How do you know whether your culture is really inclusive?
Measuring D&I initiatives is important for several reasons. Firstly, the planned initiatives need to be measured in terms of how they are specifically supported by the organisation’s culture. Secondly, the results need to be presented to senior executives and Boards in order to demonstrate progress and maintain commitment. However, this is where problems can arise, because D&I measures are typically implemented superficially. Deeper insights are more complex and difficult to extract (and track). Companies that benchmark predominantly use quantitative measures which offer very little depth in relation to culture. Not only are these metrics highly transient; they also provide only surface level indicators of the success. Beneath this surface level analysis lies the truth – differentiated and often individual fragmented perspectives that cannot be explored through the use of surveys.
Popular D&I indexes, used by a number of organisations, adopt largely quantitative methodologies that are problematic; these can actually undermine the development of D&I cultural change by reinforcing positive, albeit false, assumptions. Such indexes while helpful, use mostly surface level measures that specifically capture simple statistics, like percentages of cohort workforce compositions and pay gap statistics, as well as using a range of questions with standard “yes or no” answers and or numeric responses. Such approaches lack thick description and the question of depth should arise, but often does not.
The oversimplification of D&I data capture for an index could be considered problematic, because it can portray an organisation favourably, while deeper analysis may reveal a very different story concerning D&I within the organisation. Measuring D&I through quantitative surveys can also, rather ironically, silence minorities, creating an unspoken culture of dissent. Minorities, who have less power to challenge issues, will often avoid drawing attention to their workplace experiences. It is, therefore, critical to ensure, when analysing and benchmarking organisational D&I, that deeper, emic approaches are utilised.
Those responsible for D&I, including HR Managers, D&I Practitioners and People and Culture Specialists, need a way of capturing what is going on within their organisation and move beyond the seductive allure of simplified, quantitative measures of D&I. As Professor Joanne Martin, put it: ‘no one can capture the complexity and richness of a culture in a sequence of numbers.’
While we prefer the ethnographic approach to assist organisations develop their D&I framework or strategy, we also understand that organisations do not yet fully appreciate the reasons as to why the ethnographic research approach is essential to understanding D&I culture in organisations. The answer is this: ethnography ascertains what is going on in the organisation at the deepest level.
Further, the development of cultural inclusiveness is not a linear progression towards some enlightened state; yet, many of the approaches which we have observed view it from a fully integrated perspective, with limited depth of sub-cultural analysis. Again, this is due to the oversimplified methods of assessment.
We encourage those organisations genuinely wishing to become more diverse and inclusive to think deeply about utilising simplistic benchmarking tools and to consider what is not being presented to you in these measures, who is being silenced, and who, if any of us, benefits from this superficial and oversimplified data capture.
Organisational Culture: Mapping the Terrain, Foundations for Organizational Science Series, 2002, p.12. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.
Theaanna Kiaos is an organisational anthropologist, specialising in organisational culture and diversity. Theaanna is completing her Ph.D. in Management (ethnography) through Macquarie Graduate School of Management. Theaanna has been a sought-after and successful speaker at numerous D&I conferences. She has been interviewed on SBS World News on the topic of "Most Australian workplaces are failing to achieve diversity": she has also been interviewed as a subject matter expert by Women's Agenda and Shortlist.