Research overwhelmingly supports the same conclusion: Companies must aspire to have a diverse workforce. Over a decade of empirical research shows that more diverse companies outperform less diverse companies (2015; 2018; 2020). Coupled with increasingly stronger norms around social justice, more and more companies feel compelled to focus on recruiting and promoting a workforce composed of individuals from differing backgrounds, experiences, and identities.
However, diversity alone is not the full story. Consider a U.S.-based biotech company that was elated with their steadily increasing representation of underrepresented minorities (URMs). Despite exceeding the industry benchmark and nearing a percentage that was representative of the U.S. population, they were not seeing the expected improvements in performance. What were they missing?
In order for a diverse workforce to flourish, companies must also enhance inclusion, or the degree to which employees are embraced and enabled to make meaningful contributions. When we comprehensively measured inclusion at the same biotech company, we found a large gap in the experiences of inclusion between URM employees and their white counterparts. This was the missing piece to the puzzle: Once the company implemented targeted interventions to enhance feelings of inclusion for their URM employees, they started to see the performance benefits of a more diverse workforce.
Our model for measuring inclusion
The story of this biotech company is not unique. Seeing so many companies ignore inclusion or struggle to measure it inspired us to embark on a robust research journey to create a scientifically valid inclusion framework and assessment. The result is a tool that can be used to reveal actionable insights to help organizations drive targeted changes in an impactful way for employees. Indeed, we find that employees in organizations with higher (versus lower) scores on our inclusion assessment are 45 percent more likely to stay at their organization and 90 percent more likely to go out of their way to help a colleague.
Our inclusion model (see exhibit) covers two key employee elements. Personal experience captures how employees individually experience belonging, whether they feel encouraged to bring their full, authentic selves to work, and how empowered they are to make meaningful contributions. Enterprise perception captures how employees view the strength of acceptance, camaraderie, and fairness across the full enterprise. Comparing these two elements can highlight discrepancies that may occur between them. For example, an employee may perceive that an organization broadly has the systems in place to facilitate inclusion (e.g., fair and unbiased performance evaluations) while simultaneously feeling that they are not personally included (e.g., not having a voice in team decisions).
The aforementioned example illustrates that strong diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) policies are necessary but not sufficient to foster inclusion. In fact, meaningful actions from leaders, peers, and teams are all required, along with accompanying overall organizational systems. Future posts in this series will explore these various shapers of inclusion as well as the specific practices each group of actors must take to generate inclusion across an organization and within individuals.
As we continue to help companies improve DE&I, we learn more about how companies can meet employee needs and maximize performance through the power of a diverse workforce. The ability to measure inclusion with unprecedented precision in reach means that companies can finally form concrete insights into where inclusion lacks and thrives, as well as the different experiences of inclusion across employee groups, and thus better achieve the full benefits of diversity and equity in their organizations.
The authors would like to thank Ruth Imose, Laura London, David Mendelsohn, Laura Pineault, and Stephanie Smallets for their meaningful contributions to this post.