Published November 8, 2022 | Updated August 3, 2023 | 3 minute read
At August, one of our four levers of organizational transformation is operationalizing equity and inclusion. But what does that really mean?
It means that equity and inclusion can’t be achieved through good intentions or righteous statements. They can only be achieved through structural and relational change.
In organizations, the leaders who create that change are up against some big challenges. We recently gathered several leaders we work with, from an array of industries and organizations, for an Equity+ Roundtable to compare notes and support each other in this work.
Within minutes, the conversation lit up. These people didn’t know each other, and had little in common as far as specialization or sector – yet they were hungry to commune and connect with fellow E&I change-makers.
I can understand why.
Equity and inclusion can be lonely work. Its leaders are rarely thanked for pointing out the big, entrenched inequities that benefit those in power – much less for dismantling them and building more equitable structures in their place.
Perhaps this structural and relational isolation is why so many of the participants surfaced variations on one core question:
How do we measure the impact of our E&I efforts?
How do we know if our work is making a difference? How can we make sure that difference is felt more deeply by more people? How can we sell these changes to leaders who are reluctant to rock the boat? How can we measure our own milestones, so we can celebrate our wins?
In order to operationalize equity and inclusion, we need to measure its impact. From our roundtable discussion, here are 3 strategies that emerged for how to do it.
1. Broaden the spectrum.
Employee engagement “pulse check” surveys, including the industry standard one by Gallup, usually offer employees a 1-5 scale to rank their experience.
But what if you were to broaden the spectrum? A scale of 1-10 gives much more opportunity for nuance. E&I is incremental work, and a wider scale might capture progress that’s obscured by a narrower one.
Also, if you can collect self-reported data on employee identities - across gender, race, and other important dimensions of diversity - then a more nuanced scale can better identify different needs felt by different groups.
If your org isn’t ready for a big change in employee engagement measurement, a spectrum scale shift is a small but powerful way to start.
Women, BIPOC, queer and disabled employees might have very nuanced responses to the statement, “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” Or, “At work, my opinions seem to count.”
These are already E&I questions. A broader scale can help you capture an E&I-inflected response.
2. Ask the right questions.
August advisory board member and E&I expert Lori Nishiura Mackenzie offered this brilliant nugget of wisdom:
Design your survey questions to explicitly capture the employee’s E&I experience.
For example, rather than asking, “Do you feel like you belong in your workplace?” ask, “Do you feel like every employee in your workplace, no matter their racial, sexual or gender identity, has equal opportunity to advance?”
This is a helpful tactic in anonymous surveys, particularly for smaller organizations where it may be difficult to capture the participant’s identity markers without compromising their privacy.
You’ll gain better information with E&I-specific questions, while protecting respondents’ psychological safety to be honest without “outing” themselves.
3. Integrate E&I into employee engagement.
Ultimately, E&I is a core metric of employee engagement. They’re not separate.
It’s time to take equity and inclusion out of its niche and integrate it into the fabric of company culture, where it belongs.
Employees who feel marginalized, stereotyped, or who come up against systemic barriers to advancement will be less engaged, less productive, and experience less psychological safety in your company. They won’t feel supported by their managers or seen by their leaders. They might struggle to connect authentically with their peers.
These factors will influence their responses to your engagement survey – but if you’re keeping E&I on the sidelines of your own thinking, you won’t see it.
Your company might not be ready to move E&I off the sidelines. This is one of the primary challenges faced by E&I change-makers - to push their orgs to center E&I in every conversation about the employee experience.
Equity and inclusion has a massive impact on morale, productivity, retention and belonging. Measuring these outcomes is a powerful way to prove its worth and advocate for its advancement.