Why Companies Need to Remember the “I” in D&I


When talking about D&I, it is easy to quantify diversity, but inclusion seems more amorphous. How do you know if employees feel welcome? The answer is simple: ask them.

Diversity and inclusion are important parts of company culture — they cultivate increase innovationOpens a new window , better financial performance, and happier employees. Diversity brings a variety of different perspectives to your organization, and inclusion empowers people to actually voice them, to learn and grow, and to make a meaningful impact at work.

I’m encouraged by the increased focus on the diversity part of the equation. However, many companies don’t seem to be focused on  “I” part of D&I. Why? Because diversity is easy to quantify (do you have employees from underrepresented groups or don’t you?), but inclusion seems a little more amorphous. How do you really know if your employees feel welcome? If they can act authentically? If they think there’s room to grow? The answer is simple: just ask them.

With measurable goals holding them accountable, organizations have risen to the occasion and made a conscious effort to hire more women, people of color, people with disabilities, and people from other underrepresented groups. If you measure inclusion, you should be able to reach the same level of success — and make a profound positive impact on your company in the process.

Why is inclusion so important?

One in four employees (26%) feel like they don’t belong at their current company. That jumps to one in three among African American workers. Regardless of what you think your culture is like, a huge chunk of workers may feel out of place and unincluded.

If your employees don’t feel like they belong, they’ll be less likely to point out business mistakes or suggest bold new ideas, may lose enthusiasm for their work and may opt out of the workplace. Your efforts to bring diverse perspectives into work fail as people opt out. You incur high costs as talented employees attrit (it costs â…“ of someone’s salary to replace them). And your company morale and culture suffer.

While you might agree that inclusion is important in principle, it can be hard to define and measure. A team of SurveyMonkey employees worked with Paradigm Strategy Inc. to identify the main factors that contribute to inclusion. After months of study and iteration, we isolated the three key elements — belonging, growth mindset, and justice, and created an employee survey you can use to measure each.

The three core pillars of an inclusive culture

There are many theories about what leads people from underrepresented groups to feel comfortable in the workplace, but our researchers were able to isolate several measures that consistently played a major role.

Justice: Do employees feel like they are treated fairly? Are raises, promotions, and salary equally accessible for every group? These are loaded questions that are hugely influential in employee satisfaction.

Four in ten people of Latinx descent say that they’ve experienced discrimination in the past year, and seven in 10Opens a new window believe that bias against immigrants contributed to the gender pay gap for Latinas.

At Nike, several executives had to resignOpens a new window after an internal survey showed that female employees felt overlooked, underacknowledged, and uncomfortable across the company. In the months since, the company has massively stepped up with new leadership, restructuring, and a major emphasis on promoting internal equity. However, progress could have been made sooner by understanding inclusion at the company.

How do you drive change here? Don’t just look at the raw data but also check perceptions. A pay equity study is key, but even if you “pass,” it is critical to check in on perceived equity and justice—you may find the problem in a nuanced area such as intersectionality or find you have a communication issue at your company. Invest in transparency about your process for pay increases and promotions and stick to the process you publish — for feelings of justice and fairness, just as important as the fairness of the outcome is the perceived fairness of the process. And have checks and balances in place to ensure our unconscious bias does not become structural barriers to equity — Did you disproportionately promote men vs women? Did people of color receive smaller raises? How did your employees feel your promotion process was?

Growth Mindset: Does your organization believe that people are born with a set amount of talent (known as a Fixed Mindset or Culture of Genius) or that employees will continue to grow and learn over time (a Growth Mindset)? The distinction, pioneered by Stanford’s Carol Dweck, is incredibly important.

One in five U.S. employees (21%) believe their company espouses a Culture of Genius. That means that they think that their employer doesn’t have confidence in their ability to improve, and won’t invest in their development. Companies with Cultures of Genius struggle with employee retention and employee success.

By contrast, companies with a Growth Mindset enable employees to flourish, take smart risks, and continue to be invested in the success of their company. They have lower rates of employee burnout, and people from underrepresented groups — who are more likely to be turned off by Cultures of Genius — are generally happier and more committed. (People from underrepresented groups tend to be disproportionately hurt by a Cultures of Genius because stereotypes and unconscious bias can lead to assumptions about their capabilities, and if those negative assumptions are fixed their chances of growth and career progression are limited)

You can establish a Growth Mindset by setting up mentorship programs, celebrating failures, investing in learning development, changing your performance reviews to be focused on progress and goals rather than trait assessments, changing how leadership talks about the troop they lead (don’t call someone a rock star or savant and instead praise the impact they drove), and ensuring feedback is constructive and frequent.  What really matters is that your employees know that you are invested in their growth, evolution, and ability to drive change

Sense of belonging: This may be the most intuitive subsection of inclusion — of course your people need to feel authentically welcome — but it’s still extremely important.

Uncertainty about belonging creates stress and saps your employees’ energy. According to groundbreaking research from Stanford professors Gregory Walton and Geoffrey Cohen, people from underrepresented groups often worry that the way colleagues view their professional performance will be shaped by how those people think about their social identity. In other words, underrepresented employees fear being judged differently because of their minority status.

Having a sense of belonging alleviates that fear and enables employees to focus on delivering their best. So how do you give employees this sense of belonging if they really are in the minority? Acknowledge their perspectives and create cultures that allow people to freely express them without judgment Support employees with Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and company events that celebrate diversity. Invest in unconscious bias training so the majority can step away from viewing the underrepresented through the lens of stereotypes. Create a sense of purpose by supporting the articulation of how their work impacts the company. Support social interactions. And hear their perspective — if you don’t ask and understand the drivers of belonging you are not optimizing. Checking in on your employees’ sense of belonging is the most powerful way to tell them you care.

Why measuring matters

Measuring inclusion gives you not only the “what” but also the “why” of what’s happening within your company culture. It tells you whether your employees are thriving or not, if that answer changes depending on which group you ask, and why your people feel the way they do. If all you do is look at attrition or ending mix of your employee population, you will have missed an opportunity to create change before it is too late.

What would give employees more confidence in their path to growth? Do folks with disabilities have unaddressed needs? Are mothers supported?

Asking these questions explicitly and repeatedly gives you a benchmark for tracking your success in building an inclusive workplace and provides rich insights into your culture. They tell you if your D&I programs are making an impact and give you the data points you need to make important HR strategy decisions. You can use inclusion data to build mentorship programs or employee resource groups specific to what your employees want or to lobby for the budget to support new initiatives.

HR pros can be just as data-driven as finance teams or business intelligence. And when they are, they can build truly inclusive work cultures where people of all backgrounds flourish.