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DEIB Is At a Crossroads—It’s Time for Bold Action and Clear Metrics

Shujaat Ahmad

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) is at a critical juncture. Critics dismiss it as a check-box exercise that undermines real business and societal progress. On the other hand, DEIB champions continue to fight to validate it as beyond a feel-good factor—proving it as a catalyst for organizational and societal transformation. But here's what both sides must recognize: without clear, tangible measures, DEIB risks being lost in a maze of good intentions and half-baked commitments. Rhetoric will not solve the problem: instead, the bravery to act, the boldness to quantify, and the rigor to measure will. 

Boards, leadership teams, and investors hold the power to set the tone, shape the policies, and allocate the resources to support DEIB initiatives: for DEIB to work effectively, they must shift from well-intentioned wordsmiths to committed drivers that hold the organization accountable for outcomes and positive change. This is my blueprint to help leaders assess progress and drive meaningful change. 

Determining "Why" Before the "How": Understanding the DEIB Imperative

Before diving into the 'how', let's get the 'why' straight. The motive behind DEIB can be bucketed into three realms:

1. Societal Change: This is about amplifying the voices and presence of under-represented and marginalized groups, because it’s the right thing to do—because we want to see a more equitable and inclusive society.

2. Business Innovation: DEIB is a lever for creativity and designing solutions that resonate with a diverse customer base. In this case, diverse perspectives are embraced to fuel innovation. However, beware of circular debates around 'diversity of thought'—be clear about what unique perspectives you're missing and prioritize them.

3. Brand Reputation and Talent Magnetism: In an era where corporate image and talent retention are pivotal, DEIB acts as a magnet for progressive talent and a polish for external image. This can be a byproduct of earnest efforts in #1 and #2, but should not be the sole driver.

Many firms claim to champion all three but their actions are tailored mostly towards the third. This inconsistency has been starkly exposed in the aftermath of significant societal events, like the George Floyd protests. Authentic DEIB strategy roots itself in the first two motives, with the third blossoming as a natural consequence of genuine efforts. Real DEIB transformation happens when organizations commit to both societal change and business innovation; it's this synergy that fosters a perpetual engine of change, benefiting both business and society.

Measuring What Matters

Let's break down the DEIB components and explore what each entails and how to measure its impact effectively. 

Diversity (D): Diversity is not a static target; it's a dynamic journey towards representation that reflects the vibrant tapestry of society. A mosaic of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives required for your intended business and societal outcomes. Remember, diversity is not just about filling quotas; it's about creating an ecosystem where diverse thoughts and experiences are not only welcomed but also integral to the fabric of the company. The real challenge is to ensure that diversity does not become a superficial 'numbers game' but a substantive stride towards broadening perspectives and enriching the organization's intellectual ecosystem.

Equity (E): The quest for equity is not just a lofty ideal—it's a concrete goal with measurable dimensions. Equity is the mirror we hold up to our organizations: it’s how we seek reflections of fairness in outcomes, procedures, and interactions. It's about identifying and bridging structural gaps that may be hindering an equitable employee experience. The bold leaders who venture into this terrain are the ones willing to wield data science, research, and behavioral economics like a sword, cutting through to reveal potential systemic discrimination within their organization’s workflows.

Inclusion and Belonging (IB): Inclusion and belonging go beyond the numbers; they are the cultural pulse of your workplace, the undercurrent of how work really happens, fostering psychological safety and diversity of thought. The essence of inclusion and belonging is captured in the lived experiences of employees, in the fabric of daily work life, ensuring everyone feels valued and essential. The challenge here is for leaders to exhibit the courage needed to face uncomfortable truths and act on them. This dimension requires a steadfast commitment to move from surface-level compliance to a culture where every individual feels an integral to the whole organization. 

This blueprint can help boards to assess risk in leadership to ensure diversity by actively seeking diverse candidates for executive positions and fostering a culture of inclusion. Leadership teams must champion DEIB initiatives by leading by example, for instance, promoting accountability and creating opportunities for underrepresented groups. Investors can drive change by considering DEIB as a criterion for investment decisions and engaging with companies to improve their DEIB practices. In order to get there, boards, leaders, and investors need to emphasize investment in roles focused on actionable people insights, backed with data science and behavioral science capabilities, to monitor real measures for the real change required, and identify drivers on what interventions are working for the desired DEIB outcomes.

Combining Our Intentions and Commitment

Incorporating this framework into a strategic vision transforms DEIB from a nebulous concept into a quantifiable, actionable plan. It’s a journey that requires a north star—where every number tells a story, every policy opens a door, and every interaction weaves a stronger bond within our organizations.

We measure what we treasure, and in this case, we treasure a workplace where diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging are not ephemeral concepts but the very metrics by which we gauge our success. This is an invitation to leaders, teams, and investors to lead the charge. Yes, the journey of DEIB is ongoing, challenging, but it is absolutely vital. Like any aspect of business, it's a path paved with honest introspection, rigorous measurement, and bold actions. It requires a pledge to continuous improvement, the humility to acknowledge gaps, and the resolve to bridge them. Ultimately, DEIB isn't a final destination; it's a way of existing —mindfully, ethically, and inclusively.

It's about setting a course with intention, measuring progress with precision, and adjusting the sails with the insights gained.

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