Inclusion Measurement: Tracking the Intangible

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By AMA Staff

Diversity and inclusion are, in some ways, like peanut butter and jelly. They're not the same but are often combined, making up a whole that's more than the sum of its parts. So when i4cp, on behalf of its members-only Diversity Accelerator group, decided to look at inclusion metrics, we first had to carefully define, identify, and separate the two concepts.

In our Inclusion Measurement Survey, we started by finding out whether or not companies had inclusion initiatives and if initiatives were considered separately or in combination with diversity. Two-thirds of study participants reported inclusion as part of their people-management strategy, either in combination with diversity (47%) or as a separate talent-management initiative (19%). These numbers crept up only slightly among higher market performers. With this established, we asked them to focus specifically on inclusion, the more difficult to measure of the two.

Diversity is about variations and differences and, more often than not, refers to traits that are measurable. Sometimes diversity refers to a traditional compliance point-of-view that looks primarily at EEOC protected classes. Other times, it incorporates a broader definition that accounts for factors such as diverse experience, education, and backgrounds. Either way, seeing how one individual differs from another and tracking those differences is, while challenging in practice, intellectually clear cut. Inclusion, however, is a much more amorphous affair.

Inclusion is what ties varied individuals together into a cohesive and productive whole. By far the most commonly cited definition for inclusion among our study participants was from the 2002 Frederick Miller and Judith Katz book, The Inclusion Breakthrough. This definition—“Inclusion is about creating an environment in which employees share a sense of belonging, mutual respect, being valued for who they are, and supportive energy and commitment from others so that they can do their best work”—was selected from among six possibilities by over half of our study group.

But does anything about that definition lend itself to measurement? Can one say that a company produced 5% more “supportive energy” this year than last? While other definitions had more concrete wording, such as “avoiding tokenism,” organizations seem inclined toward a definition that is more aspirational and values-based. This kind of definition may explain why only a fifth of respondents say their organizations attempt to quantify the effects of inclusion strategies to a high or very high extent.

Corporate Practices
Through a series of interviews tied to our Diversity Accelerator, we investigated how some organizations incorporate inclusion as a key value. These companies are both more successful at inclusion and more capable at measuring the success of their efforts. The key factors that make this possible are a definition that includes measurables and driving goals that are strategically aligned and quantifiable.

With inclusion ingrained as a core corporate value, organizations can measure success in this area through several channels, including indirect routes such as quality assurance reports that provide a view of inclusion from the customer perspective. These organizations can also directly tap their employees for guidance to provide feedback and ensure that they are truly living their corporate values.

Other practices that boost inclusion proficiency include inclusion-specific competencies as part of the managerial review process. Linking those competencies to both salary and promotability further emphasize the company’s commitment to inclusion as a core value. It's an important step for inclusion to be seen as a competency that is closely tied to success in those managerial positions.

One top company we talked with, WellPoint Inc.—the largest health-plan company in the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association—uses their definition of inclusion to help define the metrics they track to determine success.

“Our definition of inclusion is really all about engagement, be it associate (employee) engagement or member (customer) engagement,” said Linda Jimenez, Chief Diversity Officer and Staff VP, Diversity and Inclusion, for WellPoint. “Inclusion is the important component that weaves that thread of diversity throughout our organization. One level of inclusion is how individuals feel connected, respected, valued, but—most importantly—engaged in working alongside one another.”

WellPoint's use of annual employee engagement surveys to track inclusion is therefore a clear, if indirect, metric. In fact, employee engagement surveys were the most utilized measurement method cited in our inclusion study (47%), followed by analysis of new hire data (36%) and promotion/movement data (33%). WellPoint also closely tracks diversity representation metrics and movement among varied groups at multiple tiers of the organization. Inclusive of about a quarter of our survey respondents, WellPoint includes diversity-specific questions in its engagement surveys.

In addition, WellPoint looks at manager evaluations, which have questions specifically geared toward inclusion competencies, and they participate in various third-party evaluations from employer-of-choice awards that provide an external standard to measure progress. Such awards were a less frequently used metric overall (used by about a fifth of i4cp respondent organizations) but, along with productivity data, were the metrics with the largest usage gap between high and low performers.

WellPoint was included on the DiversityInc 2010 Top 50 List. It was also part of a select group of other employer-of-choice recognition awards. According to Jimenez, “There's a wealth of information in terms of benchmarking that we've received and the opportunity to listen to and share best practices with similar organizations that are considered leaders in diversity management. They're definitely an internal motivation and I think it's a great metric for us to be able to see where we stand against ourselves and where we stand against our peers.”

In a similar vein, through our Diversity Accelerator program, i4cp has found that group discussions in which practitioners are able to describe challenges, share best practices, and brainstorm on future-looking strategies are useful ways of improving performance in the areas of diversity and inclusion.

The Bottom Line
Inclusion is, as we've shown, a hard nut to crack from a metrics perspective. It's simply easier for an organization to tell if diversity representation has increased at certain tiers of the organization, if the employee base has reached parity with the customer base, or if complaints against management have gone down. These metrics don't tell you how inclusive the culture of the organization is, but, much like gravity shifts indicating the presence of otherwise imperceptible astronomical objects, they do show the presence of something and give us an indication of size and movement.

Our study shows that these indirect measurements—paired with accountability, top-down support for inclusion-related values and employee surveys—are how many organizations are gauging inclusion success.

i4cp's 4-Part Recommendation:

  1. Review your organization's definition of inclusion, if it has one, to determine if it lends itself to measurement. A definition that is more utilitarian—that is more prescriptive rather than aspirational—is more useful in guiding measurement and goal setting. Debate the content of your definition. A definition that lacks debatable content probably lacks the significance or concreteness that will make it measurable.
  2. Ensure a common understanding of what inclusion means to your organization and make certain it aligns to the organization's mission. A good definition will go beyond employees to include suppliers, customers, and the community at large. To form a common understanding of what inclusion means, consider what is driving your organization toward this goal. The i4cp study found that high-performing organizations are more likely to be driven by factors such as talent acquisition, retention, employment brand, and increased productivity and engagement.
  3. To measure inclusion, start by identifying the business area where you expect to see movement. For WellPoint, that metric is engagement. For other organizations, it may be profit per store, better customer ratings, reduction in shrinkage (theft), improved company reputation or brand, etc. Again, the measurement should align with the organization mission.
  4. Create accountability at the executive, manager, and employee level. Creating an inclusive work environment starts at the top of the organization, but it must be practiced at every level to permeate a culture. Accountability at the employee level means articulating expected behavior and rewarding employees that exemplify that conduct. It also means working to change behaviors of employees who do not. At the manager level, accountability should be part of the performance management process and is most effective when linked to performance appraisal competencies and promotional opportunities.

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About The Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.