Research that illustrates anecdotal evidence or that points to the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives happening concurrently would further the work of DEI executives, Braintrust members say.
Good afternoon! Last week, our Workplace team wrote about the McKinsey survey showing that DEI policies aren't yet creating measurable economic mobility for frontline workers across the country. So, in today's Braintrust, we asked a group of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging professionals about the role of research in their work and the kind of research and data they thought would help push their missions forward. Questions or comments? Send us a note at email@example.com
Interim chief people officer at Anaplan
The growing body of DE&I research in recent years has made a huge impact on our field by equipping DE&I professionals with new evidence, language and validation to elevate DE&I to a board-level priority. But we’ve reached a tipping point where companies need to go beyond activities and drive impact. Research can help us get there. More than the topic, I’m interested in how researchers deliver their findings to the business world. A lot of research in DE&I successfully illuminates a problem, but it often fails to take the next step by offering relevant benchmarks and evidence-backed actions that business leaders can apply to their own organization.
For example, I think pay equity requires more granular research that goes beyond the “hows,” “whys” and “how much” to dive deeper into discrepancies across more dimensions and touchpoints during the employee lifecycle to inform recommendations beyond pay reviews. The corporate world hasn’t tackled this issue enough or is prepared for what’s ahead. From the impacts of inflation and effects of the pandemic to the increasing dimensions of diverse identities as new generations enter the workforce, pay equity will only become a more critical and complex issue. While anecdotally we think companies are making change, continued macro disruption and societal shifts will throw this progress on its head. To see more impact from research on pay equity and other DE&I topics, there needs to be a tighter connection between the findings and strategies for tackling or implementing them.
A research- and data-driven approach to DEI is critically important. It makes the work relevant and level with other key functions for business leaders. Business strategy, sales and finance are tightly tied to data, and DEI should be, too. We need to get more intentional around how we define the scope of the work, and research can help us get there, while data helps us to solve for the right opportunity and, ultimately, to create an environment where everyone can reach their greatest potential and contribute to problem-solving and innovation. Analytics ensures that the work is grounded in a proven need state and demonstrates progress.
Benchmarking, both within an organization and among peer sets, is an important way a brand can better understand the trajectory of its DEI journey and mark goal posts along the way.
Perhaps most significantly, research can put a fine point on problems and opportunities we may have only understood in anecdotal ways. Tracking demographics is important, but insights on how those demographics are faring — their lived experience at work — is another level entirely that helps guide the work with greater intention and impact and can help us to understand how companies are harnessing the power of intersectionality to advance DEI.
Once you can quantify and define a problem, you can work to solve it. It’s not a nice-to-have, but an imperative to get right, as this work is at the forefront of our customers,' investors' and employees' minds.
Vice president of environment, social and governance at ThoughtExchange
If I had to narrow suggested DEI research opportunities to two areas, I would pick these:
The need for more intersectional data collection and analysis, moving away from research that simplistically presents women, LGBTQI2S or other groups as homogenous. We need to strive for a more dynamic and richer understanding of oppression, with insights on how different sub-groups experience and navigate power and oppression differently.
Tracking how initiatives with good intentions, even those that have demonstrated traction and progress, created unintended outcomes — both positive or negative. In other words, can we track and measure the hidden costs or hidden benefits of adopting DEI work with any useful insights for DEI practitioners? This is the fourth element of my Conscious Equality Framework, a holistic approach to DEI work, and it is missing from most DEI work and research.
If we can make progress on even one of these, there would be a lot for us to work with!
Chief belonging, diversity and equity officer at UKG
Research, like the McKinsey Women in the Workplace report, is an essential element of DEI&B work, because it accelerates the educational foundation that ultimately inspires people to change. While companies are used to relying on quantitative demographic data, qualitative data needs to also be understood to enact meaningful change. In truth, both are equally important. Take equity and belonging as an example: An organization may be able to measure equity from a quantitative perspective, but without considering the subjective experiences across intersectional groups pertaining to topics such as authenticity, acceptance and affiliation, leaders are missing the full picture and likely will not be able to address the root causes of the inequities they hope to address. Understanding your organization’s qualitative and quantitative data is critical to planning for holistic change. Leveraging external research is also essential to understand benchmarks and opportunities, which is why UKG is partnering with HBR Analytic Services for a research study on pay equity in America, to be published this fall. Armed with quantitative data on the existing pay gaps between men and women, organizations can supplement their own equity initiatives with key questions that can identify the root causes of pay inequity from a qualitative perspective. Being aware of the data is step one, but holding leaders accountable is a necessary next step — and to do so, DEI&B professionals must be empowered with quantitative and qualitative data to give them the necessary insights required to enable the required long-term, systemic change.
Many businesses don’t understand that diversity, equity and inclusion is not a zero-sum game. To fully achieve inclusive and equitable organizations and societies, human resources, people leaders, as well as those leading DE&I research must aggregate data and proven practices to truly make an ongoing impact.
For this to be possible, we need a platform or mechanism to compile data safely and securely across industries and geographies and create an open-source repository. A great example I saw of this recently was TheSkimm’s #ShowUsYourLeave database that provided unprecedented insight into parental leave policies across companies. Large-scale, cross-industry databases like this not only empower employees through transparency, but also prompt impactful action from employers by pushing us to collectively raise the bar.
The openness of these platforms will allow WEX and others to filter through data to discover deeper and more specific insights. It will also enable us to continue to benchmark efforts and determine where we are and where we want to be. This is the ultimate collaborative effort to embrace DE&I.
Industrial-organizational psychologist and head of the Skills Evaluation Lab at CodeSignal
As an industrial-organizational psychologist, for me it’s vital that my team continuously conducts our own research to identify opportunities to reduce bias in communications, processes and our product. In addition to looking at how different demographic groups are impacted by our solutions when it comes to hiring decisions, it's important for us to hear directly from our end users who identify as a part of underrepresented minority groups. To comply with regulations, protect our customers and set them up for success, we need to know how different demographic groups are performing relative to each other. Equally important is to know what are the impressions of our customers and their end users — their candidate pool. How can we make the hiring process more approachable, either in terms of communication, prep materials or processes?
Third-party research data is helpful in setting benchmarks or identifying areas of our own research where we want to bolster the information we are collecting and analyzing. Ultimately, to make progress on DE&I initiatives both for our employees and our customers, I need to have command of the data and insights I’m getting from my own internal research more than I need generalized findings from a third party.
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.