DEI Data: From Data Scarcity to Data Abundance

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Organizations come to us because they want to create a sustainable and tailored Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Strategy to help them achieve their organizational goals. The envisioned DEI strategy should build trust and secure commitment across all organizational levels, steer decision-making despite limited time and resources, and propel progress with concrete, measurable outcomes. Achieving this requires the right data to inform DEI strategy. 

This blog attempts to explain why most organizations lack the necessary type of data to develop a robust DEI strategy with actionable and measurable steps toward success. It will also highlight the limitations of commonly used employee data that fail to inform effective  DEI strategies and outline actionable DEI data steps every organization can take to achieve better DEI outcomes. 

From Data Scarcity to Data Abundance

Most organizations make DEI-related decisions about their workforce and workplace with a scarcity of DEI data to inform their efforts. Typically, organizations collect a wealth of data to support human resources decisions, non-DEI-related strategic planning, certain employee engagement decisions, and other decisions that affect the workforce and workplace.

However, when common HR data sources are used to inform DEI strategies and efforts, most organizations fail to create long-lasting, effective change. This is often due to DEI data scarcity or insufficient data to inform DEI-related decision-making.

Let’s get specific. Using the graphic below, we will outline five common organizational data sources that routinely fall short of setting DEI decisions up for long-term success.

Consider the following example: 

An organization has internally and externally committed to creating an inclusive environment and developed values centered around diversity, equity, and inclusion. When attempting to develop informed DEI goals, the organization refers to the workforce data it has on hand: EEO compliance data and employee engagement survey findings. The datasets reveal that while there is an almost equal proportion of men and women across their workforce, there is only a small distribution of racial/ethnic identities present with white employees making up the majority of their workforce and a relatively small percentage of Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) staff. 

Referencing these findings along with the organization’s internal and public DEI commitments, the organization creates the following goal:

In three years, 10% of all staff will identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC).

It’s never a good idea to assume that increasing organizational diversity alone will lead to an inclusive workplace and environment. Because this goal was set with a focus on numerical diversity and was not based on data that spoke to employee inclusion and equity, the result is unsustainable DEI efforts that will leave decision-makers with more questions than answers. The solution to this problem can be found in the information not collected by common data sources.

The organization in this example should have stepped back and understood what data the organization collects and WHY. We would have asked the organization to answer these questions:

  • What is the ‘why’ behind increasing racial/ethnic identity diversity? How do current workforce demographics compare with the surrounding community?
  • What do measures of employee inclusion (e.g., informal networking opportunities, input on leadership decisions that impact their workflow) ) look like when analyzed by racial/ethnic identities? 
  • What do measures of employee equity look like when analyzed by racial/ethnic identities? For example, how are employees using multilingual skills compensated with their monolingual colleagues in the same job role?
  • What do employee racial/ethnic identity distributions look like at different levels of the organization??
  • Employee diversity is the result of employee selection and retention practices. Does the hiring process collect enough data to identify if or when biases or barriers prevent candidates from having equitable access to jobs? 

When organizations pause to answer these questions, it creates opportunities to collect more meaningful workforce data. As a result, the organizations will have a deeper understanding of the reasons for collecting the data, identify areas to prioritize, allocate resources efficiently, and achieve better DEI outcomes. 

What does robust DEI data look like?

Robust DEI data should provide a comprehensive view of an organization’s climate and culture, policies and practices, employee perceptions, and nuanced workforce demographics. This includes an inventory of employee perceptions around DEI values and actions, measuring the equity of policies and practices, and collecting organizational identity information that accounts for power dynamics and social/organizational identities that include those historically marginalized. 

As a result, a DEI strategy informed by robust DEI data allows for the thoughtful construction of tailored actionable steps to enhance employees’ feelings of inclusion and belonging, outcomes-based DEI performance measures, and support people-centered growth at work.

Steps your organization can take today:

There are many ways your organization can move away from DEI data scarcity to data abundance. Below are some recommendations organizations can implement today to collect the necessary data for better outcomes of DEI goals. 

  1. Start conversations with your HR department and leadership team to identify the type of data you need to understand your workforce. Ask your data teams the following questions:
    • Do we collect demographic information about identities beyond what is listed in our EEO compliance data and reports?
    • Where are there gaps between the employee data we are currently collecting and the data that would be required to support decisions that impact our organization’s values and DEI goals? 
    • How can we close any DEI data gaps while meeting the goals of maximizing employee trust, response rates, and accuracy?
  2. Commit to purposeful analysis of employee data by social and organizational identities to reveal sources of strength and opportunities for improvement concerning organizational values and DEI goals.
    • Start with organizational values and DEI goals and then map out the data sources that are being used to measure them.
    • When asking employees about their demographic information: be transparent about why you are asking, and who will have access to your data, and then stick to that plan to maintain and continue to build employee trust. 
    • Set regular check-ins with leaders and data managers to review what is and isn’t supporting your values and goals. This helps increase a team’s commitment to these values and goals and fosters a shared understanding of what the team can accomplish together. 
  3. Partner with us for support and guidance! We partnered with the Siena College Research Institute to develop the DEI Climate Assessment Tool©®™. This revolutionary employee assessment tool will expand your organization’s demographic information and give you the right information to know exactly where to start and who to prioritize for concrete and effective DEI strategies. 
    • Clients have reported that findings from the DEI Climate Assessment Tool©®™ helped them “develop a very specific, tailored strategic planning process with specific goals and outcomes”. 

Click here to learn about the DEI Climate Assessment Tool and download the white paper to learn more! 

– Written by Dennise Mena, Sam Kennedy, & Dr. LB Hannahs

Download the DEI CAT©®™ White Paper