Diversity & Inclusion

D&I Dont’s: Measuring diversity, but not inclusion

Fred Gulliford

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a serious part of most modern companies, and rightly so. Senior positions like ‘Head of Diversity’ started to spring up a few years ago, for a couple of key reasons.

Firstly there’s the ethical side. We know it’s harder for some cultures and minorities to get the roles they deserve. This is down to an unconscious bias that leans us towards people who are similar to us. But it’s important to acknowledge this and actively counter it.
Secondly, it’s healthy to have all the perspectives and experience that comes with a truly diverse workforce. People from varied backgrounds make it easier to foresee problems and to innovate. That means greater efficiency, higher profits and better business performance.

How do you define diversity in the workplace?

Defining and measuring diversity is the relatively straight forward bit. You can look at race, culture, gender (or gender identity), age, social background, disabilities, religion, ethnicity, etc:

Diversity is a measure of representation. A simple headcount, revealing our current state across a single dimension.

The big hurdles

Measuring diversity is easy enough, but a lot of companies find out the hard way that improving it is a different story altogether. Here are the hurdles you need to get over:

  • You get the results, which aren’t very positive. The problem is they don’t give you any solutions, just numbers, so you don’t know what to do next.
  • You use employee engagement surveys to try to understand how to make changes, but the questions are too restrictive. You might even try multiple choice answers, but ultimately you can’t really assess complex feelings with your employee survey tools.
  • You use focus groups to try to understand the working environment, but the discussion may highlight the wrong things. That’s because focus groups don’t give you a good enough sample size, and are inherently bad at giving people a safe space to say how they really feel.
  • Maybe you work out a way to improve the diversity across the company, but employees feel like they’re still not included, so your retention is poor.
  • With all your talk of diversity, but no clear way of moving forward, you start to alienate the people who aren’t even in an under-represented group. In the UK this is almost always white men – and if you don’t approach diversity properly, you’ll make them feel unwanted and defensive. At that point it doesn’t feel like there’s any equality at work for anyone.

What do we mean by inclusion?

If diversity is being invited to the party, then inclusion is being asked to dance. Or being offered a mocktail if you don’t drink alcohol. Or having veggie food if you don’t eat meat.

If your team are at the proverbial party, but are standing in the corner not feeling particularly welcome, then you’re not being inclusive.

Inclusion is a measure of support and connection. It gives us an understanding of experiences across multiple dimensions.

Measuring inclusion – getting the right feedback from your teams

Inclusion comes from deeply held feelings. These cannot be measured by asking for a response between 1 and 10 about how included people feel. It’s far more nuanced than that. Your employees have individual personalities and needs that are deeper than a group or subset can define. To effectively measure an inclusive workplace, it’s important that you:

1. Ask intelligent questions with diversity and inclusion surveys

When asking your employees about their working lives it’s important you ask the right questions. This may seem blindingly obvious, but it’s important that they can be linked back to what you are trying to measure.

Rather than asking questions that might touch upon elements of inclusion such as ‘I have a best friend at work’ (strongly agree to strongly disagree), ask straight forward questions that will illicit open and honest feedback.

For example, when asking about inclusion, think about asking them open text questions such as ‘What one thing stops you from feeling actively involved at work?’.

2. Let your people answer in their own words

When you’re trying to understand people, don’t make them express themselves through checkboxes. Language is best form of communicating feelings and expressing complex thoughts. Multiple choice answers won’t get you very far.

You need to let your people answer in their own words, using free text questions. Only then can you get to the heart of how your teams are feeling.

3. Use technology and artificial intelligence to put a value on inclusion

So you’ve asked open text questions, now what?

Gone are the days of trawling through spreadsheets and manually assessing responses. It takes too long. Employee language analysis can now be carried out quickly with minimal effort using Natural Language Processing (NLP). This technology can categorise thousands of responses instantly, into the key themes/sentiment and arrange the data into reports that tell you exactly what you need to address.

This process transforms complex experiences into a simple measure of inclusion that can be compared from one survey to another. See below an example of how the technology can categorise employee language:

Survey Question GIF

4. Shine a light on inclusion

Previously, measures of inclusion have tended to be anecdotal and could only be measured after the event. Through quantifying the key themes and sentiment in your employees feedback using NLP, this means that inclusion can now be measured in real time and evaluated at different levels and groups in the organisation.

If we really want to improve inclusion, it is imperative we measure it. As the famous adage goes:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

This couldn’t be more true of inclusion. Senior leaders need to quickly understand what’s going well and what needs improvement, making it easier to get buy-in for what you need to do.

5. Take action to improve inclusion

Employee Language Analysis helps find the hidden feelings of all your people. This means you’ll be aware of often-overlooked issues that can make a big difference. Creating real change in the workplace is a multifaceted challenge and one that people from all walks of life and backgrounds need to have a role in.

By gathering feedback across your organisation, you can start to understand what different groups are asking for and identify the key actions that you need to take to improve your diversity and inclusion efforts.

It’s time to start the conversation

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