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Senior Executive Accountability & More Ways to Encourage DEIB Adoption

A century of civil rights activism and decades of academic research have underscored the importance of focusing on DEIB — Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging — within organizations. When looking at the large-scale impact of DEIB on organizations, research has shown that organizations generally perform better than the industry average when they focus on DEIB. In addition, diversity within organizations leads to greater innovation, thereby enhancing an organization’s ability to compete in the market. In fact, companies that have active and engaged gender-diverse boards have lower risk and volatility associated with their stocks.

DEIB Drives Innovation

Data gathered from several decades’ worth of employee surveys, focus groups, and individual interviews have reinforced that inclusion is necessary for engagement, performance, and collaboration. Equitable organizations that encourage open communication about DEIB are more likely to have happy, engaged employees, appeal to young workers, and retain diverse talent. For people to do their best work as individuals and members of well-functioning teams, they need to have a sense of belonging in order to continue developing within the organization while feeling recognized, respected, and valued for who they are.

Continuing Resistance to DEIB

In spite of the benefits that result from DEIB programming, as well the continuing challenges faced by members of underrepresented groups that necessitate its use, DEIB can trigger resistance from employees, thereby undermining its effectiveness.

To understand the reasons for this resistance, as well as strategies for overcoming it, we talked to Principal Consultant David Weisser and Senior Consultant Tiffany Pires

The Roots of DEIB Resistance 

In your work, when have you noted resistance to DEIB programming? What are some of the causes of this?

Tiffany Pires: “I think many leaders will resist any kind of DEI programming when there is a lack of clarity around the efficacy of the work. What’s the return on investment of the work? Why are we doing this? How will it benefit us as an organization? These are common questions that employees will have. This resistance occurs right at the beginning of the programming when there is no education or unclear education that’s been rolled out regarding its purpose and its impact on the organization.

Do you see more people resisting this because of their politics or worldview, or is it more because the ROI is unclear?

Tiffany Pires: “There is this sense that this programming isn’t even beneficial at all. What can happen is that groups that aren’t underrepresented at all — in many organizations, this is white males — can resist the practices that are put in place if they feel they unfairly disadvantage them as a group or they’re unclear about what is being standardized. We’re seeing a lot of organizations that are implementing DEI initiatives facing backlash from a large employee population that isn’t underrepresented. They’re upset that the organization is giving other people an opportunity to advance, at what they perceive to be their expense. For this population, organizational advance is seen as a zero-sum game. We’re seeing some aspects of the employee experience declining for those populations.”

David Weisser: “Zero-sum game is interesting phraseology. They’re thinking that if opportunities are taken by others, this has reduced the number of opportunities for themselves. DEI, then, is perceived as reducing the total amount of opportunities available, and that’s simply not true when you look at the metrics.”

Equal Access to Opportunity

Tiffany Pires: “It’s certainly their perception that this is how DEI is working. In reality, it’s more about giving access to an opportunity to people who don’t currently have access. You’re not taking that opportunity away from other people. This is why education about the organizational impact of DEI is critically important. Prior to implementation, you must effectively explain how you will give opportunity access to underrepresented groups that did not traditionally have this access.”

David Weisser: “No one guarantees a gift to someone because of their racial, economic, or ethnic background. We ensure that access to these opportunities is equally available. There are no guarantees related to this, and that needs to be conveyed to employees. I’ve been part of organizational conversations where people respond negatively to what they perceive as a quota. That’s the barrier of their understanding. It’s a number, a documentable metric, it's tangible. And because of that, people can point to it and respond negatively.”

DEIB Buy-in Starts at the Top

In terms of organizational resistance, do you find that this starts more often at the top, with leaders, or at the bottom, with employees?

Tiffany Pires: “It can happen anywhere and sometimes everywhere. It can start at the top, where leaders are experiencing resistance or just confusion about what they’re doing. It can start at the middle management level where they’re trying to implement this. It can start with the employees. However, it is important to start at the top in terms of getting buy-in, because that trickles down to the rest of the organization. It’s easier to roll out initiatives when the leaders are on board.”

Have you dealt with leaders who are struggling with DEIB implementation?

David Weisser: “I’ve been in rooms and conversations where someone is explaining the DEI programming to a silent audience. No one is agreeing or voicing concerns. No one is saying anything constructive. It’s obvious that people aren’t comfortable. As someone who studied political science, I think back to the civil rights era, the implementation of affirmative action…that was followed by a big pushback, where people said they didn’t want the government telling them what to do. Now we have organizations and leaders within organizations doing the right thing on their own accord, by their own choice, and even though it’s the right thing to do, there’s still resistance.”

The Authenticity of DEIB Efforts

Tiffany Pires: “Underrepresented groups will have questions about DEI efforts, too. They’ll wonder whether the organization is doing this because it’s right or merely because it’s something trending in society right now. Does the organization feel compelled to respond to these trends? Or is this a genuine change of direction, with lasting effects? Is this being done simply to check a box?”

David Weisser: “At a conference last year, a woman in leadership described how her organization ensured diversity among hires. She cited various metrics. But the way they’re actually doing it is via hiring panels. For every position that’s hired, there’s more than one manager participating in the hiring. It’s a panel, and the panel has to be diverse. I asked how they define diversity in terms of these panels. She hemmed and hawed. I said that I wanted to get into this because there’s this whole set of basic metrics that capture information like the number of people in the candidate pipeline. There’s a level of reporting that should be required related to promotions, inclusion, representation in key meetings, and so on. She simply didn’t have a good answer.”

Holding Leaders Accountable

If an organization is collecting all of these metrics, what are some ways to utilize them to reduce resistance to DEIB programming?

David Weisser: “There’s one key way: hold leadership accountable by tying their bonuses to diversity metrics. This might be controversial — for a number of reasons. But, this is currently happening in organizations like McDonald’s. They tie variable compensation, 15% or so, to diversity metrics. Yes, they could be checking the box, and yes, it might not represent an ideal of authenticity, but on the other hand, it may. Leaders have to commit to the programming to get paid. It’s effective. It’s a step in the right direction.”

Tiffany Pires: “Organizations that are tying metrics to leadership in order to hold leaders accountable are far more likely to get buy-in from underrepresented groups that were skeptical of the authenticity of these efforts. The organization is doing something to bring about change. This goes beyond putting a few figurehead leaders in place, like a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) who has a very limited budget and few responsibilities or direct reports.”

David Weisser: “The NFL is an interesting organization to observe for this reason. They have a rule [the Rooney Rule] that facilitates the interviewing and hiring of coaches from underrepresented groups. There has been a lot of discussion, even a lawsuit [from former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, who now works for the Pittsburgh Steelers], about the situation in which a team hires a coach from an underrepresented group and expects him to lose many of his games, essentially ‘tanking’ the season, so that he can then be fired without impacting the career of ‘a real head coach.’ These organizations are checking a box. After Brian Flores refused to tank and in fact had a winning season, he was terminated. That’s the incredibly wealthy NFL, not some small private company where anonymous employees move pallets of sandbags from one warehouse to another.”

Tiffany Pires: “You see significant attrition for CDOs who take these high-profile jobs only to discover they’ve not been set up for success. They have no team under them, their initiatives are ignored, and they have no tools available to them.”

Does the CDO sit in HR/People, as a peer to the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO)?

Tiffany Pires: “It varies. In some cases, they might work in tandem. In most cases, the CDO might report to the CHRO. Typically, I do see them working in tandem to some extent. I will say that a lot of organizations are holding leaders accountable. We did qualitative research using Dialogue at an Opal Group event last Fall. The big "aha!" moment for me from this research was that DEIB leaders want to be able to hold other leaders accountable and find it to be most effective but are potentially having a difficult time doing so. We asked, ‘What is the most effective DEIB strategy you've implemented in the organization?’ What was reported most frequently was ERGs and employee surveys.  They also then ranked what they thought was the most effective strategy. The top-ranked strategy was holding leaders accountable. This was interesting. There seemed to be a dichotomy between what they felt was most important and what they were actually able to accomplish in their organization. While holding leaders accountable is perceived to be the most effective strategy, it's certainly not an easy feat.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

What sort of metrics should organizations focus on, in terms of leadership accountability?

David Weisser: “If you have a 10% population of underrepresented people in your organization, and only 5% of the people receiving promotions are from these populations, then your organization is probably expressing bias in some way. Obviously, it can be hard to convince some leaders that it represents anything other than the fact that the members of these populations in contention for these opportunities are ultimately unfit for promotion.”

Tiffany Pires: “When we think about mobility, promotion, and development, what proportion of your population is getting promoted versus not getting promoted? How does that compare across different groups?”

Qualitative Data Can Aid Understanding

Tiffany Pires: “When we think about these discrepancies, our answers can be very soft, very qualitative. It could be anything from some groups not getting access to the same mentorship groups or the same high-visibility assignments that put them in front of leaders. It could be internal bias. Whatever the case is, there's a lack of standardization in terms of selection. To resolve this, we would have to reevaluate the selection process. Can we standardize it for groups? How can we make it so that they have more access, more opportunity, and more visibility?”

David Weisser: “Facebook’s Global Director of Diversity Maxine Williams put it this way in a Harvard Business Review article: ‘Companies that try to apply analytics to the challenges of underrepresented groups at work often complain that the relevant data sets don’t include enough people to produce reliable insights — the sample size is too small. Basically, they’re saying, If only there were more of you, we could tell you why there are so few of you.’ There might be ways to get at this despite smaller samples. Dialogue, for example, has metrics associated with it that let you see how many people suggested new events, how many people voted, and so on. You know the rankings of their ideas. There’s all the data there that could perhaps be harnessed to measure accountability. A metric approach to convincing people that a behavior change is needed.”

Tiffany Pires: “We can start attaching numbers to it if we think about how we qualitatively code open-ended comments, for example. There’s a standardized process we could put in place to make sure there’s a clear set of criteria that we’re collecting on the decision that you made for this promotion, or whatever the case is. The data that’s collected can be brought forward to make the case for a change.” 

DEIB Success Stories

Have you encountered any organizations that have truly made DEIB part of their corporate culture?

Tiffany Pires: “IPG Mediabrands [about which we published a detailed case study] is a great example of an organization that has embedded and utilized leadership metrics. There’s an organization I work with that embedded their strategy in their overall values and across their leadership team. They created a culture of inclusion and a culture of equity. Everybody was responsible for creating a better and more favorable experience in terms of DEI, and the organization increased representation. Their employee experience scores were in the 75th percentile. They were high-scoring across the board. Of course, they were already diverse, with their representation aligned with their markets as well as their consumer base, so that made it easier to create this culture.”

David Weisser: “I’m thinking about the organization that I referenced with the hiring panels, the organization where the answers, as forthcoming as the leader was, weren’t sufficiently generalizable to other organizations. They’re a manufacturing organization. Their hearts are clearly in the right place. If your heart’s in the right place, do you get some credit for being partially successful, or is it only for results, knowing that results take time? I don’t know how to make that judgment effectively, but you have to start somewhere. Many organizations are sensitive about this topic, and people are extraordinarily sensitive about these metrics. It’s a rare organization, like McDonald’s or Mediabrands, that will put this information out there, and they’re usually doing so because they’re already succeeding.” 

DEIB Programming Drives World-Class Organizational Outcomes

Perceptyx’s research has shown that DEIB is important to organizations for a multitude of reasons, but how can your organization start its own DEIB journey? A thoughtful listening strategy and action plan can prove to be the difference between reversing a DEIB deficit or letting DEIB issues overwhelm the organizational culture. We can help you develop and track the right metrics to understand how DEIB fits into your employee experience so you can drive continuous improvements over time. Schedule a meeting with a member of our team today to learn more.

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