After the influx of DEI initiatives sweeping the globe in recent years, what do we do about their impact from an evidence-based perspective? And given massive investment, how can leaders ensure their initiatives are effective? Further, how can we be sure that this is worth the investment and resources? 


DEI is still a priority - and it's not going away 

Most leaders became acquainted with DEI as conversations around diversity and inclusion spread across the globe in recent years. But diversity, equity, and inclusion is continuing to rise in importance. And from a regulatory and sustainability point-of-view, it will only continue to increase in urgency.


Why the additional elements? 

Well, many organisations found that while they could improve diversity through their metrics, and bring diverse groups into the fold – there were new challenges around how much those employees felt they belonged at the organization and how often they were able to achieve equity in pay, advancement and promotional opportunities. 

Another layer is the need for diversity beyond gender and race – there are many often overlooked diverse groups and a need for a thorough view of diversity profiles within a given organisation in order to understand their workforce.  

And belonging is more than just a feel-good concept. It’s been linked to performance, promotion, engagement, retention and workplace performance overall. In fact, compared to their peers who feel excluded, employees who feel a sense of inclusion and/or belonging in their workplace: 

  • Take 75% fewer sick days
  • Demonstrate a 56% increase in their job performance
  • Receive double the amount of raises 
  • Are 18 times more likely to be promoted in a six-month period
  • Have a 50% lower turnover rate


Needless to say, investment in the inclusion and belonging efforts in your organization will result in tangible outcomes and improvements for employees, managers, and leadership. 

When managers – particularly middle managers – increase their employee’s sense of belonging, which is becoming increasingly important in this remote and distributed work environment, they are helping to create an environment that is cohesive, team-oriented and where people can thrive. 


Many businesses have tried to implement efforts to improve DEI at their workplaces but they experience challenges around driving outcomes


This is ultimately because of the lack of baseline data – if an organisation doesn’t know where they’re starting, they can’t known where they’re going, either. Some common initiatives have included the creation of mentoring programs and recruitment initiatives targeted towards diverse groups. But these solutions are not enough. To start, many organizations are missing the structure that should uphold these systems, namely: Why does this matter and how can we learn and change?  Additionally, without the proper context, background information, learning opportunities or accountability systems, these efforts often fall short.  


Challenges are not insurmountable - DEI efforts can lead to effective and sustained change 

Explicit attitudes and beliefs – meaning how people behave, the thoughts that they’re aware of, and how they respond to surveys – are capable of changing over time. Throughout history, social attitudes, beliefs and norms have changed around race, gender, sexual orientation and beyond. To this end, there are massive opportunities for employers to influence society and help move people along the journey of understanding, awareness, and acceptance of human differences. 

But implicit social cognition – meaning the automatic, less controlled, and somewhat unconscious beliefs and attitudes that people hold outside of their awareness – is also capable of change over long-term periods of time. 

This further emphasizes the importance of DEI initiatives – over time, they can shift not only observable behaviors and actions, but deep-rooted attitudes and values, too. But how can you measure effectiveness? Ultimately: through the voice of the people. 


Certain areas have greater impact than others when it comes to organisational change. 


1. Accountability:

At inclusio, we’ve built a safe, secure and anonymous way for people to participate and have their voices counted when sharing their diversity profiles and experiences within their organisations. Without data, accountability is impossible. Our research has showed that overwhelmingly, most people don’t prefer to self-disclose to their employers – hence why we’ve provided a way for people to build their diversity profiles while protecting their anoynmity. Past organisations have stated that we’ve helped them advance their DEI work by three years through our baseline insights. 


2. Unbiased technology:

Many of the current policies and procedures in place at any given organization is subject to bias – whether it’s related to recruitment, selection, or other forms of decision-making. Introducing technology to make more objective, data-driven decisions can eliminate some of these challenges. Ultimately, every step of the employee journey and experience must be taken into consideration when it comes to building DEI. From the very beginning: how you attract employees, where they’re sourced, how to create an environment of welcoming and inclusion, how to promote their talent development – all of these should be considered. inclusio addresses this by broadening people’s awareness and understanding around inclusion and values of differences – building consistent employee experiences across the organisation. 


3. Manager and leadership buy-in:

Often, DEI efforts come from executive leadership or HR teams, but it’s critical that middle-management is bought into the efforts early too – as their attitude will ultimately influence their employees. Some managers see it as a distraction from day-to-day operations, so it’s critical to work in tandem to ensure that everyone understands why it matters, how it relates to them, how it can benefit them, and why it will ultimately benefit the organization as a whole. The leadership team needs to go on a journey – and through inclusio, they can begin to capture the voice of the people, understand what’s happening on-the-ground of the organisation, and what employees are experiencing in the culture. Rather than relying on layers of communication, inclusio can help leadership get to the ground floor and determine baseline levels of organisational commitment, trust, belonging, psychological safety and beyond.


4. Unconscious bias training alone is not enough  

For many companies, training is their go-to method for increasing diversity and inclusion internally.  But is it effective?  

Some people report that mandatory training and similar “control tactics” simply cause employees and managers to want to rebel.  

Others say efforts like condoning stereotyping can actually “let people off the hook” and increase bias.  

But in fact, when implemented well, diversity training can be an effective tool for combatting bias – and many researchers agree that design and execution matter. Nudge learning and behavioural science can have a powerful impact – in fact, short interactions over time encouraging behavioural change when it comes to shifting culture around areas such as DEI and anti-racism. At inclusio, we’ve developed interactive, engaging, and continual learning epxeriences to help people shift from awareness to understanding to acceptance.  


inclusio DEI training is effective and there are different elements of it that impact the effectiveness 

Interactive – Using a number of training methods, like exercises, activities, discussions, and lectures, has been demonstrated to elicit a more positive response from participants.  

Significant length of time – Unsurprisingly, one-hour trainings are not shifting paradigms. The most effective trainings are longer, extensive and continuous or ongoing. Researchers attribute this to the fact that longer programs provide more opportunities to engage with the learning material and practice the skills.  

Multi-pronged – Combining training with other diversity and inclusion-building practices can lead to more beneficial and tangible outcomes for an organisation.  

In other words, for an organization that’s looking to solve a DEI issue, a “set it and forget it” model won’t suffice. Training should be one part of an overall initiative to not only inform and educate – but to hire, promote and advance diverse candidates and employees.  

There are also different intended outcomes for trainings: Trainings that shift thoughts and beliefs (or diversity/bias awareness training) and trainings that shift behaviors. Meta-analytical studies have shown that the most effective trainings leveraged both – and that both types of training are more effective when done together.  

And along those lines, there is more than one type of diversity training.  

Goal- setting training – Integrating goal-setting within diversity training specifically seeks to create and meet goals around pro-social or supportive behavior towards diverse groups, and has been demonstrated to shift both behaviors and attitudes over time.  

 Perspective-taking training – Taking on the perspective of others can have a positive long-term impact on positive behaviors towards diverse groups by “increasing the internal motivation to respond without prejudice” and may be particularly impactful for participants who are less empathetic towards others.  


Technology can help build DEI

inclusio is a technology solution that offers a holistic means of addressing diversity efforts–while also building robust diversity profiles about current employee experiences for leadership. We collect over 100 demographic data points which provide the organisation a diversity profile so that leaders know where to focus their efforts when it comes to talent attraction and retention, and we offer 24 scientific metrics that produce baseline data for the organisation around areas such as belonging, trust, psychological safety, and organisational commitment to produce insights around the strengths and weaknesses of their DEI practices. 


Looking ahead 

If the initial shift in DEI focused on simply hiring diverse groups, the next steps are to transition into holistic training systems that focus on changing beliefs, changing behavior, and to then introduce analytics and people science in order to measure that change – and to evaluate diversity and inclusion initiative effectiveness beyond pro-social behaviors by quantifying how much more diverse, equitable and inclusive an organization has become by analyzing the make-up and experiences of their current workforce.