It’s 2020 and everyone’s feeling called out.
Following the murder of George Floyd, companies are scrambling to publish a diversity, equity, & inclusion (DEI) mission statement on their website or send a letter from their CEO with their take on what happened.
Suddenly, DEI is the top employer branding goal of 2021. Recruiters need to know what to say when interviewing people who ask what their DEI goals are. People managers are considering DEI when writing their job descriptions and structuring their onboarding processes.
During that period, organizations had to learn to walk the walk.
Since then, there’s been no shortage of content produced about how to approach DEI work, yet the feedback we continue to receive sounds the same.
“What are the goals even supposed to be?”
“Yeah, employee resource groups, but what else can we do?”
“How can we do things that feel authentic to what we do as a company?”
“How can we make our goals relevant to our current employees?”
The fact that these questions are being asked means there’s been a significant shift, a point of no return. It means we collectively agree that DEI work is the right thing to do, but now we’re asking, “Are we doing it right?”.
I’d argue that, up to this point, most company leaders are still struggling to determine the “right” actions to take in their relatively new diversity initiatives.
To be honest, even seasoned DEI practitioners like myself struggle with how to set the right goals for their clients. In-house DEI executives are also careful not to set goals too hastily and ensure they are the right and meaningful goals that the organization will be motivated to meet.
All this to say, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel you’ve been setting the right goals. It’s not an easy thing to do.
It’s perfectly reasonable to look back and ask:
- Were the goals we set the right ones?
- Which goals do we tackle next?
- How do we set goals that we’ll collectively care about, believe in, and work hard every day to meet?
To help you going forward, I’ll share a practical, step-by-step process you can use to identify the right DEI goals for your org and track your progress toward more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces.
How To Set DEI Goals
Step One: Define and Align on Your Meaning of DEI
In order to set meaningful DEI goals where you work, you must first align on the purpose of DEI work. To do that, you need to have a deep understanding of the lived culture in your workplace.
Not aspirationally, but the realities of what it feels like to work there. Especially for people with historically marginalized identities.
This part of the process can’t be skipped.
DEI Practitioners can spend up to a year working to fully understand the live culture that is operating within teams, between individuals, and how managers are behaving. They have to intricately know the inner workings of the employee experience.
Through surveys, interviews, and (ideally) focus groups, they ask team members questions like such as “What does it feel like to be included?” and “What does it feel like to be excluded?” (Here 51 more questions you can ask).
From here, you can clearly define what DEI means for your workplace based on what you’ve learned.
Does it mean more diverse leadership representation is needed?
Would greater pay transparency help address employees feeling undervalued and trust issues?
Perhaps DEI-driven leadership development like mentorship programming and career pathing for both a motivating and supportive culture?
Does it mean better, more inclusive meetings that help people feel valued and heard?
Once you’ve gained an understanding of the live culture and aligned on the purpose of DEI, we can move on to the next step which is to involve others.
Step two: Bring Meaning to the Masses
Let’s say that you’ve found that your DEI goals are centered around becoming more inclusive.
It will become essential to ensure the inclusion goals you set are relevant and motivating to the people directly impacting the necessary policies, practices, and procedures that will change as a result of the work that will follow.
In a sense, you’ll need buy-in from your stakeholders. After all, inclusion work is a business decision and synonymous with the values operationalized by your organization.
So, do you know who the governing structure is? Do you know who you’ll need to involve for the impact you seek? Once you identify them, are you confident they will agree to be involved?
Everyone Has a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Story
In a perfect world, inclusion goals should be a part of everyone’s overall performance. So, figure out how to make whatever goals you set relevant to everyone.
People managers, executives, recruiters—everyone needs to be tracking the inclusion goals as a part of their performance and how they do their job. To do this, help people find their own story.
Art Howard, VP of DEI at Wiley, believes that most people have their own stories of feeling excluded, disadvantaged, disenfranchised, harshly judged or punished, isolated, or on the receiving end of bias. There are many angles to human identity that have suffered at the hand of the status quo, capitalism, and patriarchy.
He encourages his colleagues to find their own story and where they fit into this work; to get in touch with parts of themselves that were negatively impacted by these harmful systems. He sees this as a way to continually go back to the “Why” inclusion is important; because it’s a core need that we all have.
This exercise will also start to engage our empathic abilities and help us find common ground.
Mind the Gaps
Once you’ve defined DEI, identified your areas of focus, and made it relevant to everyone, you’ll surely see some gaps in understanding. Consider these your educational (or even professional development) goals for leadership, management, and the governing structure you’ve identified.
Setting educational goals like this is a very common starting place.
Consider hosting workshops for your recruiting team, people managers, and executives on how opportunities for more inclusive practices, procedures, and policies will benefit them and everyone. Let it be collaborative and don’t assume you know more than anyone else in the room.
Expect struggles in application and stalled execution. Now, your goals have meaning and the real work starts!
Step Three: Assess the Gaps
If you’re feeling like your initial goals to educate the masses are aspirational, given the way we’ve historically designed our workplaces, they likely are.
Take it one day at a time. Give these goals a set of tasks, timelines, and retrospectives just like any project. Ensure the goals and opportunities for growth that have emerged are obtainable and specific.
Here are some potential gaps to look out for:
- Did you notice that a senior leader wasn’t engaged or was defensive when you attempted to educate leadership on inclusion?
- Did you receive feedback that someone in management wasn’t giving constructive feedback during performance reviews and was even bullying this direct report?
- Are the meetings held across departments disrespecting people’s time because they are dominated by the same people speaking over and over?
Start to notice gaps like these and let them be your opportunities for growth, AKA your goals.
From here, you can start to implement “Winnable Experiments”, AKA practical initiatives that you can implement and measure within your control.
Practical Examples of Inclusion Goals
Although it’s important to remember that you must develop your own goals as they pertain to your organization, here are some ideas for obtainable, and specific inclusion goals that relate to anyone:
- More inclusive meetings and communication practices by 2024—establish inclusive meeting requirements for every department.
- A culture of allyship by 2024—equate allyship as a job requirement for leadership and management and make it the norm and only accepted work ethic for all. Embed it in all job descriptions, performance reviews, and salary negotiations.
- Improved employee happiness, joy, and fulfilment by 2024—implement policies that improve people’s lives outside of work.
Ways to Track, Report, And Adapt Your DEI Goals
Here’s something you may not have read anywhere else yet.
So many people ask me how they can track and measure the success of their DEI initiatives and better understand their progress toward their goals.
But what if, instead, DEI isn’t something that we report out on and there is no overt celebration or posted leaderboard showing improved numbers?
When you really think about it, DEI work is no cause for celebration. It’s our duty to get right with humanity. It’s not a PR moment, bragging rights, or a quota to hit. It’s like meal planning, yard work, and laundry i.e. never ending!
I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat through listening to someone present on their diversity data, employee engagement data, or some other data from the endless surveys employees receive on their experience at an organization.
We need to start asking ourselves, who are these benefitting?
We know we need to be continually moderating, observing, and learning what impact our goals are having.
What I’ve found has worked are the conversational opportunities employees have to be honest, discuss their feelings, share ideas, and give verbal impromptu feedback to a trusted facilitator who they don’t work with on a regular basis or who has any stake in their employment.
Ron Sarazin of Olympic Performance, Inc got it right.
I once worked at a company that regularly brought in Ron to lead us in a discussion of our honest employee experience.
Ron knew our organization well, our people and performance goals, and how to communicate the needs for change in a way our HR Leadership could understand.
People felt psychologically safe to be open, transparent, and collaborate toward solutions. Honestly, it felt like group therapy. I looked forward to these conversations every year and truly felt they were cathartic, productive, and healing.
I highly recommend working with a trained facilitator to lead these conversations and learn what can happen when space is held for your employees to have them.
Instead of quantitative, let your DEI results be qualitative. Let the goal be to create the spaces for these conversational results to be had safely and authentically.
Psychologically safe, socially informed, and trusted spaces for these conversations uncover important truths for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Consider forming a group for each to track and manage your results for each one.
Form a facilitated conversation group with the stakeholders responsible and accountable for hiring across teams. When thinking about how to form the group, consider who’s experiencing the issue and who can affect it.
Include a recruiting champion, a sampling of people managers, the minds behind employer branding and/or recruiting software, and whoever is involved in the creation of the job description and needs of the job.
Hold these conversations quarterly at a minimum and treat these groups like the leaders of the charge for diverse hiring.
Similar to your diversity results, let the way you track and manage your equity work progress be driven by the people experiencing equity issues. Remember, who’s experiencing the issue and who can affect it?
Psychological safety is of the utmost importance in this setting. Let this be a two-part effort. Host meetings that are cultivated as a healing space for participants to express concerns, provide feedback, and suggest solutions.
This can be in the form of an employee resource group or a special focus group with diverse representation. Again, psychological safety and socially informed facilitation is key here.
Next, consider who can affect pay transparency, salary negotiations, promotions, leadership development, mentoring and coaching, and intern programs. Host another group where the anonymous and protected feedback has been prepared as a deliverable for this learning and action planning space of stakeholders.
Let inclusion be the most frequent and diversified groups that you assemble for these conversations.
Here’s where you can hear straight from the source how your DEI goals are progressing. In their own words, people can express safely what’s making them feel included, excluded, and whether there is a true sense of belonging in the culture.
The best part: if someone’s asking about the DEI goals and the progress, you’ve identified an ally and can then invite them to join these groups and contribute to the work, too. Because it’s not one person’s job to track and report on, it’s everyone’s.
It’s worth mentioning that surveys can be a useful method for gathering information on progress toward your DEI goals.
There are many resources out there to assist you with identifying non intrusive questions that may uncover important existing data in your organization, like this 21 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Survey Questions to Ask.
When it comes to surveys, keep in mind you’re working to put DEI goals in place because you’re aspiring to go somewhere new with your workplace, not keep things the same.
Surveys can only track what’s existing now and can potentially retraumatize people with the questions included if they are not created with an anti-oppression lens. Here’s a great podcast episode about this.
Join the Conversation
We realize People Leaders, HR Execs, and DEI Practitioners are often a team of one. Your role is to create a collective impact while balancing the needs of the individuals you support with the needs of the organization, which is no easy feat.
The good news is that it’s the same skill set required to set meaningful DEI goals. You can do this!
Want more tips on how to facilitate these conversations? Reach out to me, I’d love to help.
Couple more resources: