start evangelizing this idea of reframing how we view DEI — we need to take a different approach for different results.
Natasha mentioned that DEI is a marathon, not a sprint. What advice do you have for advocating how to push for change? How do you educate the C-Suite that prioritizing DEI is still necessary for moving forward?
Alison: I always like to ask executives how they like to learn. When we take a look at DEI and convey why it matters to decision-makers, it’s important to understand that not everyone is going to understand its value right off the bat. I like to ask folks how they like to learn to better gauge where their intercultural competencies are at.
For example, are you someone who reads a book a night? Are you someone who is attached to podcasts? Are you someone who would benefit from coaching? Or are you someone who actually wants to take a deeper look into their background and biases, to see how it’s influencing what kind of leader you are? I always like to ask that question and then tailor exactly how the influence needs to be approached.
Ulysses: I think companies need to be adopting new exercises to DEI, and one of those exercises needs to be taking a step back and thinking about how they fundamentally do business. Ask yourself, “What is our actual mission?” or “What are the values that we think are important and espouse in our culture? How are we hiring for that?” It goes beyond representation — while that’s important, having a diverse workforce can’t be your only end game, otherwise you’ll be doomed to fail.
I think my only guidance is to take a step back and up-level your thinking about DEI as a whole. Results aren’t going to happen overnight — it’s not a program, it’s an actual function of the business, so give it some authority as any other function of the organization.
Organizations have a lot of work to do to build and refine their DEI strategy. Looking for more ways to build and enhance your DEI strategy? Tune in to our recorded webinar with DEI leaders for more insights.