3 ways businesses can use data to transform DEI initiatives

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To drive impactful change, organizations must define starting points and measure progress — and data is essential to that practice. Initiatives related to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are no exception. Exploring DEI data — such as hiring, retention and promotion data disaggregated by gender, race, ethnicity, disability or other demographic indicators — reveals disparate experiences and potential areas for improvement that may otherwise go unnoticed due to unconscious biases or other limitations.

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

1. Lay the groundwork for positive change

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

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

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2. Lean into DEI data to ask the right questions

Access to underlying talent data empowers leaders to have impactful conversations with HR, talent or the C-suite to improve workforce diversity and equitable access to opportunities. Decisions on talent acquisition, performance development, access to sponsorship, promotions and more are multifaceted and can play out disparately for different groups when there are underlying biases. Collecting and analyzing this data is the start to identifying and rectifying trends that result in unintentional inequities.

Additionally, data leaders should encourage diversity officers to think differently when analyzing this data by asking questions like: What enabled positive outliers in promotions data? Or alternatively, what caused negative outliers, and how can we correct them? Data and diversity officers should collaborate to define a data-driven diversity strategy by asking challenging questions about what the data means and who is accountable for driving change where necessary.

While diversity leaders may not be directly responsible for talent outcomes related to retention and hiring, they serve as change agents for advancing an equitable workplace. With the correct tools, including data, they can better understand where success is occurring along the talent lifecycle, as well as where challenges exist and the potential solutions to address them.

3. Insights to drive impact

Data transparency is critical to progress, but what’s most important is what is done with that data. What’s working, and what’s not? Where can we go further?

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

For example, a robust data set on workforce demographics to assess leading and lagging indicators —including its evolution over time — enables change when hiring, retaining and promoting talent and addressing potential barriers. This data-led approach will be most successful when there is a focus on creating positive momentum in the areas of greatest need to better support employees.

A talented, effective, inclusive workforce

Data brings clarity to DEI initiatives that often feel challenging to execute. Data and diversity officers who partner to accelerate change should ask: What story does the diversity data tell, what experience are people having, and how can we use it to build a talented, effective and inclusive workforce?

Jodi Morton is chief data officer at KPMG U.S., and Elena Richards is chief DEI officer at KPMG U.S.

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