March 5, 2019

What’s holding companies back from having effective diversity and inclusion programs?

Despite companies today saying diversity and inclusion initiatives are a priority, new research finds that only a fifth of HR professionals think their programs are highly effective. Read on for more on the top challenges to D&I program success.

As organizations have become more diverse, the need to better manage diversity and inclusion (D&I) has emerged. However, new research finds that only a fifth of HR professionals consider their D&I initiatives to be highly effective.

The research, conducted by HR.com and sponsored by Ceridian, included a survey of more than 800 HR professionals to better understand the D&I landscape today, including effectiveness of today’s practices, and what organizational success looks like.

The report, The state of diversity and inclusion, reveals that many organizations still have underdeveloped programs, and workforces that don’t reflect marketplace demographics. Here, we explore some key challenges companies face in making their D&I programs successful, and why those challenges may exist.

Programs are underdeveloped and lack leadership support

The report found that today’s D&I programs are largely immature or still in development: only a fifth of HR professionals defined their practices as “advanced” or in the “vanguard” stage.

What does that mean, exactly? Advanced and vanguard practices are defined by this survey as having multiple diversity and inclusion initiatives that are aligned with organizational goals, and have defined metrics and goals for improvement. Vanguard organizations also have CEOs that make diversity and inclusion a priority, and cultures in which diversity and inclusion are embedded.

This is in line with another finding from the report – that lack of support and prioritization from senior leadership is a key obstacle (according to 41% of respondents) in diversity and inclusion effectiveness. It’s possible that leaders remain unaware – or skeptical – of the benefits of diversity and inclusion, or because they aren’t interested in changing the established culture. If leaders do not prioritize it, of course, there’s little chance for an adequate budget towards diversity and inclusion initiatives – another commonly cited barrier (by 43% of respondents) to effective practices. 

Related: Three questions you must ask when it comes to diversity and inclusion

Organizations aren’t establishing clear metrics or measurable goals

About a quarter of HR professionals surveyed said lack of technology (28%) and lack of metrics (34%) are barriers to success – and in some organizations, these two issues may be related. Increasingly, leading organizations use software to help detect and defend against bias in areas including recruiting, performance, and compensation, and track organizational metrics and industry benchmarks as part of the process.

From a metrics perspective, while survey participants said they use a variety of tactics to measure D&I impact, most only rely on basic demographic data, like gender, race/ethnicity, and age. In fact, only 29% of HR professionals measure program impact using advanced workforce demographic metrics. Further, few respondents said they know exactly how effective their own D&I programs are – and the report suggests this is probably due to lack of metrics.

Diversity and inclusion are too narrowly defined and not embraced as core to culture

The survey found that most organizations only use basic definitions like age and gender (84% and 77% of respondents include these areas in their definitions, respectively) as opposed to other unique characteristics in their D&I program definitions. Most respondents said their organizations do not include individual differences such as behavioral style (included by only 32% of respondents), personality (26%), and thinking style (26%) in their definition of diversity.

The report also highlighted the differences in how organizations view diversity and inclusion overall. According to the report, there are two primary mindsets around D&I – either that D&I programs are needed to avoid legal challenges (that is, meet regulatory requirements), or because they are a company performance booster. The report further suggests that these programs should be core to company culture, and that companies need to be honest about their motivations for having them.

The survey found that high performing companies – those who reported having advanced or vanguard D&I programs – are more likely to have broader definitions of D&I, instead of focusing solely on areas related to compliance with laws and regulations.

Related: Six ways to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Danielle Ng-See-Quan

Dani is the Managing Editor, Content Marketing at Ceridian.

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