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What we’ve learned about how to measure inclusion

As the current uprising against systemic racism in America continues to unfold, many companies find themselves either questioning how to proceed, or questioning how to deliver on new commitments to diversity and inclusion. All of this questioning is justified; unlearning and undoing centuries of oppression is complex and difficult work, albeit urgently needed. Some companies have a dedicated staff member(s) to work on parsing through these deep challenges, while others have largely foisted this onto the plate of HR teams that are already stretched thin with adapting to COVID-19 on top of their typical workloads. Particularly for those in the second bucket, we wanted to share some of what we’ve learned about managing and measuring inclusion to help jumpstart your progress.

The first step for those just starting out is to ensure you fully understand the difference between diversity and inclusion. While often paired together, they are distinct issues that must be addressed separately. Diversity refers to the composition of your workforce. Companies today measure diversity by tracking the number of employees who identify as members of various demographic groups based on race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, etc. There is a trend in the tech community of reporting these numbers publicly each year, and tellingly, there hasn’t been much change over the period since this practice began. That is the danger of focusing on diversity without putting in as much if not more effort to foster true inclusion. While workplaces can be inclusive without being diverse, it is the rare organization that can retain a diverse workforce without a strong commitment to inclusion.

Once an organization has committed to going beyond simply counting workers who meet predefined demographic criteria, the next step is to establish a baseline for how employees experience inclusion at the company. While out-of-the-box surveys can give you a sense, if you really want to understand how your company is doing today, it’s imperative that you speak with employees. Hold focus groups to learn about employees’ experiences, collect feedback from your employee resource groups, find out what sorts of exclusionary experiences your people are having so that you know what questions to ask when you put out the call to the larger group. If you don’t assemble your survey with an eye towards what your employees actually experience on a daily basis, you won’t get a complete picture from the data. Distribute the questions you assemble to all employees, and consider offering a raffle or other prize opportunity in order to maximize your response rate.

Now that your employees have completed the survey, it’s time to analyze the data with a focus on intersectionality. Just examining the data at face value may show you that one group experiences more exclusionary incidents than others, but all of the detail within each group will be lost. This will drastically reduce the effectiveness of any intervention you design in response. For instance, while women overall score one way, and Black employees score another, what is the experience like in your workplace for Black women, and how is that impacting your retention rate? Your results may initially indicate that LGBTQ+ employees feel included, but without cutting into the data, you might miss that your workplace in fact feels deeply exclusionary to trans folx. In order to actually make progress on inclusion, you have to stop looking at team members as checkboxes and begin focusing on whole people with many diverse identities and experiences.

Once you have your inclusion snapshot, it’s time to devise a strategy to improve your scores. Odds are strong that your employees are going to report varying levels of inclusion, so you have to be prepared to potentially face some difficult facts. After determining your course of action, you’ll similarly need a plan to measure your progress. Many companies have taken to conducting point-in-time engagement surveys every year or every two years. If you truly want to change the inclusion landscape within your organization, a much more agile process needs to be in place with check-in surveys delivering data at least once per quarter. Armed with these updates, organizations can shift their programming accordingly in order to maximize results.

We know this is a lot to manage, so consider leveraging technology as a resource to help you reach your goals. There is a growing market of inclusion software providers, from bots that will monitor Slack for exclusionary language to platforms like ours here at Workrowd, designed to streamline the surveying process, make data-based recommendations for policy and programming changes, and which offers template initiatives to help shorten your time-to-launch for new inclusion efforts. We hope this article helps as you look towards building a more inclusive workplace for all employees. As always, if you’d like to learn more you can visit us at workrowd.com or reach out directly at hello@workrowd.com.