Are numerous likes from followers indicative of valuable, inspiring content? Do many participants illustrate the impact of a D&I initiative? Is positive feedback at a DEI meeting confirming your DEI strategy design? As a critical D&I engineer, I see a need to look at different DEI target groups and related objectives in the first place. For this helps us to contextualise some of our evaluation results.
The 20¦21>22>> Trilogy (part 3)
If you are the CDO or Head of D&I of an International corporation – or work with them –, which of the following do you say or experience every now and then?
- “We have all the (data and) insight we need and can get”
- “Our (new) activities attract many and are successful“
- “We see the desired support and participation in our programmes”
- “The feedback we receive is great and encouraging”
- “We have verified externally that what they are doing is state of the art”
Such positive evaluation certainly feels encouraging and propels the positive energy we need in our work as many are coping with resistance of different forms. At the same time, it seems important to reflect which stakeholders have been involved and contributed to the assessment.
Considering the dynamics explored in the other two parts of this trilogy let’s first reflect widespread approaches to vetting, ventilating and verifying D&I aspirations, approaches and activities. When do companies feel they are pursuing effective DEI strategies? How does positive appraisal accrue? Who contributes to which evaluation, review or assessment? These questions are relevant on two levels:
- Internal evaluations: Are your audiences mainly from minority or majority backgrounds and – equally importantly – do they come from supportive or critical sub-groups?
- External evaluations: Are your sparring partners mostly in similar job/functions or industry/contexts to yourself and – equally important – do you share similar backgrounds, geographies, demographics, worldviews etc.?
At this point, I do not focus on the various layers of (quantitative) KPIs that are (hopefully) tracked to measure diversity, belonging, inclusion and the business value-add of D&I as discussed in this article.
As organisations launch internal D&I communities and communicate case studies externally, they track and monitor the level and quality of interaction and feedback. Let’s explore what positive feedback from different audiences may tell us.
Internal success: (p)reaching (to) the converted and nesting in pleasant niches?
At the very beginning (I refer to the 1990s) Diversity focused on minorities, marginalised or disadvantaged groups. In the late 2000s, D&I strategies started to include the respective majorities, dominant or privileged groups which today are at the centre of formats such as allyship programmes, inclusive leadership, champion/ambassador or other business-led D&I initiatives. This set-up includes the basic assumption that people from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds are – based on their group membership – able to see barriers, biases and privilege which members of the dominant or majority groups have to actively be made aware of and explore. Gap data and insight about structural discrimination show that the normative distinction of
- Diversity target groups (women, Black+, LatinX, old/young, LGBTQI, people with a disability, Roma, religious minorities etc.) and
- Mainstream target groups (men, white, middle-aged, straight, fully abled etc.)
can (still) be necessary (or helpful) to address inequities, inequalities or injustices and will hence remain on the DEI agenda for another ‘while’.
What this model does not accommodate, though, is the intra-group diversity which has become critically important for two reasons:
- The personal developments, identities and realities of individuals are today influenced by a multitude of personal factors. Children of bi-national/cultural couples may, e.g., grow up and live in two or three cultures different from their parent’s origins while they might have a distinct, different understanding of their ethnicity. In this and many other regards we find a broad variety within each group mentioned above that goes far beyond traditionally assumed DEI (group) traits.
- The perception of and readiness to engage in D&I is strongly influenced by an individual’s convictions, beliefs, values and attitudes (no only towards DEI). With cross-medial, cross-generational, cross-cultural etc. effects kicking in ethical, equitable and inclusive values (as well as their opposites) are today represented in almost every group of people. Individual values co-determine the DEI perspective of a person at least as much as their minority or majority group membership.
“Today, the intra-group diversity is much more significant compared to what it was ten or twenty years ago – in each of the minority and majority groups, that is.”
From intersectionality to individuality
As an important concept to cover some of this complexity, intersectionality has received increasing attention in recent years. While it often focuses on compound effects of discrimination, it is also a step in the direction of acknowledging that people often do not identify with one main (diversity) group. In previous articles, I have already described individuality as an extrapolated concept of diversity and intersectionality. Individuality appears to be increasingly adequate to outline the identities and realities of people who used to be assigned to one dimension in the traditional D&I approach. This transversal thought shows up in several contexts
- In the cultural diversity field, past models have become less relevant in a more complex and connected world
- In long-term analyses about the future of D&I, experts describe inter-relatedness and individuality as key topics
- The fluidity of gender identities is another area where the traditional diversity definitions were widened
- Generations not only change over time, they are also less homogeneous than generally thought
What remains to be operationalised is how individuality could be effectively added to the existing messaging around D&I and the numerous programmes that cater either to specific groups or to ‘everyone’. Seeing the personal development of stakeholders as a common theme can be an effective approach as the following considerations show.
From bystanders to co-owners
The notion that members of traditionally marginalised groups are natural promotors of D&I while those from dominant groups are more often opponents that need to be educated appears more differentiated today – as illustrated above. We see both increasing criticism from minorities about topic-centred messages or narrowly focused programmes and increasing support from mainstream/majorities for Diversity, Equity or Inclusion as a corporate, business or identity element.
We should therefore be careful when looking at positive feedback from either group or from mixed audiences – for it could come mainly from individuals who were already supportive when they got involved (commonly known as the preaching-to-the-converted situation). All these considerations show that we should therefore rethink our D&I messages, strategies and their evaluation, going forward.
Practical implications on managing internal DEI audiences
Adding individuality to the D&I narrative and aiming at advancing the personal understanding of people across minority and majority groups sounds like a complete revamping of what we know as D&I. While it will require to overcome some deep-rooted beliefs and convictions, its implementation can start as of tomorrow. In fact, some of our most impactful D&I programmes follow many of the thoughts described, including
- Learning journeys that start from individual identity reflection (instead of a pre-set definition)
- Organisation development that establishes a unit-specific relevance of D&I as a first step (instead of one generic corporate business case slide)
- Bias education that looks at both inter-personal and organisational dynamics (instead of less relevant yet catchy cognitive bias tests)
- Interactive campaigns that attract majorities and minorities alike (instead of emotional minority stories and separated safe spaces)
- Open-ended personal development schemes that aim at individual progress (instead of pre-set learning take-aways of check-lists)
The evaluations that we conduct in these contexts focus on tracking the development steps every participant or contributor has made as a result of the respective activity. This ensures that positive, neutral or negative preconceptions will not affect the evaluation – neither for the positive nor for the negative.
External success: validation through benchmarking, labels, awards or ratings?
As D&I has enormously expanded over the decades a large number of external programmes for companies were developed. Many of them aim at giving the participating organisations
- Security of not being behind an assumed standard
- Access to proven, effective practices
- Platform for joint publicity
- Certification to exculpate themselves in case of incidences
- Forum for emotional mutual support
- Assessments to illustrate the existing situation
- Opportunity to influence the public or political D&I agenda
Networking is great – and bears risks
Networking is often mentioned as the recurring key value across these initiatives and Heads of D&I use them for research, feedback, inspiration, advice, career advancement, evaluation/assessment and more. Surprisingly, some limitations of networking and of a focus on followers are hardly ever discussed in the DEI context. Maybe not so surprising after all, as reflecting the biases we are exposed to is more difficult than pointing them out elsewhere. These articles describe specific pitfalls of networking in DEI.
- Similarity, mere exposure and proximity biases are the most likely ones and covered by group think and echo chamber analyses, transferred to the D&I context
- Research found that in order to be innovative, it is often necessary to detach oneself from networks as they can hold us back (one ‘safety side’ of peer pressure)
- Concepts and messages that are repeated within the D&I field can turn into false assumptions or myths
- Relying on your peer group leads, over time, to overconfidence (research)
- Focussing on people that are similar to ourselves does not practice what we preach
Similar to bias effects in people processes, each of the aspects above can create two unwanted effects when companies use external networks or their followers to evaluate the success of their D&I work: Bias in structured or in personal assessments.
- Benchmarking (and similar exercises) typically include criteria that work well for all participants while they cannot consider aspects related to the individual (cultural) development of an organisation.
- Personal feedback from a sparring partner who has worked in similar jobs, reads similar news and uses similar tools or programmes as you yourself is likely to be positive while it may not be your best choice in the specific context or maturity stage of your organisation.
Practical implications on managing external DEI audiences
Mitigating possible biases in external D&I networks is as important as they are as an element of your ecosystem. Similar to the way we explain bias to our audiences, I would argue that using peer groups for evaluations is okay-ish as long as you are aware of the inherent bias and you add an extra quality check. At the same time, I warn about only using formats of similar architecture (e.g. benchmark, rating, award, labels, charters etc.).
In addition to network-based evaluations, we have developed and applied other external sources to verify if D&I programmes have the desired impact or are cutting-edge, including
- D&I-based customer feedback – quantitative and qualitative
- Evaluation of media inquiries and reports
- Evaluation of invitations to contribute to publications or events
- Critical assessment by independent outside D&I experts
- Tracking of requests for support from special interest communities
- Tracking of analysts’ inquiries and ratings (including with a DEI / SDG factor)
(un)comfortable discussions – (dis)agreement – (un)learning assumptions
Focusing on followers can help justify your work (and budgets) and ensure you stay operational. However, in order to achieve step change, get to your next level, win new target groups or realise tangible transformation in employee experience you will need more. As we often emphasise in DEI, it all starts with stepping out of our comfort zone. Former IBM CEO, Ginnie Rottney, reminded us that “growth and comfort do not coexist” and one part of the Mumbai Trilogy applies the idea to D&I.
Another, following element is the readiness to disagree with more peers and to look for agreement with more stakeholders that we want to take ownership. If we want to upgrade existing organisations and systems (instead of destroying them and building new ones), we have to build more bridges between the various camps (that grew, separately, through social media and covid).
This article focuses on the considerations required to scale D&I to reach the mainstream and majorities.
At the end, we must learn to unlearn and learn new things – an idea that BMW Foundation applies to RacialEquity in one of their series in their online magazine, twentythirty.com. Transferred to D&I, two overlapping approaches are critically important:
1. Readiness to look at our own biases and how we deal with them, e.g.
- Reflecting our behaviours related to D&I standards
- Checking if we apply meritocracy in our D&I world and processes
- Revisiting our approach to Unconscious Biases
- Checking the effects of online tools
2. Readiness to revisit deep-rooted assumptions and eventually break related myths, e.g.
- 5 changes to upgrade D&I
- Challenging simplistic business cases
- Looking beyond the repeated gender pay gap and related language
- Revisiting the dynamics of numeric targets
This analysis has shown that neither a large number of followers nor positive feedback are indicative of quality or success. Instead, intragroup diversity and individual attitude must be factored in – including in programme design. Going forward, new paradigms, more critical thinking and more focus on the context, needs and maturity of an organisation are required to create DEI traction and progress.
Michael Stuber is The International D&I Engineer and founder of European Diversity Research & Consulting, the EMEA level D&I pioneer, and provider of insight-based, international and innovative DEI diagnostics, strategies and solutions. Visit his company website at www.european-diversity.com
Previous articles of this trilogy