How DEI Commitment Boosts Company Success

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We are in the midst of a diversity, equity and inclusion reconsideration, with some states now actively targeting such programs in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College ruling on affirmative action. Throw in shifting popular opinion on this issue, and we seem to have reached an inflection point. It might seem tempting for companies to follow the pendulum and bend to popular pressures, but in my opinion, that would be the wrong course.

In fact, now more than ever, smart organizations and their HR teams are doubling down on sustained DEI strategies. They understand that the surest way to get value from people is to cultivate an environment where everyone can contribute. And this is not only the right thing to do: Study after study has shown that it’s also the profitable thing.

Shifting winds

Diversity, equity and inclusion jumped to the forefront in the weeks following the 2021 murder of George Floyd. His death led to mass protests around the country, the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement and pressure on corporations to take a stance.

The result? About half of the firms on the S&P 100 pledged to dramatically increase diversity. Giants like Meta committed to hiring 50% of its workforce from underrepresented communities, doubling the number of Black and Hispanic workers. Job ads for chief diversity and inclusion officers nationwide swiftly rose more than 100%. Suddenly, it seemed, incremental progress had been replaced by an avalanche.

Fast forward three years, and these efforts are no longer being championed in the same way. Some found rationale in the Students for Fair Admissions decision, but in reality, momentum changed as soon as the headlines went away. Just look at the downturn in tech throughout 2022: Among the first people and programs cut were those working on DEI.

Sadly, both of these pendulum swings were knee-jerk responses to external factors. Achieving real progress, however, requires slow and sustained effort, and to do that, companies must base decisions on facts and numbers, not public pressure.

Related: Want to Attract Diverse Talent? You Need to Work on Your Employer Brand — Here’s Why.

Data as the true path to DEI

Those early pledges and statements might have been admirable, but many were vague and difficult to track accurately. In many instances, where most of the associated money was spent remains a mystery.

We live in an age of rich digital footprints — in customer data, for example, which fuels the ability to track and use fine-grained information about buyers. A similar level of insight is increasingly available in the context of employees. With people analytics, it’s possible to move beyond rote racial and ethnic breakdowns and map progress toward a broader brand of diversity.

For instance, consider the power of organizational network analysis (ONA), which measures collaboration among people. Companies can fill quotas and feel good about themselves, but ONA provides a way of knowing if diverse employees are getting seats at the table.

Related: Does Mandatory Diversity Training Work? A DEI Expert Reveals The Pros and Cons.

Such tools responsibly monitor a person’s experience at work (for example, analyzing calendar invites to see who is brought into important meetings and who is left out). ONA can also passively monitor internal platforms, looking for staff members who are under-utilized or worse, isolated. Companies can go even deeper into that information to understand how people of diverse backgrounds fit in, and then determine how to help them feel included.

An equally vital strategy is bringing a quantitative lens to pay equity. Despite good intentions, pay gaps remain a challenge across many organizations, in which compensation decisions are often based on a mix of habit and intuition. Considering how many state and local jurisdictions are now getting serious about pay transparency, organizations need to step up, and data can help as well. Companies can start with smart compensation tools that analyze how much team members are being paid (and, more importantly, how much they should be paid) based on performance, potential, tenure and comparables. Notably, such quantitative lens recommendations are rooted in hard data, helping to remove human bias.

A wider gaze

Finally, to push DEI forward in this post-affirmative action era, we have to get beyond broad definitions of what it means to be diverse, equal and included. Improved people analytics plays a central role here, evaluating a workforce across dimensions traditionally overlooked. One consideration might be determining how parents are doing in the workplace and/or focusing on new immigrants or people with disabilities.

Factors like age, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background affect a person’s job experience. When companies rely on broad pledges to boost diversity metrics, they ignore the other vital aspects of the people they take on as team members. Better data ultimately translates to broader insights and a better worker experience.

Related: Know a DEI Skeptic? Use These 3 Strategies to Engage Them

The payoff? When it comes to DEI, strong companies aren’t seeking accolades or simply responding to popular pressure. They’re motivated by an intrinsic understanding that equitable treatment is the right thing to do — from human and business standpoints. Ultimately, paychecks don’t drive loyalty or performance, but employee experience does. In that sense, prioritizing DEI will always be investing in a better future — for your teams and your company.

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