In the last several years, human resources officials have become increasingly interested in increasing the diversity of their workplaces. This is for good reason: besides offering new perspectives and ideas (which demonstrably boost productivity), diversity initiatives can help recruiters remunerate historic wrongs and prevent ongoing injustices.
The challenge for any diversity initiative is that it is difficult to set benchmarks—after all, how to measure diversity in the workplace?
Thankfully, while there are challenges and shortcomings in measuring diversity, there are some effective strategies for doing so. This article will break down several key diversity metrics to help diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
What Is Diversity?
In some ways, diversity is a self-explanatory concept: it means being various and variegated, having a mixture of different things. In the context of the workplace, however, it can be a bit more complex. In human resources, diversity entails having a workplace where a variety of races, genders, sexual orientations, gender identities, religions, and ethnicities are represented.
“Diversity” is often paired alongside words like “equity,” which refers to each group receiving the support they need to achieve the same goals as everyone else, and “inclusion,” which means that all members of a space feel safe and equally valued.
In theory, there are an infinite number of other ways that a workplace can be diverse (everyone in an office might have different eye colors, for example). However, identities like gender, race, and LGBT identity are the main focus of diversity initiatives because they represent groups that are or have historically been marginalized in professional settings.
With all that in mind, it makes sense that human resources officers want to boost diversity in the workplace. The challenge remains in figuring out how to measure diversity, equity, and inclusion.
What Are Some Common Inclusion Metrics?
Diversity itself is not a cut-and-dry concept, so how is diversity measured? There are many ways to measure diversity, and many different metrics can obscure sectors where diversity initiatives are sorely needed. The following inclusion metrics, when used in tandem, can offer a great starting point for inclusion efforts.
The most obvious way to approach diversity in the workplace is to survey company employees and compile internal diversity statistics.
Once you’ve done this, you can determine how the demographics of your employees measure against national, statewide, and local census numbers, as well as industry standards, to determine whether your company is reflective of the broader world.
An important note: it is not necessarily a problem if employee demographics do not match the broader population, since there could be extenuating factors. However, any disparity should be the starting point for diversity investigations. For example, if your diversity metrics show that a company is 90% male (compared to the 49.5% of the U.S. population), there could be cause for concern.
A second important note is that this data will not necessarily be immediately accessible. Although it would be easier to simply examine documents that record employees’ race, gender, and other sensitive information, these files should usually be confidential.
As a result, to compile raw numbers, you’ll likely need to conduct a survey—but this being optional will skew the results.
Applicant Pools Versus Hires and Current Employees
The next diversity measures you should consider are the diversity recruiting metrics. These are the differences between your applicant pools, your recent hires, and your current employees.
The first benefit of this diversity metric is that it can reveal potentially positive information about company hiring practices. Comparing applicant pools against existing employees, for example, can determine whether your company is succeeding in reaching out to a diverse array of applicants.
For that matter, comparing applicant pools and hires against your current workforce can give a good indication of whether your company’s hiring culture has changed over time.
On the other hand, these statistics can reveal possible issues with your company’s approach to recruitment. For example, comparing applicant pools against actual hires can help reveal possible bias, unintentional or otherwise, in your hiring practices.
Again, however, it’s important to note the challenges of this metric. Neither job applications nor interviews should require questions about race or other sensitive demographic information, so your numbers will likely depend on voluntary survey questions. That means that that information is somewhat limited in nature.
Employee Retention Rates
When it comes to measuring diversity, another key metric is the company’s employee turnover rate.
While retention rates might not seem related to company diversity, they are a key tool for gaining insight into the company culture. After all, diverse hiring statistics can only mean so much if women, LGBT people, and people of color tend not to stay in the company for a long period.
On the other hand, employee retention rates can add dimension to the knowledge you glean from other diversity data. For instance, it might be useful to know if your company has succeeded in retaining a diverse cadre of employees over a long time—such information would add valuable context to your diversity data.
Another great way to gain context on the diversity of your company is by reviewing the diversity demographics across different management levels. While it can be useful to collate the data of your entire company, doing so can miss out on places where the company is succeeding in diversity pushes—or where it needs to do more work.
Gauging the diversity of the company administration is important for a few reasons. First, successful initiatives should help all levels of your company grow in diversity—diversity doesn’t mean much when it only applies to the entry-level.
As with other diversity measures, management numbers are best used in conversation with other metrics and various potential responses—data, after all, is just data. For example, if you find that a company’s administration is not diverse, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the talent of current administrators. Instead, it means that administration is an area in which the company’s diversity initiatives need to grow.
Employee Satisfaction and Exit Interviews
The last diversity metrics on this list come from employee surveys and exit interviews. The benefit to these measures is that they can potentially offer more specific insights than raw numbers. On the other hand, they do have notable pitfalls.
On the plus side, employee satisfaction and exit interviews can offer information about diversity that pure demographic data doesn’t reveal. In particular, they can allow employees or former employees to give specific comments on the diverse culture at a company.
While you can aggregate these responses and use them to deduce broader trends, they also allow you to respect the specificity of individuals. You might find, for example, that employees of color can have a much different experience of the company’s workplace than LGBT employees or religious minorities. Additionally, interviews can help furnish information on how employees with intersecting identities fit into the workplace, which might go unnoticed in more general data.
Finally, it is crucial to incorporate exit interviews into your metrics for diversity and inclusion. Employees leave companies for a wide variety of reasons, but it’s essential to know if diversity issues fit into departures. If so, it could signal a serious area of concern for inclusion programs.
The challenge of employee satisfaction and exit interviews is similar to the other items on this list. The interviews depend on employees to respond truthfully and to volunteer information. They might be more or less inclined to volunteer information depending on how passionate they feel about the issue, and they could be afraid to respond truthfully if the company has made their diversity concerns feel unheard.
How Can Diversity Metrics Be Used To Improve Diversity in the Workplace?
As valuable as it is to know your firm’s diversity demographics, the statistics themselves cannot do all the work. You need to integrate them into concrete strategies if you want your diversity initiatives to succeed.
Any data you collect will contain possible limitations (more on those in a moment), but this information can still be useful. The key benefits to diversity measurements are that they can shed light on areas of concern—they can give concrete proof about a company’s diversity issues, and they can help diversity issues make more targeted recommendations for company policy.
Furthermore, if diversity metrics give you clear data on your company's situation, it’s important to follow up with concrete solutions, not just conceptual changes. For example, if a survey reveals that hires are not as diverse as application pools, a diversity initiative should establish concrete protocols for preventing hiring discrimination.
What Are Some Challenges With Using Diversity Metrics?
As this list has highlighted, one of the key challenges with using diversity measurements is that any data collection tool is inherently limited; it can only make a statement about data that’s genuinely available to collect.
The most common problem is response bias. Since fair hiring and labor best practices prevent employers from requiring employees to disclose information about their identity, the only way for human resources officers to acquire diversity statistics is to gauge voluntary responses. This, in turn, invites the possibility that the answers will be biased towards those who feel confident enough to speak.
Ultimately, these challenges should not be seen as crises. On the contrary, by recognizing the strengths and limitations of diversity measurements, HR officers can integrate data into diversity initiatives, all while remaining open to evolving information.
It’s important for every business to collect and analyze diversity and inclusion metrics. This is to make sure that people are being hired, promoted, or fired for reasons related to their skills and performance and not for their race, sexual orientation, or other similar factors.
Analyze these diversity metrics examples in your workplace, having into consideration the limitations described, and then put in place any necessary improvement strategies. The company will only benefit from this.