While diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) programs have been a part of the business landscape for many large companies for decades, they are now an essential part of even small organizations. The early emphasis was strictly on the business case for the return on their investment in DE&I, which should no longer be up for debate. The perspective has since expanded from the strict impact on the business to the moral case for change and the need to attract and retain diverse talent. Benefits are gained by ensuring an organization integrates DE&I into all aspects of operations and ensures that customers, suppliers and contract workers contribute to these tenets.
Research consistently shows that when companies are more diverse, they are more innovative and have better returns. “Diversity wins: How inclusion matters,” a 2020 McKinsey and Co. study, showed once again that companies with greater gender, racial and cultural diversity outperform the others.
Where companies focus their DE&I energy, however, has shifted over the last decade.
Now there is an equally strong case being made around the moral need for change, around the shifting demands from employees, contingent workers, shareholders, suppliers and customers. These groups are using their power to demand organizations show authentic commitment and results. So while the case for change might be shifting from the bottom line to social change, companies will still see the impact on their balance sheet.
Another area of focus is expanding DE&I programs to include contingent workers. As the numbers of non-employees increase globally, there is a push to ensure these individuals are included in DE&I strategies, actions and metrics. No matter what case for change you consider, contingent workers impact the metrics in the same ways as traditional employees.
To successfully implement and grow a program, “organizations need to clearly understand what DE&I is, how they should be looking at it and how they can use it to their benefit,” said Rebecca Perrault, Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion at PRO Unlimited, which is a vendor-neutral MSP and workforce management technology provider.
In a recent Q&A with Spend Matters, Perrault shared her expertise and insight about how DE&I is changing and how companies can expand their approaches to include contingent workers.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion is about making sure that all doors are open,” she said. “It’s not about closing some and opening others, but about striving to remove barriers so that all people have the ability to succeed.”
Spend Matters: How can companies, regardless of their place along the DE&I journey, grow and improve their programs?
Rebecca Perrault: No matter what type of company I work with, my initial guidance is to have them look at their data. Starting or growing a DE&I program can feel overwhelming, so this step helps establish benchmarks and priorities. It clarifies where they are, no matter what stage of the process they are in.
Analyzing data from all types of employees and workers, suppliers and customers enables organizations to create a clear picture of their representation across categories. It has the power to clarify where strengths and weaknesses lie or uncover new issues that had not even been considered.
Looking at qualitative and quantitative data together is a key to making the most significant changes. Quantitative data can come from any number of departments, including HR, finance and procurement. Qualitative data that comes directly from people within an organization can provide insight into actual experiences, which is invaluable. It can tell leadership things like why certain people apply for certain roles, why certain people leave after a short time or why certain departments are populated with certain types of workers.
So where do companies find this data? And even if they have been collecting worker data for years, are there often holes in their DE&I information?
Many companies are going to be able to look at some sort of data around their employee and contingent worker base. But sometimes, when the data review begins, companies realize they have been doing a poor job of collecting information relevant to DE&I. They may not be able to see representation for different diversity dimensions like gender, race, ethnicity or have metrics around who leaves and why, and tenure for certain positions in certain departments.
At larger companies that have more comprehensive HR departments using more robust HRIS platforms, data analysis can be easier. However, if they are new to this particular journey, they may need to expand their thinking to a broader DE&I lens. Smaller companies can sometimes more easily gather that new DE&I data because of the smaller number of workers.
When companies start digging in, they can discover specific DE&I concerns like attrition rates that are different for men and women. A prime example is an organization that had a 50%/50% gender representation companywide, but once they started looking deeper, they found that women were 80% of the employees who were leaving. That gave the organization insight into how women were experiencing the culture differently and the opportunity to make changes.
What can companies do to take a more thorough approach to data collection and use for their DE&I programs? Are there specific matters that need to be included across the board?
A comprehensive DE&I program should look beyond gender and race — and include all workers, even the contingent workforce. A best practice when collecting data is to go beyond the Equal Employment Opportunity classifications and include non-binary gender, identification as part of the LGBTQIA community, and other company-specific dimensions of diversity. Voluntary self-disclosure provides the most inclusive source of information.
At PRO Unlimited, we advise clients to continually collect data across their traditional full-time employees and contingent workers. This allows organizations to see trends and compare the two data sets. For organizations with an MSP, data can be collected and safeguarded through the MSP, which can also facilitate robust data analysis.
Another significant aspect is the safety of data once it’s collected. Participants need to be assured that all identifiable DE&I information will be held safely where decision-making hiring managers will never have access to it. All data should be anonymized and used to report only aggregate percentages. If workers are going to feel safe enough to self-identify, they need to know they will never be singled out.
The data-collection questions and other DE&I efforts indicate an organization’s intent to develop a culture of inclusion. When workers that identify as the majority see their company’s efforts toward DE&I, they see a tangible openness to different demographic groups.
For global companies, gathering DE&I data is more complex. They need to consider the legalities and cultural differences in the various countries where workers sit. In some countries, while it might not be illegal to ask a question, doing so doesn’t always create an inclusive atmosphere.
At most companies, DE&I has focused on traditional full-time employees. What do companies need to consider when expanding those programs to include contingent workers?
For many companies, DE&I strategies have not applied to their contingent workforce, but that is changing as the non-employee population becomes a larger percentage of their overall workforces. Companies do face some challenges, with concerns around co-employment and corporate policies that prohibit non-employees from participating in certain work activities, including training.
Contingent workers can be up to 40% of some companies’ workforces and are becoming fundamental components within many organizations. Companies should focus on DE&I with their group to achieve the same benefits they gain with traditional employees, including increased sales and greater return on investment.
While a DE&I program for contingent workers might look slightly different, it needs to include the same elements of the programs established for traditional employees. This is where an MSP can be an advocate and partner, working with HR and DE&I departments to translate what they are doing internally to create an equitable experience for the contingent workforce. At PRO Unlimited, for example, we work with clients to collect quantitative and qualitative diversity data in an inclusive, safe way. Qualitative data often includes direct information from workers about their experiences with DE&I. We then partner with clients to develop interventions such as unconscious bias training, worker resource groups, development support and communication campaigns.
Ultimately, DE&I for this population should be based on the same dynamics as traditional workers, because we’re talking about people regardless of their employment status.
Once a program is in place, how should organizations approach their workforces about the changes and goals?
The education piece is absolutely critical — it should have a clear focus on change and creating new corporate cultures. Education and training can be deliberate, like holding company-wide sessions, or more subtle where managers consciously change their word choices or practices to be more inclusive, and corporate signage can be updated to reflect a more diverse workforce.
In the past couple of years, I have done unconscious bias workshops for leaders, and their “a-ha” moments often come from realizing how other people experienced situations. Educating entire worker populations on this helps people understand that how their brains work can impact their decisions about people. By increasing awareness and knowledge, companies can give every worker the tools to institute change and create inclusive cultures for everyone.
But change can’t be created overnight, and it isn’t easy. It’s a slow process that comes from setting expectations and requiring accountability across an entire enterprise. The real rewards start when people who have different experiences and points of view are truly able to collaborate. in Scientific American shows us that diversity, specifically gender and racial diversity, brings better outcomes. Women in leadership increase companies’ profits and innovation. We consider different ideas more closely if they come from people who are different from us, so racial diversity can increase creativity and learning. Ultimately, my takeaway from her work it is diversity makes everyone smarter and increases our potential.
As technology becomes an even more integral part of business processes and operations, how can companies integrate it to support their DE&I programs? Are there specific capabilities that are proving useful?
Technology plays an important role in an organization’s ability to collect and analyze worker data in ways that inform their DE&I strategies and goals. Whenever possible, integrating technologies across a company can create larger data sets that are inclusive of contingent workers and traditional employees, allowing for more holistic analysis.
At PRO Unlimited, we have integrated diversity elements into our VMS platform, Wand, that helps our clients collect contingent worker diversity data directly from workers. We can gather information on diversity representation and metrics that impact diversity, such as hiring and who converts to full time. Robust dashboards help us identify areas of concern and bright spots to replicate.
Initial candidate screenings are a place where unconscious bias has a major impact, so blocking that bias changes the hiring process for the better. Our technology can mask resumes to remove certain identifiers, like names or locations, that could create biases. Organizations that use this feature are able to hire from more diverse candidate pools; they can focus on the skills and criteria which helps to remove those unconscious biases that often arise during a quick review of resumes.
When organizations work with an MSP to manage their non-employees, that partnership can be the key to companies successfully bringing contingent workforces up to the same levels of inclusion as traditional employees. The consultative nature of the relationship allows companies to create data-based strategies and implement processes and procedures to improve DE&I efforts with their contingent workforces.
After all of the groundwork is done and a program is implemented, what are some of the realities of managing the DE&I process, whether it is for traditional employees or all workers?
There’s always a balancing act between diversifying an organization and making sure that it’s inclusive — they have to go hand in hand.
For diversity to thrive, there has to be inclusion that stems from knowledge and understanding of an organization’s individual challenges. When there are differences in a group, change requires everyone to be considerate and aware. Successful DE&I efforts require work, and that work isn’t easy. As with any culture change, the process needs to begin at the top. It is essential that leaders are the example of inclusive action and are held accountable.
And while every organization is different and will have its own particular needs, making DE&I work goes back to preparation and education. If leadership gives workers the knowledge and support they need, changes will be successfully incorporated into their work lives.
This Brand Studio post was written with PRO Unlimited.
This content was originally published here.