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Young People at a Workshop

Boldly Speaking.


Recently, I have been having a lot of conversations about the best ways to track the success of organizational diversity, equity and inclusion.  I am a strong believer that traditional approaches to measuring effectiveness based solely on diversity -- which tend to rely heavily on snapshots of representation by gender, race, LGBTQ2S+ identification, for example – are not sufficient. Instead, to be truly meaningful, I believe organizations need to also have insights into the experiences of diverse staff.

For example, seeing that an organization has 24% women in 2018 and 26% in 2019 would suggest that it is increasingly being viewed by women as an ideal place to work.  However, we are not shown what is happening behind the scenes.  For example, knowing that the figures have grown provides information about recruitment, but not necessarily retention.  Indeed, women could be cycling through the organization with a high rate at turnover that is only slightly outpaced by the rate of recruitment!  A snapshot alone will not capture this. 

Such stats could also obscure information about:

  • The nature of work (are women in the organization facing a glass ceiling to advancement and are they receiving fair compensation?)

  • How diversity is defined (are women Black, Indigenous and racialized women accessing meaningful employment opportunities at similar rates to white women?)

  • Their experiences in the workplace (are they often ignored in meetings or are their ideas co-opted?), and finally

  • Why the numbers are what they are

This last question is particularly challenging because it can allude to incorrect assumptions about employment equity and affirmative action programs.


According to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, “any organization or business that is regulated by the federal government has a legal obligation to comply with the Employment Equity Act and provide equal employment opportunities to four designated groups:  women, Indigenous persons, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities.”  However, during many discussions I have had with clients on the topic, employment equity has often been frequently misunderstood.  They assume, incorrectly, that it means hiring staff from one of the designated groups regardless of whether they are the most competitive candidate.  For hiring managers making decisions accordingly, not only does this lead to unsuccessful partnerships between new hires and employers, but it also suggests that diversity numbers are rooted, to a certain extent, to tokenism – which can be easily concealed by reporting diversity snapshots.


(Indeed, a whole other blog can be written on employment equity alone, as embedded in the idea that hiring managers must make a choice between competitiveness and representation is the incorrect assumption that the designated groups cannot also be competitive!)

For organizations that are interested in fostering meaningful and sustainable diversity, it’s important to learn about the state of inclusion in your organizations.  Here are four ways in which you can achieve this in order to foster more meaningful and sustainable diversity:

1.       Inclusion indicators:  By measuring inclusion indicators, organizations can gain insight into how inclusion shapes diversity.  A basic approach involves breaking down the definition of inclusion.  I often refer back to the Deloitte and Victorian Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission report, “Waiter, Is that Inclusion In My Soup?” for simple inclusion indicators.  Start with indicators such as these, or perhaps consider the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks, to follow a proven approach.


2.       Disaggregated data:  Taking the example above of representation of women, studies such as this from show that women are not a monolith.  In fact, experiences of inclusion among women can vary greatly by race, sex and gender identities, and whether or not one is a person with a disability.  Although women’s advancement is a hot topic, it is important to make sure that certain groups of women are not overlooked.  As it is, though we are seeing growth in representation of women in senior leadership positions, we know that there is a severe underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and racialized women in the C-suite or on boards.  In fact, according to the Centre for American Progress, only 2 Fortune 500 CEOs are racialized women, and since Ursula Burns’ retirement from Xerox in 2016, there are no Black women represented).

3.       Percentage representation relative to local or regional demographics: Comparisons to larger demographic data sets, such the census information (for Canadians, check out the results of Statistics Canada’s National Household Survey, by province and/or city) can also identify under and over-representation of groups, to help identify potential issues, barriers and opportunities and support outreach and engagement.


4.       Multi-year trends:  Finally, although it seems that I am advocating against the use of year over year trends, I believe tracking changes in representation of diverse communities is an important piece of the puzzle.  Particularly for organizations that have access to the data, an examination trends over longer periods of time (eg. 5-10 years) not only demonstrates commitment to consistent growth, but also helps contextualise these stats.

For those looking to explore success measures, I also encourage you to consider both quantitative and qualitative data.  Currently, there is rising interest in story as a means of effective communication.  Indeed, story can be used not just for marketing purposes, but also for the collection of rich and actionable data.  For this reason, I invite you to consider storytelling as a modality for learning and reporting on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

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