Corporate inclusion and diversity programs help create a more inclusive culture that drives diversity. This can lead to higher employee engagement and better business results. But for companies that are just beginning their inclusion and diversity journey, where should they start? Most importantly, how do they gauge success along the way? What metrics are useful to track progress?
We sat down with Martha Feeback, Senior Director, Corporate Relations at Catalyst, Inc. to learn more. Catalyst, Inc. is a global nonprofit working with some of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women. Founded in 1962, Catalyst, Inc. drives change with pioneering research, practical tools, and proven solutions to accelerate and advance women into leadership.
In the following Q&A, Martha offers tips to consider when starting an inclusion and diversity program, how to measure success, ways to ensure employee buy-in, and more.
Q: Can you start us off by giving a brief overview of the current state of inclusion and diversity in the construction industry? And has the pandemic affected inclusion and diversity?
A: Pre-pandemic, there was a massive labor shortage and an aging workforce—in the US in particular. How do you attract the new talent when 85% of all people coming into the workforce in the US are minorities and women? The answer is you're going to have to hire from diverse talent. That’s where inclusion and diversity really come in. As an organization and/or industry, you have to convince a diverse workforce that there’s an opportunity for them.
Q: If a company wants to create an inclusion and diversity program, what are some things they might want to consider?
A: You have to understand where your organization is. Where are your knowns and your unknowns? Until you know those pieces and look at what insights are going on in your organization, you can't start anywhere. You need to know why the numbers are the way they are. Understand where your employees see the positives and negatives in your organization. Get into those insights, ask the right questions, and understand what the root causes are.
Q: What are key workforce metrics for companies?
A: We look at five key workforce metrics.
- Representation: Where are the gaps? Whether it’s by level or department, you need to be able to look at more than the pure numbers, particularly by level. A lot of times we look at certain departments such as marketing or human resources and say there are plenty of women. Well, those are not the line management components of the organization. Those are not the jobs and the areas that typically accelerate you to the CEO level.
- Hiring: Are you bringing in diverse talent? And within that, if you have 10 women on the slate, are you only hiring one and you're hiring 50 men? Or are you hiring all 10 and then they leave? Is senior leadership hiring diverse as well as entry level recruits? You have to measure by levels and departments.
- Turnover: Women leave STEM industries, including construction, at five times the rate of other industries. When you have that voluntary turnover—and you have women and/or underrepresented talent leaving the pipeline as they're going up in your organization—that's obviously a huge cost loss, knowledge base, and lost money for the company. You have to understand why they're leaving.
- Promotions: Who's getting the promotions? Is it that for every 10 men you promote you only promote one female? You have to look at the big picture.
- Time in Position: How long are individuals staying in their roles? Women and minorities are typically in their roles a lot longer than men. When white men are 85% of all senior leadership, you're never going to move that needle if the path is a very long and slow path. That goes back to research that says that women are promoted based on performance and proving themselves over and over and over again. Men are promoted based on potential.
Q: Why do you have to look at more than just numbers when measuring inclusion and diversity?
A: Diversity is a number. Inclusion is action. Just looking at your numbers isn't going to get you action either. You have to understand why those numbers are the way they are. I have a great example of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) company that had only 9% women in management. They wanted to get to 15%. After assessing all the measurements, they found that their voluntary turnover of women was only 8% which was lower than the men’s voluntary turnover. And that’s a very low number for women in general for STEM, so that was good for them—women loved working at the company. So the issue was not that women were leaving the organization or not getting promoted.
The company looked at hiring and discovered they hired almost every woman who applied, and they stayed. The problem wasn’t hiring. The problem was that only a handful of women would apply. So the company had to increase the number of female applicants in order to increase their numbers in the organization. That is why looking at all five of the data points are critical to understand where your gap is in the workplace.
After they realized this, their goal for recruiting on college campuses was to have women in the organization doing the recruiting and talking about why it was a good place to work. When they started doing that, they got more women applying. That’s why it's important to understand how you got to your numbers.
Q: What are the requirements for inclusion and diversity to be successful in an organization?
- Strategy & Rationale: For inclusion and diversity to progress and be successful in an organization, you have to have a strategy and a rationale that are tied to the business objectives of the company.
- Leadership: You have to have senior leadership activities and visible role-modeling and support.
- Accountability and Transparency: You've got to be out there holding people accountable. You have to be honest and open about what you're trying to do. Admitting that you're “not there” yet as an organization is totally fine.
- Communication: How did we get to a culture of safety? By constant reinforcement, constant reminders, and constant recognition of the positive when there isn’t an accident or an injury. It's the same with inclusion—you need to be reinforcing the positive as well as fixing the negative. And the messaging needs to be ongoing. Recognition is part of communication, so those are the same.
- Recognition: We've made the mistake in the past of always focusing on the negative. There’s a tendency to say, “We're going to fix this. We're going to fix that. This is wrong. That's wrong." We have not celebrated things that are working and/or things that people and individuals do to model inclusion and to call that out as well.
- Engagement and Measurable Results: One of the things that we're finding in the research is when you do employee engagement surveys, or employee satisfaction surveys, they’re actually measuring inclusion after the fact. They tell you that you either have a problem or you don't. What we're finding now is it’s better to do what we call “Inclusion Accelerators” ahead of time. Ask employees questions like, "Is your manager giving you new opportunities to develop new skills?" Asking questions like that on the front-end helps so you don't get to a bad employee satisfaction score on the back-end. You can see where you're going and take care of it ahead of time.
- Innovation: What are you doing that's helping to drive the innovation in inclusion and diversity? What can we do differently? Think outside the box.
Q: Once you start your inclusion and diversity program, how do you then create buy-in across the organization?
A: No one is going to buy in unless your leaders are explaining why it's important and what they are personally doing. They need to be courageous, vulnerable, and talk about it themselves.
The next part is being able to articulate and tie what things you're trying to do to how it's going to improve the business. Everyone wants to make their business better. It benefits everyone when you increase your sales, your revenues, and your innovation.
The other part is how do you get buy-in all the way through the organization? There is a term called the "frozen middle," where a lot of inclusion and diversity falls apart. That's where it's really critical to tie it to the business objectives of the company.
The one thing that a lot of companies don't do is add accountability. Accountability all the way through the organization also helps get buy-in because, again, it ties everyone together in working toward a common objective.
You also have to show that you genuinely mean what you're trying to change. Trust and safety are also critical. Employees have to feel what we call “psychological safety.” That’s when they bring up things or talk about challenges, and their boss and their team have their back. They know there are not going to be repercussions for talking. They know there will be learning, perspective sharing, and understanding.That's one of the hallmarks of inclusion. Then they feel that they can trust the organization and trust the decisions that are being made. They feel valued in their work, they feel that they're contributing, and their work is being recognized.
Q: What is one big takeaway you’d like to leave with readers?
A: Our research shows that 45% of an employee’s feelings of inclusion are directly attributed to their manager. Inclusion and diversity are about changing behaviors and changing mindsets. People leave supervisors, not firms. So this is why it's important that inclusion and diversity become a very personal thing for everyone.
We have to get to people's hearts and minds—not just minds— aligned with the data. We have to get them to really believe in it. Inclusion and diversity involve long-term reinforcement, constant communication, and you have to consistently reinforce that. You just have to keep going.
Visit catalyst.org for more research, practical tools, and proven solutions on how to accelerate and advance women into leadership.