Breaking down the barriers to a functional Diversity & Inclusion program

The term “Diversity & Inclusion” has become one of the most utilized terms in business, appearing throughout company values, panel discussions, and sales presentations. Despite the term’s presence, the idea of Diversity & Inclusion typically falls short of action.

While slow momentum towards real change can be rooted in anything from a lack of ideas to a complete discount of the concept, there are three main barriers to adoption:  data, awareness, and team balance. By working through each barrier, organizations can begin driving towards a functional Diversity & Inclusion program that will lead to elevated business performance.   

Using Data to Drive Better Diversity and Inclusion

The chance of a business outperforming its industry can increase by 20-30% through Diversity & Inclusion programs, according to McKinsey & Company’s 2018 Delivering through Diversity study. Despite these results, many companies do not know where to begin.

As with any strategic business initiative, data analysis should be the first step. However, organizations first need accurate and adequate data to unlock and support the drivers of human behavior that can lead to improved performance.

Now, imagine walking into a room of people and judging the basis of their personality and how to best drive their performance purely on their physical appearance. Hopefully, you immediately gasp at this concept; after all, we’ve been taught since childhood to not judge people by their appearance.

However, when determining diversity data points, organizations very rarely think about past gender and ethnicity. Instead, organizational leaders should think broadly around what shapes human behavior and expand into areas such as age, disability, education, family structure, and socio-economic environment.

ESG data management tools can assist in tracking and assessing these data points, allowing for ease of analysis. Benchmarking organizations, such as GRESB, are going a step further in the by including these factors as part of the overall analysis of a business. GRESB utilizes the reported data within its benchmark, resulting in improved scores for organizations that demonstrate a commitment to D&I.

If we acknowledge that collection and assessment of data are necessary to analyze performance and set future strategies then, why, in the era of “Big Data”, are we still struggling to unlock the potential of human capital data? Until D&I data collection is more broadly utilized, organizations will continue to miss the benefits of a truly diverse and inclusive business environment.  

Increasing Awareness Throughout the Organization

Of the three barriers, awareness is the most difficult to achieve but the most vital to a functional Diversity & Inclusion program. It requires us to be calm, self-critical, and at times, apologetic. Awareness requires us to challenge the way we communicate and to be inclusive, even when we feel excluded.

One example of the need for awareness can be viewed through gender distribution. According to, men hold over 75% of management roles globally, yet far too often we discuss the need for diversity and inclusion by targeting “old white men”. This divisive phrase has become ingrained in the diversity movement – I’m ashamed to say that I’ve also used this term in the past. How can any group expect inclusion if the strategy is to openly diminish another group by their age, gender and ethnicity?

This problem of awareness and ownership, however, is twofold. I frequently attend Diversity events or sit in rooms of very powerful and intelligent individuals looking to drive change. Sadly, the makeup of these groups is almost entirely women. My logic may be overly simplistic but, if we acknowledge that Diversity & Inclusion is good for business and men to hold over 75% of management roles, then why do we not have 75% male attendance and participation in these events?

For organizations to achieve functional Diversity & Inclusion programs, they need to educate individuals on the need to be self-aware, encourage and expect individuals of all backgrounds to openly and aggressively work towards equality, while also discouraging exclusive speech in any form. Pride may be what drives us as individuals, but awareness can break down barriers and bolster powerful change.

Achieving Team Balance in Leadership

After addressing the first two barriers – inadequate data and promoting awareness – the organization is ready to develop and deploy a complete Diversity & Inclusion strategy. However, before running to the whiteboard, businesses should analyze the team tasked with such a broad initiative. Is Diversity & Inclusion part of your overall business strategy driven by the CEO, or is it perceived as a “nice to have” that falls to the HR Department, who are typically overextended and underfunded?

According to DDI’s 2018 Global Leadership Forecast, 89% of leaders did not trust their HR teams to anticipate the talent needs of the organization through data, increasing from 80% in 2015. This skills gap, whether reality or perception, needs to be addressed before deploying a strategy that will impact such a wide group of stakeholders.

First, HR should be empowered and expected to operate as a strategic business leader. This begins with simple cross-functional training of the HR team; do they know how to sell the product at a high level, do they have the knowledge to speak with clients about the service offerings, do they understand the contract terms and billing? Do you trust HR to operate as thought leaders for the organization in the absence of a traditional CEO, COO, and CFO?

Following proper education and support, HR should be expected to combine the needs of the business with the needs of the people. Despite adequate human capital data and self-awareness, the failure to create a balanced team inclusive of both analytical and conscious leaders will continue to be a barrier to a truly comprehensive Diversity & Inclusion program.

The approach to developing a Diversity and Inclusion strategy has to be well informed and supported by leadership throughout the organization. Through complete data analytics, awareness and proper team balance, a business can change “Diversity & Inclusion” from a vapid expression to a truly functional program that drives social and financial value.

This article was written by Jessica Mangona, VP Human Resources at Measurabl.

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