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12 Mar. 2013 | Comments (0)

During a recent coaching conversation, a Chief Diversity Officer asked me, “What measures tell an organization that it finally has been successful in Diversity and Inclusion (D&I)?  When can we move on?” I was reminded of the parallel difficulties in measuring both D&I success and physical health, and we found the comparison helpful in exploring the question. 

When it comes to evaluating individual wellness, healthcare professionals often start by considering vital signs: blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and respiration rate. These physiological statistics serve as indicators of an individual’s overall health. However, whether considered separately or together, these are not perfect measures of holistic health. Even if a person has good vital signs, he or she might not be healthy.  An individual might have a condition that the vital signs will not detect, such as a broken bone or a cancer. Even with additional indicators, we still do not get diagnoses 100% right every time.

Moreover, health measures, at any point in time, will not provide accurate information about future health. That is because health is not a static state that one achieves and then forgets. Rather, it is a condition that shifts in response to lifestyle practices (e.g. nutrition, activity levels, etc.), according to genetic and environmental conditions, and across life events and time. Still, as imperfect as they are, these measurements are a critical tool in monitoring health and responding to physical shifts.

Measuring D&I success is similar to measuring health. To make sense of D&I progress, we have our own D&I “vital signs.” Some of these have become standardized across our professional community. Common measures, such as the representation of marginalized populations within our employee populations, the number of women on our senior leadership teams, or the percentage of persons with disabilities on our succession plans, lend insights into progress to be celebrated and gaps to be addressed. They also provide benchmarks that help us see how we compare to others. However, such “vital signs” alone do not tell us whether or not our organizations are healthy when it comes to D&I.

There are more indicators that we can consider, including whether our organizations have:

  • A broad mix of people thriving as they consistently meet or exceed performance objectives contributing to their company’s core objectives;
  • A broad mix of people collaborating, speaking up, and cross-fertilizing diverse and dissenting ideas to generate innovative products and services helping customers succeed and helping the company win in the marketplace;
  • A broad mix of customers loyally purchasing the company’s products and services;
  • Management, Engagement, and Human Resources solutions that are customized for employees just like products and services are customized for consumers;
  • Processes and systems that are objective, transparent, and equitable in attracting, developing, engaging, and retaining the most effective talent in the most critical positions;
  • Leaders, managers, and employees that are all highly skilled in understanding different perspectives, empathizing with others, mitigating unconscious biases, and levering similarities and differences to make the most of diversity; and
  • Environments enabling individuals to be their authentic selves, share their unique and complementary perspectives, and belong.

As we explore both common and emerging D&I “vital signs,” there is value in remembering two critical elements:

1. Just as with physiological measurements, even our best D&I metrics provide insights into organizational functioning without confirming that we are holistically healthy in making the most of D&I.

2. An organization, like a human body, is constantly shifting. Achievements in D&I can be appreciated, but they are not static. Successes and challenges strengthen, deteriorate, change, and emerge over time, so we cannot attain D&I and then forget about it and move on.

What measures are you using to lend insight into your organization’s D&I health?


View our complete listing of Diversity & Inclusion blogs.

  • About the Author: Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele

    Rebekah Steele is a senior fellow providing diversity & inclusion (D&I) expertise for The Conference Board. She serves as program director for both the Diversity & Inclusion Executives and…

    Full Bio | More from Rebekah Steele


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