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WORKSPAN DAILY |

Use Data to Improve DEI Performance Through an EAP Lens

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Sanja Radin / iStock

Editor’s Note: Workspan Daily will be publishing a new column from the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) for the benefit of our readers to highlight the importance of employee assistance programs and to encourage further discourse on associated topics. New to WorldatWork? Please feel free to join the discussion in our new online community, Engage, or send your thoughts to workspan@worldatwork.org

A prevailing discussion in today’s workplace is the dialogue around diversity, equity and inclusion programs (DEI). Joan Williams and David White’s article in the Harvard Business Review suggested that past efforts to deal with these issues have basically failed. 

“White Americans are finally starting to understand that racism is structural,” wrote Williams and White. “The problem is not just a matter of a few bad apples, and it certainly won’t be solved by a few good conversations. To dismantle structural racism in our organizations, we must change our cultures.” 

The question is whether programs have actually stalled or has the “playing field” shifted and changed?

The 2020 deaths of unarmed Black Americans, including Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, generated widespread agitation and protests across the United States.  In the aftermath of the violence and unrest, many Americans have come to believe that the country needs to pass new civil rights laws to counter racial discrimination

This realization has also spilled over into private sector employee recruitment and retention practices. A majority of Americans believe private sector organizations bear responsibility for helping to create a more equitable and just society. As a result, a renewed urgency is being seen within workplaces to revise diversity policies and foster inclusion. A recent Fortune/Deloitte Survey found that 96% of CEOs agree that DEI is a strategic priority for their companies.

In the field of program assessment measurement, it is important to note that measuring diversity, equity and inclusion quickly with a sound and reliable tool presents several challenges. Diversity, a characteristic of a group that includes people of multiple and various identities and abilities, may be relatively straightforward to measure. However, assessing the extent to which all people feel respected, accepted, supported, and valued within a work environment, and all employees believe they can fully participate in decision-making processes and development opportunities within an organization, is more of a challenge to measure. 

How do these political, social, and business tensions filled issues relate to the EAP field? EA professionals are frequently asked to provide management consultation to HR, benefit departments, DEI programs and other select groups within an organization. The availability of a psychometrically informed instrument that could assist organizations in quickly assessing the impact of diversity and inclusion efforts would be a significant contribution to the behavioral health field in general and specifically to EAPs in their various consultative roles.

It would be important for such a tool to capture the perceptions and feeling states of employees working within one or more organizational departments. If such a tool were created conscientiously it would provide two things:

  • A process for senior management to quickly ascertain the degree of inclusion in various departments.
  • A way to capture the felt experience of employees’ sense of inclusion.

Despite the growing consensus around the importance of inclusion, there have been few scientific attempts to measure it. In the early years of diversity management, employee demographics were largely used to measure diversity progress. Later, measures were developed that assessed employee perceptions of diversity and diversity initiatives. Other measurement approaches have focused on the results of inclusion and exclusion, including adverse conditions such as turnover among employees who belong to minority groups and perceptions of “unfairness.

The more recent turn to creating specific measures of inclusion reflects a recognition of the potentially different ways employees can be disadvantaged in the workplace. Still, the few published attempts to measure inclusion directly remain limited in their accessibility, versatility and the insight they provide about workplace inclusion. In addition, recent attempts at measurement tend to be rather complex and focus on quantitative measures.  

What is needed is a scale that is simple, short in length and effectively captures employees’ experiences along the key dimensions of inclusion. The measurement field needs an easy to administer tool that can bring empirical and credible assessments of employees’ experiences to what is currently a primarily qualitative assessment and subjective approach to evaluating the efficacy of DEI organizational strategies

To return to the initial concern raised by the HBR article: are current DEI programs failing? Without the appropriate measurement tools that fit todays changing landscape, it is hard to effectively answer that question. A workplace inclusion scale that included the elements described above would offer EAPs and other departments within organizations a way to evaluate the level of inclusion that their employees actually feel.

This may be a good place to start todays understanding of this so-called changing landscape” and more effectively evaluate workplaces’ attempts at providing a culture of inclusion.

About the Authors

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David A. Sharar Ph.D. is currently the CEO of Chestnut Health Systems, a community-based not-for-profit health and human service system.

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Patricia A. Herlihy Ph.D., RN is CEO of Rocky Mountain Research, a specialized consulting practice that specifically focuses on EAP, work-life and wellness benefit delivery models.


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