A Numbers Game
#evolve Magazine
October 22, 2021

The past two years have been tumultuous, to say the least.

Along with a once-in-a-century pandemic, we’ve been rocked by vivid, violent reminders that racial discrimination did not end with the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. As the nation grappled with the murders of George Floyd, Elijah McClain and other unarmed Black men at the hands of police, protesters took to the streets and employers felt a sense of urgency to strengthen their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and racial justice.




Granted, commitments to a diverse workforce are not new. Employers such as Minnetonka, Minn.-based Cargill Inc. established offices of equal opportunity in the late 1960s. Employee resource groups for women, people of color and LGBTQ individuals have become commonplace at virtually every large employer.

Yet something changed in recent years. Since 2017, more than 1,600 CEOs have signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion Pledge, promising to “better engage and support all underrepresented groups within business” by addressing “honestly and head-on the concerns and needs of our diverse employees and increase equity for all, including Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, LGBTQ, disabled, veterans and women.”

Meanwhile, Cargill and other major employers have held courageous conversations around matters of race, offered unconscious-bias training and pledged to take action both inside and outside their corporate walls. Companies hired chief diversity officers and postings for dedicated diversity recruiters increased nearly 800% from 2019 to 2020, according to Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

Clearly, employers are investing significant time and resources to ensuring that diverse employees are making it not only through the door, but into the executive ranks. As with any investment, the question now becomes whether they are reaping a return on their DEI initiatives. Are they truly moving the needle when it comes to achieving their goal of a more inclusive, diverse and equitable workplace or merely going through the motions?


Measurement Is a Must

The need to measure the impact of DEI initiatives is undeniable. From the C-suite to the boardroom to Wall Street, key stakeholders want to see the investment is paying dividends. So, too, do current and potential employees. Today’s workforce has options, and candidates are increasingly choosing to take their talents to companies with a deep commitment to community, corporate social responsibility and DEI. Without data to demonstrate improvements, an organization has no way of knowing whether a culture shift is truly taking place.


"If you’re not measuring and you’re not tracking differences over time, you won’t be able to see if you’re actually mitigating disparities, which is what this work is all about."


“It’s super important to track and measure and evaluate all things related to diversity, equity and inclusion,” says Andrew Plumley, a board member at Washington, D.C.-based Equity in the Center, who is also currently handling some of the organization’s operational duties while Executive Director Kerrien Suarez is on maternity leave.

“If you’re not measuring and you’re not tracking differences over time, you won’t be able to see if you’re actually mitigating disparities, which is what this work is all about.”

The good news is that DEI leaders recognize the need to measure their initiatives. Gartner reports that “setting goals and tracking DEI progress through metrics” was one of their top two priorities for 2021.

Unfortunately, Gartner also found that measuring DEI is complex because of a lack of clarity around which key performance indicators (KPIs) make the most sense for determining the success or failure of DEI initiatives. As a result, many organizations don’t have clear data on the diversity of their talent pipeline or workforce, leaving them unable to “accurately identify problems or launch targeted interventions to solve them,” according to Boston Consulting Group.

Many employers have tried to fill that gap by including questions on employee perceptions of DEI in annual engagement surveys or more frequent pulse surveys. While that’s a good starting point, experts say they don’t provide the full picture.

“DEI is one of the most challenging things to measure and to track because a lot of these metrics are qualitative,” said John Bremen, managing director of human capital and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. “You need uniform standards.”

Increasingly, organizations are turning to technology to assess DEI because it takes emotion out of the equation and provides the quantitative, hard data that recruiters and HR directors need to start moving the needle.

“Surveys put the onus on employees with questions like, ‘How can we make people from diverse populations feel more comfortable here?’ as if it’s somehow their fault [diverse talent] isn’t entering the source stream of talent,” said Sameer Penakalapati, founder and CEO of CEIPAL Corp., a Rochester, N.Y.-based provider of AI-powered recruitment software that is launching a DEI Assessment platform this year.

“By using technology, we can hold the recruiters and HR accountable and force them to step up and focus on those areas in need of improvement.”


Dialing Down Bias

For NexusTek, a Greenwood Village, Colo.-based provider of managed IT services, DEI took on heightened importance in 2020, as it did in many other organizations. As a male-dominated company headquartered in a state that, according to the U.S. Census, boasts a nearly 87% white population, the desire to diversify its 325-person workforce led Vice President of Human Resources Suzanne Harris to partner with ADP on the beta testing of its new DEI Dashboard. The ability to capture diversity metrics by geographic location, department, manager and job role gave Harris and her team the ability to determine where there were gaps in underrepresented groups and develop a “diversity roadmap” to address them.


"DEI is one of the most challenging things to measure and to track because a lot of these metrics are qualitative … You need uniform standards."


“The ability to slice and dice the data allows us to provide each manager the specific metrics related to their department and job functions, so they have a starting point to measure progress,” said Harris. “The hard data is a real eye-opener for them and starts them on their journey of making sure there isn’t any bias in their recruiting techniques.”

Since NexusTek began using the dashboard, it has instituted several changes, including sourcing candidates outside of its existing networks and rewriting policies and benefits plans to remove any language that may deter underrepresented groups from applying. The company has also adopted a recruiting scorecard approach that eliminates unconscious bias from the interview process by requiring each manager to score candidates based on the specific competencies of the role.

“Sometimes when a manager is interviewing someone, bias unintentionally creeps in,” said Harris. “With the recruiting scorecard, they don’t unintentionally lean toward the person they feel the most comfortable with, but the person who scores the highest.”

Harris credits those actions for helping NexusTek bring much-needed diversity to its ranks. In the past year, the company has increased its percentage of female, Black, Asian and LGBTQ employees. Most notably, according to Harris, the company was able to meet its goal of hiring more female engineers and moving more women into management.

“We wanted to see just how poor we were doing in the area of female engineers, so we could start moving the needle in a positive direction,” she said. “Managers knew they didn’t have many women in their departments, but until we gave them the hard data, they didn’t realize how low the numbers were. It’s been exciting to see more women come onboard and move into managerial positions.”


Aggressive Action

A deep commitment to DEI is central to Amazon’s mission to be “the Earth’s best employer,” according to Modupe Congleton, head of inclusion, diversity and equity for Amazon Web Services Inc. (AWS), a subsidiary of the e-commerce giant and the leading cloud-computing platform. While Seattle boasts a fairly diverse population from which to source talent, AWS recognizes it can’t simply rely on managers to deliver and maintain a diverse work- force and culture.

“At AWS, we believe the future of tech is diverse, inclusive and accessible across every color, gender, belief, origin, ability and community,” said Congleton. “We believe that good intentions don’t effect change. Mechanisms do. That’s why we’re taking a data-driven approach to further cultivate a culture of inclusion and to hire, retain and advance more diverse talent.”

AWS relies on detailed data to help identify gaps and opportunities for diversifying its workforce. In 2020, Congleton and her team spent several months diving deep into the mechanisms the company uses to hire, develop and promote employees, with the goal of removing barriers which might be preventing forward momentum for specific demo- graphic groups.

Those data-driven activities led AWS to set and meet the goal of doubling the representation of Black directors and vice presidents. Recognizing there is still work to do, AWS set even more aggressive goals for 2021, and Congleton says they are well on their way to achieving them.


"Having this data at our fingertips helps us remain intentional and keeps us focused on leveraging a variety of methods to make sure we keep this needle moving in the right direction."


“In addition to doubling the number of U.S. Black directors and VPs for the second year in a row, we are increasing our overall hiring of Black employees, as well as the number of women in senior principal, director, VP and distinguished engineer roles by 30% year-over-year,” said Congleton.

“We’re also inspecting any statistically significant demographic differences in performance ratings, attrition and low performance actions to identify the root causes and implement action plans, as necessary.”

DEI work can feel like a “forever journey” and systemic changes won’t happen overnight, said Congleton. But she’s encouraged to see a growing number of companies taking meaningful action. Likewise, at NexusTek, where Harris says DEI is “not a destination, but a journey.” She’s grateful to have solid data, which she monitors continuously due to its dynamic nature.

“Without the data, we could lose sight of the importance of improving our numbers and it might fall by the wayside,” said Harris. “Having this data at our fingertips helps us remain intentional and keeps us focused on leveraging a variety of methods to make sure we keep this needle moving in the right direction.”

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