3 ways companies can use data to transform DEI initiatives

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To deliver impactful change, organizations need to define starting points and measure progress – and data is essential to that practice. Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives are no exception. Examining DEI data — such as hiring, retention, and promotion data broken down by gender, race, ethnicity, disability, or other demographic indicators — reveals diverse experiences and potential areas for improvement that would otherwise go unnoticed due to unconscious biases or other limitations.

Consequently, chief data officers and chief DEI officers have the opportunity to work more closely together to enable transformative DEI initiatives. Below are three ways these leaders can use data to shape their DEI story and build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace:

1. Lay the foundation for positive change

The only way to deliver business results is to know what problem to solve and have a baseline to measure progress. Organizations often use data to better understand their customers and target markets, and they should adopt the same approach to foster diversity.

Using data to paint a picture of the current state provides visibility and enables buy-in to address inequality. Chief DEI officers must first understand current context and data to build a roadmap and define sustainable progress, as well as inform strategy and goals. And doing this transparently not only provides accountability, but also builds trust with stakeholders.

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2. Use DEI data to ask the right questions

Access to underlying talent data enables leaders to have impactful conversations with HR, talent or the C-suite to improve workforce diversity and equal access to opportunities. Decisions about talent acquisition, performance development, access to sponsorship, promotions and more are multifaceted and can be different for different groups if there are underlying biases. Collecting and analyzing this data is the beginning of identifying and correcting trends that lead to unintended inequality.

In addition, data leaders should encourage diversity officers to think differently when analyzing this data by asking questions such as: What enabled positive outliers in promotional data? Or else, what caused negative outliers, and how can we correct them? Data and diversity officers must work together to define a data-driven diversity strategy by asking challenging questions about what the data means and who is responsible for driving change where needed.

While diversity leaders may not be directly responsible for talent outcomes related to retention and hiring, they serve as change agents for promoting an equitable workplace. With the right tools, including data, they can better understand where success occurs during the talent lifecycle, as well as where challenges exist and the possible solutions to address them.

3. Insights to Drive Impact

Transparency of data is critical to progress, but what is most important is what is done with that data. What works and what doesn’t? Where can we go next?

Data helps diversity leaders change policies, practices, support models and more. To activate the insights DEI data provides, data and diversity leaders, along with the C-suite, must intentionally empower those who own talent-related business outcomes.

For example, a robust dataset on workforce demographics to assess leading and lagging indicators, including their evolution over time, enables change in hiring, retaining and promoting talent and addressing potential barriers. This data-driven approach will be most successful when there is a focus on creating positive momentum in the areas where it is most needed to better support employees.

A talented, effective and inclusive workforce

Data provides clarity to DEI initiatives that are often challenging to execute. Data and diversity officers working together to accelerate change should ask themselves: What story does the diversity data tell, what experience do people have, and how can we use it to build a talented, effective and inclusive workforce?

Jodi Morton is chief data officer at KPMG US and Elena Richards is chief DEI officer at KPMG US

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