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How to use a diversity audit to build trust with employees

Originally posted on Fortune

Presented by ServiceNow

Good morning!

The hardest part of measuring DEI progress for many employers is getting a clear and accurate picture of where the organization is in its journey. Beyond representation data, leaders must fully understand what engagement, inclusion, and advancement look like at their companies. It’s a task that, for many DEI practitioners, starts with a full internal audit, much like one would perform for any other business initiative.

Ella F. Washington, an organizational psychologist and professor of practice at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, writes about how leaders can properly perform DEI audits in her new book, The Necessary Journey: Making Real Progress on Equity and Inclusion. In it, Washington tackles some of the hairiest challenges pertaining to moving the needle on D&I and examines how several employers have done so. Here’s an exclusive excerpt on how leaders should approach DEI audits:

“Organizations going through a DEI audit often feel particularly vulnerable. They are asking someone from the outside to objectively assess them and search for pain points. Even with a CEO deeply committed to the work, it is not uncommon for other leaders to question the need to spend time and resources on such an effort. Even with companies like Iora, which had detailed demographic metrics of its patients and employees (kept completely confidential, of course), the company was missing a read on how its employees were experiencing inclusion and equity every day on the job.

Leaders who do not understand that DEI is about more than metrics can be particularly difficult to get on board. Another point of resistance to these types of first-time audits is that team members may be hesitant to talk about DEI openly if the company does not have a previous culture of these conversations. Rightfully so, employees worry about how the information they share in focus groups and surveys may be used against them. It’s vital to the success of audits that the leadership team be on board and promote the audit. The practitioner must also establish unquestioned trust that the information they find will only be presented in the aggregate and not attributed to individuals and that action will be taken based on the information shared.

Unfortunately, many organizations that conducted listening sessions during the summer of 2020 did not follow up with meaningful actions. Employees felt like they were sharing their pain just to make the organization feel better, but they saw no promise of action. One of the golden rules of employee engagement is to never ask employees to share how they are feeling if you are not committed to acting on what you learn. Yet a recent survey showed 80 percent of employees believed leaders would not act on challenges brought forward by an employee engagement survey.

When employees share their authentic experiences through surveys, focus groups, one on one conversations, or other mechanisms where they are explicitly asked to open up, there is an implicit promise that the organization is going to do something with the answers. When that promise is not upheld, it can lead employees to regret sharing in the first place and become much less likely to participate in future assessments of culture and engagement.”

Amber Burton

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