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Harvard Business Review

Checklist: How to use data to drive diversity

Harvard Business Review
12 minute Read

When companies realise they are falling short in improving their operations, expanding their offerings, or connecting with customers, they typically define what they want to achieve, identify relevant metrics, and then try out various strategies until the metrics reveal progress toward their goal. It’s a practice that works, and businesses use it to address any problem they truly care about. Hence the aphorism “We measure what we treasure”.

But something odd is going on when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Although tracking data is key to doing better in this arena, most companies have yet to adopt evidence-based, metrics-driven practices — even though they’ve acknowledged DEI as a moral imperative and recognise how it can help their bottom line.

That makes no sense. The fact is, without metrics to measure their current status and monitor progress, DEI efforts will always amount to shooting in the dark. And that can be very costly, as CFOs are starting to realise. According to Harvard Kennedy School’s Iris Bohnet, US companies spend roughly $8 billion a year on DEI training — but accomplish remarkably little. This isn’t a new phenomenon: An influential study conducted back in 2006 by Alexandra Kalev, Frank Dobbin, and Erin Kelly found that many diversity-education programs led to little or no increase in the representation of women and minorities in management.

If you want meaningful change, it’s not enough to simply tout the importance of diversity. Think about it this way: suppose a firm with weak sales decided to address the situation by conducting an earnest, company-wide conversation about how much everyone values sales and then organising a national Celebrate Sales Month. Would you expect a big jump in sales as a result?

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