Despite ongoing conversations about the business benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace—and the data to illustrate that diverse and inclusive companies are more successful—only 53% of employees believe their employer is meeting its diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals. Diverse employees still feel excluded from opportunities and underpaid, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this problem and amplified preexisting inequities.
Simply establishing DEI initiatives doesn’t make for a more diverse, equal, and inclusive team. DEI is not about meeting hiring metrics or staffing teams with people who check the right boxes. Sure, metrics are important and can shed valuable light on where change must occur. But to make a real impact, sustainable change, diversity, and inclusivity need to manifest into tangible and measurable results.
Culture Is Critical
Much of what drives sustainable DEI involves understanding your culture. How do you think, talk, and act in the course of daily interactions beyond programming or training? How is the larger team receiving and interacting with the equity initiatives you’ve established?
At ActiveCampaign, we don’t stop at mandatory trainings and companywide goals to hire or promote X% of people in a certain demographic or population because these aren’t effective DEI strategies on their own. These initiatives don’t consider the larger change management that needs to occur.
We continue our DEI efforts through opportunities for continued dialogue and discussion sessions led by our employee resource groups (ERGs). Diversity is part of our daily function because we provide a means through which diverse groups can create their own cultural community while engaging with the community at large.
It’s clear that DEI drives business results, so make sure you’re starting by setting relevant business goals. What do you hope to achieve through having diverse employees more engaged in their work? How will it increase sales and drive customer retention or reduce costs?
Establish a baseline of your business objectives, then set some goals, just as you would with any other change initiative. That will inform how you determine where to invest in making that change a reality beyond training or hiring goals.
Change Happens On a 1:1 Level
The technology industry has one of the most educated, well-informed workforces when it comes to DEI topics. We have a strong definitional understanding of things like racial justice, microaggressions, and antiracism, and we understand the core business principles of putting those learnings into practice.
But where the industry has largely failed is in giving people the resources and equipping them to apply what they’ve learned in real situations. Do they know how to identify; think critically about; and, most importantly, interrupt situations in which they see bias or microaggressions?
Taking action by, for example, creating toolkits for managers to help guide performance conversations through a cultural-competency lens or role-playing as part of training can help employees embody the practices we’ve been teaching them. Giving people a script or talking points and practicing how to address microaggressions or sensitive situations can help spark critical conversations.
At its essence, inclusion reflects the relationship between individuals in a group, how they interact, and how we ensure that everyone is invited to contribute. There may be conflict, and that’s perfectly normal, as long as it’s done respectfully and with a commitment toward inclusivity, equality, learning, and growth.
Don’t Let Metrics Fool You
Hiring and sourcing from a diverse talent pool is important, but we need to look deeper into the metrics. Beyond leadership, what do your teams look like? Even beyond Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)-tracked demographics, companies also need to measure self-identification and give people the space to define and bring their authentic selves to work. At ActiveCampaign, our ERGs include ActivePride, MomsofAC, and DadsofAC, in addition to groups for black, women, Latinx, and Asian employees.
Beyond just “who works here,” we also need to focus on how they’re progressing, specifically through employee development and career-pathing. Are you tracking career growth progression among diverse populations? How does it measure against your overall population? How are you tracking ERG effectiveness beyond simple participation and attendance measurements?
We routinely solicit feedback from employees at ActiveCampaign about how they feel at work. In our most recent survey, well over 80% of our employees said they feel a sense of belonging and feel comfortable being their authentic selves at work, while nearly 90% feel they’re treated fairly. That’s a huge testament to the effectiveness of our DEI focus, and it manifests in high retention and low turnover.
Move Forward Focused on Change
To create real, sustainable change, DEI can never just be about metrics, mandates, and checking boxes. Companies must find ways to measure the outcomes, not just the incremental efforts to get to their goals. Sometimes that will mean having a hard, uncomfortable conversation about culture. But in that struggle, real growth happens. Lean toward it, and don’t settle for DEI strategies that don’t result in deeper change.
Denise Bindelglass is the VP of People at ActiveCampaign.