Using Diversity and Inclusion Data to Ensure Leadership Accountability

The degree to which DEI is prioritized at the leadership level conveys the company’s commitment (or lack thereof). Leadership accountability is the engine that allows DEI efforts to finally get down to business and translate into measurable success and DEI data is the fuel for leadership accountability.

While reportedly 70% of companies say that DEI work is critical, only 25% are formally recognizing this work. Senior leaders are held accountable in only two-thirds of companies and less than one third are holding managers accountable. 

Among those companies who claim to hold senior leaders accountable, fewer than half of those factor progress on diversity metrics into their performance reviews. So without taking into account performance against DEI objectives, what does it actually mean to hold leaders accountable for DEI? 

Most likely, when it comes to sustainable results in cultural change, it means very little. But if organizations can learn to embrace DEI like any aspect of business, then accountability can stop being something organizations fear, or don’t understand how to make happen, and instead become the very mechanism of success.

Accountability for DEI Results at the Leadership Level is Critical

Developing a successful DEI strategy and an inclusive environment requires ownership, responsibility and accountability at executive and leadership levels. The degree to which DEI is prioritized at the leadership level conveys the company’s commitment, or lack thereof,  for all members of the organization. 

Evidence has shown that organizations with successful DEI programs have “genuine, organic interest of at least 10% of non-managerial staff” and “a demonstrated commitment of executive staff,” especially the CEO. The most critical form of commitment is leaders holding themselves, and members of their organization, accountable in tangible ways for the progress towards the DEI mission and goals.

Also, leadership and diversity research has found that to create and sustain diversity in leadership, organizations must adopt “consequential accountability”. Consequential accountability means integrating DEI measures into performance evaluation as a strategic priority and requires senior leaders to make meaningful progress against DEI goals as a criteria of their own progress in the organization. Organizations that embrace “consequential accountability” behind DEI objectives measurably accelerate the trajectories of gender and racial parity in their leadership benches - by 13 years and 6 years, respectively.

Accountability Is a Prerequisite For DEI Program Effectiveness

The strategic approach to DEI programs must be purpose-led, deliberate and accountable. Accountability is fundamentally about having a clear set of expected outcomes to which all stakeholders are committed - which involves a public vision, a roadmap, targeted actions, ownership, timelines and transparent measures of success. DEI data is what supports each aspect of accountability with metrics. 

Without accountability, inclusion is set-up for failure, because good intentions do not  alone change ingrained behaviors and create new outcomes. Without accountability, no business initiative can gain enough traction to create real change or deliver the desired results. Once a vision and goals are defined, creating accountability towards these milestones is the traction that helps set-up an initiative up for results and success.

As written in Forbes, accountability creates an expectation, connects expectation to responsibility, enables decision-making, encourages proactive and sustainable movement, prevents stagnating or veering off course, and ensures that responsibility for tangible outcomes cannot be shirked. It also implicitly requires that needed resources - such as the diagnostic and tracking tools of DEI data - be drawn upon for collective success.

Shifting from ambiguity, or from blame to accountability, sets up clear contracting between individuals, ongoing conversations, and a growth mindset that allows errors or shortfalls to be the fuel for adjustments, improvements and future. It means that as an organization you commit tangibly to the why, the who, the what, the how, and the where of actionability. 

The Risks of Not Having Accountability in DEI Programs

In the absence of an accountability lens, your DEI programs are less likely to be aligned to supporting the overall business objectives. Anything that requires accountability makes you ask the tough questions, first - like what gaps exist, what current issues are present, how is this hindering us as an organization relative to our goals, and what could closing the gaps and addressing these issues mean for us?

Creating accountability from the outset means truly clarifying the why behind your DEI programs, and with the advantage of DEI data, realistically assessing the particular gaps for your organization between where you stand and where you wish to be, and then committing to actions that strive to close those gaps. 

While the notion that everyone is responsible for DEI within the organization is a motivating ethos of cultural change, it also directly subverts specific accountability and creates inefficacy. General amortization of responsibility makes actions, progress and course correction elusive. The appointment of Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs) or Chief People Officers are a move in the right direction if they are given the mandate of holding the organization accountable and  if supported with the influence, staffing and resources (such as DEI data) to create and execute.

The other risk of not assigning responsibility is it leaves DEI efforts to those who are voluntarily and intrinsically motivated. As we highlighted for IWD, the Women in The Workplace 2021 report showed that compared to their male peers, senior female leaders were twice as likely to be making DEI work a part of their weekly work flow (1 in 5 vs 1 in 10). But right now, women are also burned out in the workplace and more poised to walk out the door, and less represented in the top seats.

Accountability is also what holds everyone to the path when implementation is challenging. Change often goes directly against the grain of habit. If you’ve ever tried to break a habit, you know how easy it is to cheat a little and deviate in action if nothing but good intention is supporting you. In an organizational mission, accountability ensures that stakeholders in the organization align and stay (or return) to the long term vision when competing interests - such as a sense of hiring urgency -  arise that make it easier to stray from the goal.

For example, while diverse groups make more innovative and smarter decisions, it’s also been found that they can take longer to make decisions and feel less confident in them. A hiring process that drives diversity may involve more steps and time in identifying and qualifying candidates. When it’s more difficult to do, it may be easier to slide back into status quo behavior or to slip into small ‘exceptions’ to the rule; accountability is what holds day-to-day efforts in place with the longer term vision. 

Why DEI Data is the Resource that Drives Leadership Accountability  

As with any other tangible business progress, quantitative and qualitative DEI data is the best resource for creating leadership accountability at every phase of the journey and for comparing intentions versus outcomes. DEI data gives a framework for knowing where to begin, for asking better questions, for having the tough conversations in a tangible and objective way, and for getting ahead of the curve of inequitable dynamics that are currently impairing your culture from thriving. 

From hiring to turnover to promotion, to the disparate experiences that different individuals and groups have within your workplace, to assessing the developmental level of particular leaders when it comes to creating inclusiveness, DEI data help to choose, guide, redirect and assess strategies to deliver upon the DEI mission and support individual leader development. Data helps draw the map that allows the trajectory of accountability to be drawn effectively towards the goals.  

DEI data is the fuel for leadership accountability. Leadership accountability is the engine that allows DEI efforts to finally get down to business and translate into measurable success.

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