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How Data Can Supercharge Your DEI Program

Prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion is essential as our world and workplace habits evolve. Data can unlock new information that allows businesses to make progress on this goal.

The office as we know it continues to change. One area that is getting a lot of air time, and rightfully so, are diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Hack Future Lab, a global management think tank, uncovered that 93% of leaders agree that a DEI agenda is a top priority, but only 34% believe it is a strength in their workplace. We know that diversity is essential to making better business decisions, and in turn profitability, so we need to reconcile this gap between sentiment and reality.

First, it is important to remember that diversity can come in many forms. Beyond the social categories like gender, race and age that we typically hear about, diversity includes all of the elements -- seen and unseen -- that make each of us unique. We must build and foster a workforce that is reflective of the society in which we operate. A well-rounded DEI program cultivates a sense of belonging throughout the organization.

Data can unlock new information that will allow organizations to make immense progress on this business and societal goal. After all, we know that a commitment to diversity on the leadership team and throughout the organization can, and does, drive performance. Let’s take a look at what this means in practice and how you can use data to advance your DEI goals.

Expanding the Definition of DEI

If the last few years taught us anything, it is that great employees can and will pack up their talents, skills, and knowledge and head for the door the moment a more fitting opportunity arises. Unfortunately, the lack of DEI progress within companies may be an underlying issue that causes turnover. McKinsey found that the top three reasons employees quit were that they didn’t feel valued by their organizations (54%), or their managers (52%), or because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work (51%).

While it has been proven that DEI within the workplace is essential to making better, data-informed decisions, it presents itself in a variety of ways, and sometimes it is hidden. Invisible disabilities can be mental, neurological, or physical conditions that limit a person’s abilities, yet are not visible from the outside. In the US, one study by Coqual found that 30% of employees have disabilities and the majority of them are unseen (62%). Those are powerful and eye-opening numbers that should make any executives’ ears perk. It is truly a hidden issue that can limit the most gracious DEI plan, and employees' welfare, if not directly addressed.

For example, dyslexia, a learning disability that causes difficulty in reading, impacts 10-20% of the global population, with more than 3 million cases per year in the US alone. It is an invisible disability that is often left undiagnosed. This is where data can help. In one inspiring case, Marc Wintjen, a risk analytics architect at Bloomberg, used his son’s diagnosis as fuel to explore the risks of undiagnosed dyslexia and how predictive analytics might help detect dyslexia as early as possible.

Marc used a data set from a published research study and validated it using Qlik AutoML. Think about the difference it would make if this kind of data was more accessible to educators and school administrators. Additional assessments could be put in place to more quickly provide targeted learning experiences. In the workplace too, dyslexic employees often bring a different set of skills to the table, and if supported right through dedicated resources, technology, and regular communication, you can unlock their potential.

Data as Support for DEI Efforts

Companies need to better leverage their diversity-related data to monitor DEI progress. When a company can effectively share diversity metrics, the transparency and openness of this action is almost always rewarded with a more enriching work culture and better public image.

It can be particularly hard to track hidden disabilities because there is no baseline data. Individuals generally don’t disclose them to HR, according to Coqual, to start from. Inclusive leadership and companywide education is generally the first path to creating a more open environment. Employees need to feel more comfortable self-identifying so we can better support them.

Food, facilities, and uniform services company Aramark made significant strides in its DEI efforts thanks in part to a specific program -- Aramark Thrive -- which was built for employees who self-identify as having a disability and for caretakers and advocates of those with disabilities. By advancing the awareness of people with unique challenges, the support network encouraged self-identification and allowed employees to take advantage of the disability resources, support and coaching that the company provided. Aramark regularly earns the highest marks on the disability equity index and is regularly recognized for its outstanding DEI efforts.

The Core of Your Workplace Culture

Expand your definition of what DEI means to your company and you will create a welcoming environment that values people of every background. This not only will aid you in attracting and retaining the best talent while benefiting from a rich mixture of diverse perspectives, but will also ensure future business success as the world moves at a faster, more data-driven pace than ever before.

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
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Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing