Alyscia Raines, M.Ed. has been a partner and friend the past few years to tPX’s DEI journey. As the Owner, Principal Consultant, and DEI Strategist at ADR Consulting Group, she’s served as the same for countless other organizations during the decade she’s been engaged in the work. With a Master’s Degree in Social Justice and Multiculturalism from Loyola University Chicago, as well as a certificate in Data, Analytics, and Evaluation, there are likely few practitioners better qualified for a conversation on the “how” and “why” of measuring the success of corporate DEI programs. We asked Alyscia about the motivations, current best practices, and markers of success for companies investing in DEI.
Looking back at the historical motivations for corporate DEI initiatives, two main arguments often rise to the top. The first is the “business case for DEI”, most widely supported by McKinsey’s series of studies – essentially the argument that DEI drives higher financial returns. The second is what we could call the “moral case for DEI” – the counter-argument that we as a society should invest in DEI initiatives as simply the right thing to do. Where do you think public sentiment currently sits – on the side of the clients who hire you, and on the side of the employees they’re attempting to attract and retain? How are companies justifying their continued investments in DEI initiatives?
This is a topic that I think about often and love to process with others, especially those who engage in DEI work. I personally am hesitant to engage the business case for DEI, at least as an entry point to this conversation, which is really about our motivations for incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion as a business imperative strategy.
I am most passionate about teaching managers and leaders how to foster a workplace culture that centers and prioritizes the humanity and dignity of its employees. This people-focused strategy allows me to assess an organization’s progress, or lack thereof, in areas such as (but not limited to) promoting equitable hiring strategies and incorporating inclusive meeting spaces. When we center the needs of our people before profit, then people will feel more welcomed, valued, and affirmed; and those sentiments will have a direct correlation with retention of talent, higher performance, and yes, the company’s bottom line.
Both the business case and the moral case, as we’re labeling it here, are more interconnected than they are separate. A moral imperative alone is not enough, as it relies on sentiments of altruism and charity, which are not sustainable. But equally, the business case alone is also not enough, as the prioritization of profit first can often marginalize people. So the best argument for DEI is one that recognizes a business cannot operate without being successful, and the success of a business relies on the people who do the work each and every day. We need both the moral and business case to better align strategic priorities that leverage the unique skills, talents, and humanity of the workforce that makes up a company or organization.
What are some tangible best practices for companies looking to measure the success of their DEI programs?
There is a saying that “what gets measured is what gets done" – but I think it's actually “what gets done is what is measured.” What I mean is that people get way too caught up in theorizing DEI, rather than bringing it down to earth with real, tangible examples.
Let’s say ABC Company wants to prioritize DEI, and it is their first attempt in doing so. I would first advise them to start with data. Before springing into action, you need to understand the climate, landscape, and current conditions of your workplace culture. Whether through exit surveys, an audit, or another method, you need to first understand your people. Gather your data and synthesize it into main themes and patterns. From there, develop two to three main goals for the company to work on. Decide who is going to be responsible for which goals, in what timeline they should be completed, and how you will track and measure success. As a hint – the goals should be in alignment with your company values and mission. Taking these steps helps keep folks organized, on task, and equipped with a clear vision that is well-integrated into the company’s overall vision.
How has this conversation around justifying investments in DEI changed over the past years – particularly in the current U.S. environment, where we’re seeing massive layoffs in the tech industry in particular?
If you follow me on LinkedIn, you will notice that I talk frequently about corporate layoffs, and the reason is this: most of the time, they are handled in inequitable ways. I am not a financial analyst, so I cannot speak to the fiscal management of a company’s books, but what I can tell you is that if you let people go because someone mismanaged the company budget, then you never were really committed to equity and inclusion.
DEI is often relegated to a checkbox exercise to reach a specific demographic quota when hiring, or a company e-blast during a heritage month like Black History Month. But the truth is that DEI is a lens to incorporate into any functional area of a business. DEI is relevant to operations, finance, technology, marketing, and so on. So when I see mass layoffs becoming a trend in the corporate space, what that tells me is that folks never truly prioritized DEI – it was just talk.
Many companies were galvanized to action in 2020 by the murder of George Floyd, with demands from customers and employees spurring investment in DEI initiatives. Now that we’re three years out from this initial spark, what do you think “success” has looked like for those companies?
For a company who made a commitment to racial equity in 2020, success would include humility to share accurate progress of their gaps and newly-discovered areas for improvement. Success would include transparency with a visible and accessible place for all stakeholders to see their progress – be it on a website, annual report PDF, intranet, or town hall session. Success would also include collaboration with community leaders and folks who have been doing this work for years. And finally, success would include transformation. Equity work requires resources to be reallocated and dispersed to those most marginalized. So a successful company would have restructured their organization to shift positions, hire new staff, and reallocate budgets to maintain their equity commitment. That is what success would look like.