Corporate America seems to agree — DEI is important and should be among any company’s top priorities. But getting there is a different story. Torch’s Elizabeth Weingarten explores the disconnect between what business says it’s doing and the reality on the ground — and offers a solution to split the difference.
Signals that DEI matters — to more than just DEI leaders — are all around us: President Joe Biden has reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to diversity, U.S. corporate leadership body The Business Roundtable is asking members to increase transparency on corporate diversity, and a 2021 CNBC survey found the majority of U.S. employees want to work for a company that values diversity, equity and inclusion. And in research my firm recently published, we found that 69% of 500-plus HR and L&D managers and leaders across the U.S. confirm that addressing DEI goals was either an immediate or short-term priority.
Within that same research, we found something surprising: Gaps exist between executives and managers and even between men and women about the rate at which DEI goals are being achieved. These perception gaps suggest that at least some organizational leaders may be out of step with what’s really happening inside their company.
And the disconnect could be compounded by something else we found: A majority of organizations do not measure the outcomes of DEI-related programs through things like on-the-job training, leadership coaching or personalized development plans.
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Without data about DEI program effectiveness, there won’t be clarity about whether a problem still exists or how close an organization really is to meeting its goals. This also makes it harder for HR leaders to secure budget and support to continue their programs. In other words, what matters isn’t necessarily what counts.
But data is just one part of making sure that organizational leaders are clued into their DEI realities. One initiative showing promise in building awareness and driving progress on DEI goals, is relationship-based leadership development programs like coaching and mentoring. Not only do companies that leverage these programs report stronger results in metrics such as engagement, retention and promotion rates, our research also shows the ones that offer formal coaching or mentoring to underrepresented groups reported reaching significantly more of their DEI goals than those without these programs.
Our data also shows that organizations that don’t offer coaching or mentoring to empower underrepresented groups were 63% more likely to report struggling with providing equitable pay, 58% more likely to report struggling with providing promotions and 33% more likely to report struggling with retention.
Why are these programs so effective? For underrepresented groups, these development opportunities signal an important investment and commitment. Research has shown that, in particular, formal, democratized mentorship programs promote the retention, promotion and engagement of underrepresented groups. Mentorship programs can also offer women and people of color access to institutional knowledge and visibility with leadership, as well as giving them the tools they need to move up the ladder and do well in their roles. And for leaders, coaching and mentorship is a proven tool to drive behavior change and greater self-awareness.
Greater awareness — at the individual and organizational level — is one of the most important ingredients of any successful DEI program and key to achieving DEI goals. And it starts with intentionally designed leadership development programs that focus on awareness.