Metrics for ‘Inclusion’: Employee engagement surveys provide baseline data

If excellent Management of differences shows up in diverse workforces and mixed leadership teams – what does the result of excellent Inclusion looks like? The big differences between the two paradigms appears to lie in the measurability. While we are able to count different constituencies, we need to reach out to people to ask them if Inclusion has actually worked out fine. Here, D&I interfaces with corporate culture, collaboration and leadership behaviour. For many years, these aspects were measured through employee surveys – today often referred to as employee engagement surveys. Measuring the success of D&I work in that context provides a whole new perspective. For the feedback from your actual target group will tell much more than the raw numbers you are counting along your HR processes. Here are examples from Ford, Sodexo and DSM.

Looking at the value chain of Diversity Management, aka The Propelling Potential Principle, we can remind ourselves that in order to make the most of differences, we need first of all an open mind-set and culture, and then inclusive processes and behaviours. While we focus a lot to collect, consolidate and communicate numbers to satisfy external expectations, we pay less attention to measuring the open-mindedness of our cultures and the inclusiveness of what employees experience through the behaviours of peers and managers. Surveys of corporate culture and feedback or reporting tools were developed over decades to know where an organisation stands on these items. Today, they are increasingly used to measure elements of D&I success.

In general, employee (engagement) surveys have three different main functions: first, they can serve as a diagnostic tool and the results provide a baseline to track change processes. Second, the surveys themselves can contribute to a climate of inclusiveness as they facilitate communication and feedback, and employees get heard and involved. This, as a consequence and as positive side effect, raises employee engagement and satisfaction. Third, employee survey can be used as a tool to measure the success of various programmes or processes. In each of the three variations, D&I can be integrated as a theme or a topic.

When starting to build a D&I initiative or when reviewing and assessing it, an in-depth insight in the perception of your employees is key. This is when a specific type of (qualitative) employee surveys becomes relevant: Personal individual or focus group interviews. They help to detect detailed dynamics (and shortcomings!) in your corporate and leadership cultures. Open and in-depth dialogues about specific aspects of ‘real life’ always generate insights, e.g. about unwritten rules or biases that are embedded in the culture, that otherwise would not have been possible to gain. It is a powerful – and unique – tool that is applied by many organisations as part of their strategy review cycles.

While your D&I programmes are up and running, and D&I is embedded in your HR work, the broader – quantitative – tools to measure the pulse of your corporate culture become your first choice: Large-scale employee surveys provide valid and reliable metrics for the success of your D&I work – and many other initiatives as well. However, integrating D&I questions in a general, annual or bi-annual employee survey is much easier said than done. A number of initiatives compete to become part of the questionnaire, and one question alone won’t generate valid nor reliable results. A very sad and unfortunate example is a non-discrimination question that was introduced in the mid 2000s into many survey. That specific question does not provide valid results due to its construction: “In our company, nobody is discriminated against based on his or her gender, religion, ethnicity, age, disability, or sexual orientation“. More specific questions are required that either focus on one aspect of Diversity or specific elements of leadership behaviour or collaboration that relates to D&I.

Fortunately, many firms include well-constructed questions about Diversity and Inclusion in their regular employee surveys. Ford was a pioneer in this respect. They integrated several questions about D&I in their PULSE survey, for example “Local management shows, through relevant actions that the diversity of people is one of the highest priorities of the company” [translated from German]. The results were combined to generate an Inclusion Index, which was also integrated in the company’s Balanced Scorecard (BSC). The company also used to show its progress on Diversity by communicating the positive development of some of the PULSE metrics. Building upon their good experiences with surveys, Ford also launched their “Dealer Diversity Survey”, which analysed demographic diversity  at Ford dealers and the awareness for D&I.

The global catering provider, Sodexo examines, how employee engagement is boosted through D&I and which benefits the company can reap from it. They want to detect both the general positive effects of Inclusiveness and the effectiveness of particular D&I programmes. As an example for the latter, Sodexo uses its employee engagement survey to measure the effects of its cross-cultural mentoring program called IMPACT. They found that it is associated with improved communication, job satisfaction and organisational commitment. With regard to the general success of their D&I programmes and policies, the survey found that 83% of employees believe “At Sodexo, employees who are diverse are valued for the differences they bring to the workplace”, which is up 16 percentage points from the 2006 results.

The Netherland-based life sciences and material sciences firm DSM also included a subset of survey items to measure inclusion and combined the results into an Inclusion Index. Of all respondents, 70% answered favourably in the latest round of 2014 (2013: 69%). The company states: “The consistent development of this index suggests that sustained progress is being made in creating and maintaining inclusive environments across the company“. The DSM Employee Engagement Survey is used as a tool to understand the requirements of employees. According to DSM, the survey makes an important contribution to “creat[ing] a company in which employees feel proud to work, and where they feel they can excel”. The response rate of 85 per cent is a robust base for reliable measures that could not be obtained by other means.

Other companies are using standard questionnaires offered by service firms that also carry out the surveys. In some of those cases, different companies can then compare their results – although the reliability of such comparison must be done with caution due to the different contexts in which the surveys take place. This points to the limitations of standardised, quantitative surveys: They cannot reveal complex patterns of explanation or specific contextual meanings. One important shortcoming is the lack of demographic data about the respondents. Most companies only track gender, maybe age, and some organisational characteristics including unit, site or function. From a D&I point of view it would be critical, though, to allow for the (voluntary) self-identification as regards disability, sexual orientation or ethnicity / origin. Splitting results by these criteria would generate a wealth of relevant D&I insight but most companies have shied away from existing possibilities. This is when focus group interviews (cf. above) come back in as alternative survey tool. They, however, require to know some basic issues relating to the specific topic(s) upfront.

The results of quantitative employee surveys provide critical information related to reaching your D&I goals and objectives, and the benefits your company reaps from D&I. It is essential, though, to include a set of questions on various specific aspects of Diversity in order to obtain robust information. The results of a well-constructed Inclusion Index should be regarded as important and relevant as representation numbers. Only as a combination, they tell a company if you actually succeed in turning differences into an added value, following the Propelling Potential Principle: Differences + open-mindedness + inclusive behaviour = benefits.