Companies of all sizes were forced to make many necessary adjustments to support the well-being of their employees in 2020. The pandemic compounded by the social unrest that occurred following the numerous instances of police brutality and social injustices sparked an awakening that pushed companies and leaders to learn about the experiences and challenges of marginalized groups and do the work to make their company more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
It’s important that we keep our foot on the gas in 2021 to continue creating change within our organizations.
To ensure your company’s diversity and engagement programs are working and developing properly you must be ready to ask people from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds what they need before, not after, starting any new programs or initiatives.
The challenge for many companies is that their initiatives are built to foster equality, not equity. They are asking themselves, “How can we ensure everyone is treated equally?” That is the wrong question.
The right question is, “How can I ensure everyone gets what they need?”
Companies should focus on creating strategies and initiatives that ensure that each person has the ability to deliver their best in the best environment. When leaders tell me that they want equality over everything else, I usually look around at the varying laptops in the room at any given meeting. There are usually at least two different types because developers and designers may need one type, while marketing needs another. If you force everyone into the same laptop, you may get great results for some, but possibly worse results from others. Would you be willing to take that risk for the sake of equality? Probably not. The same should be true for diversity and engagement.
Gathering feedback and insight from as many employees as possible is key to informing how your company responds. Think of it this way: Your employees are on a spectrum. Some of them might be thriving with the programs and resources that your company has already established, while others may need more support.
When most leaders think about feedback they either go high or low in their thinking. High-level thinking would be employee surveys to gauge the overarching employee sentiment. These surveys are important and certainly have their place, but employee surveys are more like a compass. They tell you which way to go but don’t provide any turn-by-turn directions. Often, these surveys don’t provide us with the insights needed to identify which populations are falling through the cracks or need more support, especially when they don’t gather demographic data like location, tenure, gender, etc.
Low-level thinking relies on anecdotal feedback that is usually from their inner circle, which given the lack of diversity in leadership isn’t likely to be disruptive, bring new ideas to the table, or reflective of the needs or concerns of diverse populations. Leaders need to explore new ways to fill in the gaps between these two feedback techniques to be able to successfully evaluate their programs.
An underutilized tool in the feedback arsenal is focus groups. These are a great next step following a survey to do a deeper dive with key populations. Did your survey reveal that engagement is lower amongst Latinos and those newer in career? Then focus your attention there. Bring employees together who identify as Latino and ask them purposeful questions that will help your organization identify the root of the issue. Of course, to get employees to participate in a focus group your organizations need to have already established trust with the underrepresented populations of your organization.
Participants should know that the leaders are there to listen and learn, not to justify their current programs or practices and that their feedback will be used to inform future programs. Be as transparent as possible about the culture you’re trying to build and the strategy you’re using to do so. That way people know where to lean in and support and when to raise the flag if your programs fall off track.
The last and arguably most important step of evaluating your diversity and engagement programs is measuring your ongoing progress and outcomes. Just like when you were in school and got progress reports throughout the semester so that the final report cards weren’t a surprise, companies should continuously be tracking their progress.
A good place to start is to ensure that you have the systems necessary to pull the qualitative data that you need, not just the data that you can. Too often we settle for only making the data that we can pull our key progress measurements, but that is not always the right data. For instance, I’ve seen engagement scorecards with “time to hire” metrics, which have nothing to do with the engagement of existing employees.
Once you have the data you’re looking for, share the results with your employees, both the good and the bad. Please don’t ever try to manipulate the data into what you were hoping it would be or to support the initiative you want to roll out. Part of being transparent with your employees is being able to accept constructive feedback and use it to improve. Your employees need to see a timely and responsive follow-up to their concerns. This signals not just that you’re responsive to their concerns but more that they’ve made the right choice in you as their employer.