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How Metrics Can Improve the Quality of Your DEI Initiatives

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When it comes to making strides with diversity, equity, and inclusion, it’s crucial to take stock and measure your gains—or lack thereof. To collect the right data, match what you’re measuring to your strategic goals and be sure to include qualitative input.

As associations prioritize efforts to improve DEI within their organizations and industries, it’s important that they track the effectiveness of these programs. Doing this well requires collecting the right data.

Cie Armstead, MPA, DBA, diversity, equity, and inclusion director at the American College of Surgeons, said when considering what metrics to collect, the first place to start is with your goals.

“One of the first considerations is connecting the metrics to the large, strategic goals and objectives, so that whatever is being measured—either quantitatively or qualitatively—connects back to the strategy,” Armstead said. “Ideally, when the strategy is being developed, the metrics are considered.”

In addition to strategy, consider what you want people to know about your organization. “Think about the story you want to tell about your work,” Armstead said. “Then look for those measures that will help you tell your story.”

If an association, for example, has a goal to increase the number of diverse board members, simple numbers can track data like how many diverse applicants were considered and how many were approved for the board.

However, for items like inclusion, which is a feeling, associations need to go beyond basic numbers, said Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP, chief knowledge officer at the Society for Human Resource Management.

“What organizations often don’t track is what the culture does to include people or help them feel like they are part of the organization,” Alonso said. “One of the things we espouse is the use of a metric we created called the ‘empathy index.’ They should look at how well they retain talent and make them feel as though they belong. Look at how well they make them feel as though the culture is empathetic and inclusive, as well as making them feel the culture does not use any exclusive or discriminatory practices.”

Data Types

Feelings of inclusion can be captured through qualitative data, like open-ended surveys, where people express how they feel, or share stories about their experiences with the organization.

“There is significant value in giving people a voice,” Armstead said. “You saw that a lot in the summer of 2020 and the aftermath. There were safe spaces to talk about what was going on as people were processing so many layers of what was happening in society at that time. So, in talking to our members, it provided a way for them to have a voice.”

Qualitative data can also help organizations figure out what quantitative data they might want to collect.

“What organizations often don’t track is what the culture does to include people or help them feel like they are part of the organization.” —Alexander Alonso, Society for Human Resource Management

“The qualitative data, when you can find patterns, can also help to identify places where you then may want to go back and get quantitative data to confirm whether or not what you see in the qualitative data is applicable on a broader basis,” Armstead said.

With quantitative data, where one is looking at numbers on survey results, it is important to not dismiss outliers. Just because 80 percent of a group feels one way, it doesn’t mean that the 20 percent who felt another way should be ignored.

“When you think about the tenets of equity and inclusion, it says we are going to value the voice of the minority—and I mean the numerical minority in this sense,” Armstead said. “One wants to be careful, in the spirit of equity and inclusion, to not automatically dismiss feedback that doesn’t align with the group. We all know the potential danger of groupthink.”

Measuring Progress

Once you have determined your metrics, the next question becomes, how often should you measure progress? The short answer: It varies.

“The answer is contingent on what is the purpose of your measure,” Armstead said. “Measuring too quickly can be discouraging because it looks like nothing has happened, if you haven’t given enough time for the interventions to take effect.”

However, some programs may need quick measurement because they were meant to provide immediate benefit. If an association were to provide a three-month class on how to be antiracist, they would likely want to take an assessment at the beginning of the class, to see where participants views were, and then at the end of the course to see if they changed.

“It’s also wise to take another assessment at some point down the road, maybe three to six months after the education assessment is over, to glean whether or not they are applying what they learned,” Armstead said.

Another benefit of regularly assessing DEI efforts is that allows associations to make changes to current programs as needed.

“For instance, if you see something that says there’s a sense of belonging that isn’t working or isn’t happening, you might go and capture more information—a second survey or focus groups,” Alonso said. “And then you can say, ‘Let’s figure out how we go about tackling it.’”

Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a senior editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips.

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