Embedding DE&I: How Measuring and Reporting Social Impact can Supercharge Change

While there’s emerging consensus on the many positive business benefits of championing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) policies in the workplace, the question of how best to measure and report on the relative success of individual DE&I initiatives remains less settled.
Diane Nowell
Sep 26, 2023

And yet, if we accept the rationale of ‘what gets measured gets done’, finding a formula for accurately monitoring and measuring diversity and inclusion programmes is critical to making – and marking – sustained improvements against ESG targets.

Indeed, by targeting desired outcomes and linking them to KPIs, businesses can not only establish a workable framework for checking progress against DE&I priorities but can also demonstrate the value of such metrics alongside other, more traditional, business performance indicators.

Measuring progress

The use of quantitative metrics – analysing recruitment outcomes, pay equity, employee experience, and retention/attrition trends – via various demographic filters is a useful approach to tracking performance – so long as it’s seen as an ongoing evaluative process and not a superficial tick-box exercise.

Using data to inform progress against targets is an approach advocated by Suki Sandhu OBE, founder and CEO of DE&I-focused consultancy INvolve, and Audeliss, an executive search firm specialising in diversity.

‘The key to holding organisations and business leaders accountable for DE&I is measurement and reporting because without an infrastructure that provides businesses with a lens on areas of improvement to chart progress, DE&I will stall. While it’s been great to see more discussions around DE&I in the workplace over recent years, this hasn’t always translated into action.

‘In order to consolidate individual experiences into an operational and effective framework for measuring the impact of DE&I initiatives, organisations must be specific as possible with their data collection. This involves combining quantitative data with qualitative responses that dig deeper into the individual experiences of specific groups, providing valuable insights that help refine DE&I strategies.’

In fact, qualitative measurements are crucial because they act as a broader barometer of company culture. Where demographic data points may be useful indicators of a programme’s impact, the evidence of an inclusive and equitable culture can only be gleaned from employees’ everyday experiences and interactions.

Which is why it’s important to pay attention to who’s (and who’s not) showing up, speaking up and getting on.

Experience counts

Amrit Sandhar is CEO and Founder of The Engagement Coach. Amrit suggests that experiential data is an important indicator of equity.

‘Data such as percentages of people recruited from certain backgrounds can be useful, but without a benchmark of what the norm should be, it makes chasing these targets a difficult task. Who decides the optimum percentage of women who should be in leadership positions, for example?’

‘Other ways to measure impact focus on how people speak up and show up. How well are we creating environments for people to feel comfortable speaking out? How many people from diverse backgrounds choose to attend voluntary get-togethers, team building events or socials? Analysing these demographics will be a strong indicator of how inclusive your workplace is.’

Making a more diverse range of voices heard is key to making real progress. Diversity pioneer Rachel Youngman is Deputy CEO at the Institute of Physics, and advises charities and corporations on implementing DE&I.

‘It’s always worth remembering that human beings rarely fit into a box, and strategies to tackle diversity and inclusion must be more nuanced.

‘Surveys are a great starting point as you collect quantitative data and can measure progress, but I would also encourage business leaders to listen to employees through focus groups. I have often found that the best solutions are those that are co-created with diverse voices.’

Building an accountability framework

Listening should be given top priority when constructing an accountability framework. Only by tracking and exploring a range of employee perspectives, as well as undertaking external reputation audits to show broader perceptions of an organisation’s strengths and weaknesses, can companies build an accurate picture of where they are versus where they want to be.

Steve Leigh is MD of research at measurement and evaluation consultancy Sensu Insight.

‘To make a DE&I strategy effective, both quantitative and qualitative data must be used to inform more diverse and inclusive business practices. This data can be examined to determine, for example, if bias is affecting fair access to recruitment, or if staff think there is enough opportunity for career advancement.

‘Open communication between the board, senior management and staff is hugely important for fostering a transparent culture towards career and pay equity.’

Committing to transparency is non-negotiable – measuring and communicating DE&I metrics externally and internally helps organisations demonstrate transparency, accountability, and progress.

Arv Kaushal is Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Milton Keynes College Group.

‘Transparency is one of the key factors in determining how authentic the commitment for equity is: a high level of transparency with evidence, actions and outcomes indicates a higher level of commitment. It’s why public reporting is so important, and why creating an effective accountability framework to evaluate the success of DE&I programmes is so necessary.’

Evaluating belonging

Because inclusion drives diversity, it can often be a more reliable indicator of direction-of-travel than representation metrics which change slowly and may be viewed as performative. While showing commitment to diversity is the logical precursor to attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce, inclusion is, nevertheless, more closely connected to a flourishing company culture.

Creating the right environment to support this cultural evolution will require a company-wide commitment to psychological safety, however.

Lesley Cooper is the founder and CEO of WorkingWell, an award-winning specialist consultancy that helps companies to manage workplace pressure in a way that facilitates growth and development.

‘The biggest barrier to all employees using their voices to share valuable insight, unique perspective and lived experience is fear of personal negative outcomes. It doesn’t matter whether that fear is justified or not, if the employee does not feel safe to speak up, they won’t.

‘Whether they are conscious of it or not, everybody silently computes the ‘interpersonal risk’ of sharing information, opinion, or perspective – particularly carefully when the contribution is likely to be different to that of others in the group. To stay silent is a choice it’s true, but, for many, self-exclusion seems like the safest option.’

This is where businesses can step up, introducing informal, yet carefully constructed, opportunities to help teams report what’s working for them and what’s not. By creating safe forums for everyone to share more of their authentic selves, organisations can establish self-propelling evaluation and feedback loops that lead to better cohesion.

Quantitative assessment tools enable the aggregation of team-based data that can be used to shape, drive and then evaluate progress on these less formal interactions. But existing employee engagement, satisfaction or wellbeing surveys, specifically in areas that explore trust, mutual respect and willingness to share concerns about wellbeing can also serve as productive conversation starters.

Leading change

Buy-in from senior leaders is essential to purposefully drive DE&I programme initiatives. Every leader needs to feel personally accountable in order to advocate and support the overall organisational DE&I strategy.

Advita Patel is a communications specialist and co-author of Building a Culture of Inclusivity.

‘Ultimately, the strategies that are created and deployed across organisations must be meaningful, adaptable and relevant to the objectives set by the business. Changing behaviour and mindset takes time but consistent reminders and ensuring there’s appropriate accountability can make all the difference.’

Although policies, government guidelines and investor pressure may help drive this change, establishing a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace is the remit of an organisation’s decision makers and influencers.

Yetunde Hofmann is a global change and inclusion advisor, author of Beyond Engagement, and Founder of the Solaris Executive Leadership Development Academy, a leadership academy for Black Women Leaders.

‘Introducing and implementing an effective DE&I strategy is a culture change programme and every aspect of the organisation must be ready and willing to change. The only way to do this is to involve as diverse a group of stakeholders at every stage as possible and empower them to make changes and be accountable for progress.

‘Transparency, accountability, and ambition are pivotal in these plans; if you can set and measure stretching goals that the company understands for your financial performance, there’s no reason you can’t do the same for your DE&I performance.’


Diane Nowell

Writer and communications consultant