Most companies have a Diversity and Inclusion policy and a strategy for implementing them.  But as D&I programs have matured over the last twenty years, it has become clear that they have clustered more toward the diversity end of the equation while missing the mark on inclusion.  This imbalance has caused frustration among employee groups, because while diversity numbers through representation are achieved, the sense of belonging that comes with true inclusion has not.

Belonging is a major driver for inclusion and perhaps the most important.  But if it’s so easy to measure diversity, then why is it hard to measure inclusion?  And shouldn’t accurate measurements of each require that both be achieved in meaningful ways and that one should lead to another rather than excluding it once the first metric has been achieved?

Old Habits Die Hard

As most companies produce goods or services, measurement is a critical marker of success.  For measuring a company’s market success, these metrics provide actionable data and a way to understand what to do next.  But the problem of measuring inclusion does not exist because companies do not want to measure it.  It exists because of the tendency to operationalize core processes and distill them into metrics that make sense to decision-makers.  And since operationalizing data is a normal function for measuring key performance indicators, companies default to it as a method for measuring D&I.

As a result, programs stall at the diversity stage and founder on inclusion because inclusion is both qualitative and subjective.  By defaulting to the habit of using a metric that is only quantitative and objective, companies are failing definitionally from the start.  When the focus quickly moves to metrics as the signal of success it excludes solutions to address the qualitative problem of building true inclusion.   

Redefining Diversity and Inclusion

Many companies tend to believe that goals are attainable within a short period of time.  And by matching those goals to quotas and metrics only, they miss more than half of the goals intended for D&I.  A better solution would be  to redefine Diversity and Inclusion to capture the qualitative aspects of employee experience and to recognize that the definition of diversity includes not just numbers, but all traits and experiences that make that employee an individual.  And while many companies have good intentions, the fact that many of these employee’s experiences have been negative and exclusive mean their current definition may impede progress rather than advance it.

Within organizations where inclusion is vibrant and a sense of belonging is truly internalized into the corporate culture, inclusion is often invisible.  Happy and engaged employees may not notice it.  However, many programs for D&I implement training that states what inclusion should be based on the company’s definition. They don’t capture what it is within their organization based on employee experience.

Those experiences can be simple, such as the fact that one immigrant’s experience upon arrival into the US with no English-speaking ability will be different from another immigrant from the same country who speaks fluent English.  Even though they share a common culture, their experiences are layered and intersectional, something not captured by most D&I training programs. 

Those experiences can also be complex, such as multiple cultural identities and extreme negative experiences based on race, gender association, religion and a multitude of others.  As many companies develop training with a list of what should be done, it is easy enough for people to understand which answers are expected of them while not truly buying into the program.  A deeper and more realistic definition encompassing qualitative aspects of those experiences is the only path to the development of metrics that work.

Many companies have begun to explore ways to redefine D&I and one study in 2017 shows that executives who consider inclusion a top priority has grown over 32% since 2014.  As meaningful measurements have begun to take shape, companies have tied leadership accountability directly to D&I goals.  According to another study, 48% of companies have programs for embracing differences and 42% have programs for overcoming unconscious bias.  As these definitions change, measurements for both diversity and inclusion become more meaningful.  One way to help understand these measurements is through benchmarking.


As companies look for better ways to measure D&I, they seek to benchmark themselves.  This can be within similar industries as well as cross-industry as a broader experiential definition and measurement of D&I would not be product specific and should be applicable across all types of companies. 

Once meaningful metrics have been established, it is important to understand why companies should benchmark themselves.  By looking at the responses from other company’s D&I responses across a broad range of programs and focusses, a company may discover an avenue they may not have considered, such as affinity groups or programs to drive and support mentorship.  It also broadens the data gathered to build upon new definitions and improve discrepancies in areas such as compensation and promotions. And it may help them uncover and embrace difficult-to-discuss subjects they were initially hesitant to include.

While benchmarking is a useful tool, it will only provide value if the company first focuses on itself.  By engaging in the top to bottom introspection required to improve the definition and goals of D&I, benchmarking helps understand what to measure to hone the value of the lessons learned from introspection. 

Balanced Metrics for Stronger Diversity and Inclusion

Companies can achieve a heightened understanding of where their D&I initiatives are by implementing an appropriate mix of both qualitative measurements designed to capture the experience of employees, as well as quantitative measurements to anchor those results.

 Qualitative Measures:

·      Transparency of Experience – Experience can be captured to understand how employees feel.  This should be done without steering staff toward expected or positive experience.  They should be allowed to express the good, the bad and the ugly from their experiential past.  Setting can be in groups, one-on-one or both, and should be conducted in a manner where employees understand that expression will not negatively affect them.  It should be one where employees feel the company is seeking a genuine path to actionable change.  This should not be done only through exit interviews as they are after-the-fact.  It should be an integral part of a company’s efforts to understand different cultural and demographic experiences.

·      Engagement/SatisfactionSurveys to measure inclusion should also encourage and facilitate transparent communication.  These engagement surveys provide diagnostic tools and create a climate of inclusion as part of the company’s core values and a key to employee relations.

Specific subject areas that can be measured to better capture meaningful diversity and inclusion results can include:

o   Personal Growth and Happiness–  Studies have shown that only 13% of workers feel engaged at work.  This points to a lot of unhappy workers.  While compensation is important, building personal growth into performance discussions can result in improved performance.  Employees who feel that work-life balance, sense of belonging and authentic support from their company are adequate will deliver higher job satisfaction and productivity.

o   Horizontal Relationships – Relationships are key to any team’s success, and as a place where people spend as much as a third of their daily lives, peer to peer relationships in the workplace need to be healthy.  Measuring employee opinions and experiences among peers can help companies identify areas for improvement.

o   Vertical Relationships –  Just as measuring experiences among peers can improve inclusion initiatives, measuring vertical relationships between employees and managers within a company’s hierarchy can identify where change should occur.  People may join a company or an organization, but they tend to leave individuals such as managers who may have their own issues with personal growth.  Healthy horizontal relationships with negative vertical relationships can create an “us vs them” mentality.  By directing the goal of understanding employee experience to encompass vertical relationships as well, inclusion then becomes three dimensional.  

o   Recognition and Feedback –  Honest recognition allows employees develop a better sense of contributing to the team and that leads to a stronger sense of belonging.  This goes hand in hand with honest, objective feedback.  If an employee understands that both recognition and feedback are applied frequently and fairly to everyone, their sense of inclusion will rise as a result.

o   Ambassadorship –  One way to measure pride and loyalty among employees is to understand ambassadorship.  What is the employee’s opinion of the company?  How do they negatively or positively manifest that opinion on social media or word of mouth?  By creating a positive outlet for ambassadorship, companies can nurture the effort to improve employee inclusion and build company reputation at the same time.  This helps align employees’ personal values with those of the company.

Quantitative Measures:

·      Management/Leadership –  Many companies statistically achieve “diversity” in lower and mid-level positions while upper and executive management remain exclusive.  Measuring the vertical diversity can lead to improved organizational perceptions of diversity as employees realize that all growth paths are open to them.

·      Performance Issues – One quantitative measure of inclusion is in performance measurements.  As a company’s inclusion improves, performance issues go down.  A study by Deloitte has shown that inclusive organizations can deal with performance issues 3.6 times better than those that are not.

·      Retention – As qualitative measures of experience build inclusion; improved retention is a quantitative measure that reflects fewer grievances and reduced social distance.

It could be argued that the first step toward accurately measuring Diversity and Inclusion would be to work on developing inclusion first.  If an organization can’t define and deploy solutions to the few diverse employees they do have, increasing the numbers to a statistically acceptable level won’t help.  By capturing experience and developing methods to measure it, inclusion is not relegated to an unachievable second step. It is at least a co-equal partner with diversity and perhaps one that should be addressed first.

Looking to leverage tech to better manage your diversity & inclusion initiatives? Schedule a demo with Five to Nine to get the most of your D&I programs.