The push for companies to publicly disclose diversity metrics for accountability and potential incorporation into shareholder evalutation is not new, despite the renewed push for transparency following the murder of George Flloyd and many other unarmed African Americans in 2020 which resulted in a summer of protest and push for racial justice. Beginning in 2014 large tech companies like Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft all started publishing annual reports; however, for DE&I proponents, there has been far too little progress in the disclosed metrics.
In the recent article How to Best Use Data to Meet Your DE&I Goals, Siri Chilazi and Iris Bohnet argue that disclosing DE&I metrics can only bring about changes in behavior if accompanied with the following four actions:
- “Present diversity data in a way that is simple, salient, and comparable”
Their first argument is that DE&I metrics have to be easy to understand, easy to follow the connection to results, and easy to compare with other companies. There are three important points in this argument: 1. If metrics are not easy to understand and digest, then they have no chance of changing behaviors. 2. Metrics must be salient in order to be actionable. 3. If metrics are not easily comparable with other companies’ metrics, then users will be forced to look at the metrics in a vacuum, rendering them relatively useless for decisions.
- “Leverage diversity data to empower the right people to act.”
Their second argument hinges on the idea that within corporations, DE&I metrics are frequently tracked by HR, D&I and People Operations. Most front-line workers have no visibility into the metrics, and senior leaders only see them during scheduled reports or dashboards, in more advanced organizations.
- “Set diversity goals to create accountability and increase follow-through.”
The third argument discusses a typical DE&I understanding, which is what is not measured within an organization does not count, but goes further to say that disclosing tangible goals results in accountability and also pushes the organization to make cultural changes to reach those stated goals.
- “Leverage diversity data to shift social norms around DE&I.”
Their final argument dispels an idea held within the tech world that disclosure reinforces the idea of exclusion by saying that DE&I metrics have shifted much more quickly after public disclosure began.
These four arguments are really about how to tailor the data to be actionable by the following four stakeholders: Shareholders / Public, General Employee Population, Employees Responsible for Execution, and Senior Leadership.
While the argument that actions must follow data aligns with the typical business strategy flow, when it comes to DE&I metrics, companies would benefit by starting with the ideal state of DE&I and their culture and then creating an action plan regardless of prioritizing those actions that will shift metrics.
This is not an argument to stop using DE&I metrics, and it is not an argument to say there is no power in publicly discussing DE&I metrics and goals. It is an argument that not all of the actions to create a more equitable culture can be tangibly measured, and if companies are so focused on producing results in the form of metrics and justifying DE&I program spend with these metrics, then actions that could truly produce a safer, more just workplace for minorities could be deprioritized.
A very tangible example is around mentorship, learning and development and ERG efforts. These programs alone might not have a direct impact on DE&I metrics, and thus could be deprioritized or seen as expendable, but could be the most important factors in the success of minority groups within a workplace.
Overall, the article by Chilazi and Bohnet clearly articulates how to ensure that DE&I metrics are salient and actionable for a variety of stakeholders, but needs to be put into overall DE&I strategy setting context.