Outcomes, not Activities: Equity as a Consequence

Pam Sornson, JD

Pam Sornson, JD

February 21, 2023

The past two years have marked a sea change in how the world views its diverse and colorful population. Reports of racially motivated hate crimes against individuals and whole communities are published globally, highlighting how deeply rooted biases can override the essential humanity of almost anyone. In consequence, more organizations than ever before have pledged to reduce their contribution to the debacle by investing in programs and strategies addressing the mostly silent biases inherent in their enterprise.

What they might consider doing differently moving forward, however, is to focus on equitable outcomes, not equitable practices. To achieve an entirely equitable and diverse workforce, every company must begin tracking and measuring the products and results of its equity-development practices – does it employ and advance more people of color? Differently abled people? How are they represented in leadership positions? Are compensation levels commensurate with skillsets? Job risks? Corporate value?

Deloitte suggests that too many organizations don’t see or don’t address the challenges within their DEI programs or corporate systems that interfere with their ability to engage a fully and genuinely diverse labor force.

 

Investment Does Not Equal Success

Global investments in DEI commitments have skyrocketed since 2020. Multinational corporations are developing strategies and implementing programs to address and rectify the adversities suffered by their ethnic, LGBTQ, and differently-abled employees. By doing so, these companies have demonstrated their awareness that bias is socially corrosive and, at least outwardly, their intent to eliminate it from their corporate culture.

Along with those investments come promises, however. Either explicitly or implicitly, the labor force impacted by those assertions is now expecting them to be fulfilled. Consequently, companies must do more than simply perform their “DEI strategy”; they must also track the results of their efforts to ensure that worker outcomes match the new standards they’ve set. Achieving those diverse workforce outcomes requires an additional step beyond strategizing toward it as a goal.

 

Barriers to Equitable Success

There are barriers, however. Researchers have revealed four common challenges interrupting an entity’s movement toward achieving its DEI goal.

Spending too much time and energy on activities without a comparable investment toward outcomes.

According to the Deloitte 2023 Global Human Capital Trends survey, almost one in four responding organizations (23%) measured their DEI progress through compliance activities. However, compliance programs often register only outputs as a metric and not the outcome that that body of metrics comprises. For example, the number of formerly fostered students is an important metric for all schools to report. Often these learners need a different set of supports to succeed in college. The more significant data, however, would be how well those educational structures facilitate their economic and occupational successes after they leave school. Those outcomes reveal the true ‘success’ of the DEI strategy.

Solving company concerns, not individual worker woes

While it is true that a ‘company,’ ‘organization,’ ‘enterprise,’ or ‘corporation’ is, in itself, a single entity, for DEI purposes, it should be viewed as a constellation of its entire workforce. Keeping that concept clear can be difficult in many organizations, especially large entities with far-flung offices and worksites. In these cases, the C-Suite may declare its DEI efforts successful if it has in place the professional development, inclusivity, and bias training opportunities that signify awareness of the problem.

In too many cases, however, having these high-level training capacities available isn’t enough to trigger the system change that true equity requires. The company must also find and measure the equitable improvements experienced by individual workers, such as pay raises or promotions.

Collecting insufficient or inaccurate data

In some cases, an enterprise may measure and report its “diversity” status (and therefore ‘success’) by counting the number of people of color it has on its payroll. While that statistic may appear impressive on its surface, it fails to capture the true extent of the company’s DEI reality. Organizations that want to capture data relevant to DEI outcomes should add systems that track more granular information, such as employee retention, advancements, leadership roles, and job satisfaction, to name just a few. This body of data will reveal how well diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are woven into the corporate culture because they will show that both the company and its workers are advancing and succeeding.

Silo’ing DEI actions away from other corporate objectives

True corporate success integrates DEI principles deeply into the corporate culture by enmeshing it with all other corporate goals and objectives. Companies can grow and evolve when they embrace the broader panoply of opportunities inherent in the wider, more diverse base of their entire community. Deloitte describes this phenomenon as ‘the Purpose Premium,’ suggesting that organizations that ingrain all their activities with DEI and other socially valued elements experience a competitive advantage through six key market drivers: improved reputation, innovation, market valuation, operational efficiency, risk mitigation, and talent outcomes.” Companies that display their culture of purpose see significant benefits from the practice:

78% experienced higher brand recognition over their competitors;

53% gained new markets and their consequential new revenues streams;

64% of companies with a product sustainability purpose were able to lower their logistics costs, and

78% of job seekers reported choosing a company with purpose over one that did not assert that attribute.

 

Investments in the development of DEI initiatives and programs are well worth the time and money they consume. However, those investments are just the beginning of the transformation of a company into a truly equitable enterprise. To achieve equity for the business and its workers, leadership must focus on how their expenditures generate economic and social outcomes that reflect their purpose-driven goals and benefit their workers and their greater community.

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