Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Using Data to Understand What's Working and What Needs Work

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The best place to start with all diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives is with understanding your workforce demographics so you can assess and prioritize what to do and where to focus. But general organizational census data is only the start.

Watching the social justice protests in the summer of 2020, many organizations made or renewed their commitments to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion. There have been several reports making a business case for more diversity on teams and in leadership. But simply adding people is not enough; we also need to make sure that once new people are hired, they have the support and opportunities that give them the best chance to succeed.

While there is a lot of good discussion about getting senior leadership buy-in, it's the managers who make the hiring and promotion decisions who really need to understand how to make room for difference and manage for bias in their perspectives and decision making. But it can be difficult to see and make sense of what is happening.

"The best place to start with all diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives is with understanding your workforce demographics so you can assess and prioritize what to do and where to focus. General organizational census data is only the start," says Jack Berkowitz, SVP Product Development at ADP DataCloud.

Here is some of the data you need to understand in evaluating what you are doing well and can celebrate, and where there may be issues to address.

Overall demographics

Understand the breakdown of your workforce by various categories such as race, gender, disability, veteran, age and other EEO protected classes.

Analyze additional categories that may not be available in your existing data such as LBGTQ. If there are groups you want to track, but don't have data on, you can send a survey asking people to voluntarily self-identify. This only works if there is sufficient trust for people to disclose this information and when the organization is transparent in why it's collecting the information and what it's going to do with it.

Benchmark your organization against similar organizations in your industry and geographic region. This will tell you how you compare and provide insights into what the issues may be. For example, if you find that organizations in your industry have a lot more diversity, but organizations locally don't —regardless of industry— then look at the local demographics. If there are few Black or Brown people who live in the area, you may have some complex recruiting and retention challenges to increasing racial diversity.

Detailed demographics

Next, dig into the data. Look at your demographics by location, division, department, manager and reporting lines. Where are teams mostly homogeneous? Where is there diversity? Are there patterns you can detect immediately, or do you need to dig into additional data?


Hiring for diversity is just the start. It doesn't work unless your diverse teams can thrive, and traditionally marginalized employees feel like they belong, are valued, and have the same opportunities as others. If not, you will see high turnover.

Check your turnover demographics by all the categories you can. Look for patterns by location and manager. When you see higher than normal turnover, see if there are specific concerns in one area or are there overall culture issues?

Turnover is another metric where benchmarks can offer insights about how you are doing compared to other organizations. But even if your industry or location is having similar experiences with turnover, determine the reasons and don't assume you are doing the best you can.

Reasons people leave

Sometimes this data is collected automatically when terminations are entered into your system. Sometimes more detailed information is available through exit interviews. Determine why people leave, both overall and in the places you see potential struggles with diversity.

Understand where the data comes from. The reliability and insights may be limited if people have an incentive not to tell the whole story. But the data could also highlight an area where you may have a manager or location that is causing people to leave.

Career Pathing and Time to promotion

It is essential to understand whether employees see opportunities to move up in the organization, have access to management and skills training programs, and whether there are career paths open to everyone. A key to improving diversity, equity and inclusion is to ensure everyone is considered for promotion no matter who they are if they are capable of taking on the next opportunity.

Another important metric to watch is how long employees are in their roles before they are offered or get a promotion. Look for patterns of certain demographic groups being more or less likely to get those opportunities or being in role longer than others who have gotten those opportunities.

Flight risk

Some HR technology solutions can evaluate employee data and tell you who is likely to voluntarily leave soon. Check this data against your demographics and see if there are patterns based on race, gender, or other factors like commute time. Then explore locations, managers, and any cultural reasons for patterns you see.

Pay equity

How organizations prioritize resources tells a lot about what and who they value. For employees, equity begins with compensation. Do a pay equity audit, assess disparities, and look for patterns that can be correlated to demographic groups. Then check with your legal counsel to understand whether differences are legally justified or there are gaps that need to be addressed.


Attendance patterns can also tell you a lot, especially where there are changes. If employees start taking more days off and you see it happening in specific departments, explore what's going on. It could be that the team just finished a huge project and their manager is making sure they have some time off. It could be that there are personality issues or other problems that mean people can't bear to come to work. It could also be anything in between. But an increase in absences is one of the first indicators employees are struggling with something.

Changes in engagement data

If you start to see changes in engagement scores, check to see whether the changes make sense. Again, look at engagement by demographic. It will almost always tell a different story than the overall engagement scores. Also, evaluate how you track and measure engagement to see if it favors a homogenous view of success or whether there is plenty of room for difference.

Performance changes

Like absences, performance changes can be an indicator that there are problems. When you see performance scores shifting significantly, look at where they are happening and the demographics of who is having unusual increases or decreases. This can be an indicator of bias or simply a new manager who is learning how to effectively evaluate the people in their organization. Either way (or anything in between) is worth noticing and understanding to ensure everyone is treated equitably.

Check with legal before you start

Before you start gathering information and creating reports, please talk about the project with your employment lawyer to determine who should have access to the information and what levels of confidentiality to maintain.

It's likely you will find issues. You want time and a strategy for addressing problems. Your legal department can guide you through data governance issues and how to manage the analysis and reporting insights to keep information confidential while the organization works to address any issues.

Begin where you are

"Improving diversity, equity, and inclusion starts with understanding where the organization is, where it needs and wants to be, and coming up with a strategy that will create a lasting difference," Berkowitz says.

"Begin with your data. Then continue to track your metrics and monitor for changes that might indicate problems. Also look for plateaus where you want to see change."

While there are many reasons why organizations want to address DEI, there are even more and better reasons for doing it. Having an inclusive workplace where everyone can do their best work and have the opportunity to succeed is good for people and good for business.

Learn how to foster diversity, equity and inclusion in your organization – visit

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