In a recent webinar, we explored these questions with our client, Lauren Anderson, the Executive Director of Merck Research Labs (MRL) Quality Assurance. We recently partnered with Anderson to develop a diversity, equity and inclusion plan for MRL. She was joined by our experts, Alina Polonskaia, Global Leader of our DE&I Solutions practice, Mark Royal, Associate Client Partner for Korn Ferry Advisory, and Fayruz Kirtzman, Associate Client Partner and DE&I Diagnostic Leader.
Merck Research Labs’ diversity, equity and inclusion journey
While the concepts of diversity and inclusion aren’t new at MRL, the organization was just starting its DE&I journey last year. Diversity, equity and inclusion have been part of Merck’s mission and strategy for some time, but MRL wanted to go beyond the numbers and embed diversity, equity and inclusion principles into its business practices.
Last September, the company kicked off the DE&I project. MRL initially started with discussions at the leadership team level. But MRL’s leaders quickly decided they didn’t want diversity, equity and inclusion to be a top-down initiative. They wanted to find out what employees were thinking about the company’s current status so they could evaluate efforts and decide how to move forward.
Setting up a DE&I strategy
They set some initial goals to start small by increasing awareness and having meaningful conversations. So, Anderson and her team started talking to the MRL community. They wanted to capture how employees were feeling about diversity and inclusion and where they thought the greatest opportunities to improve were. But they quickly became overwhelmed. She explained, “There’s a lot of information, resources, ideas, and opinions and a ton of passion out there. It’s very positive, but it’s also confusing. You can get overloaded by all of the different ideas.”
At first, MRL was planning a survey on its own. But when MRL leaders learned about the Korn Ferry DE&I Maturity Model, Anderson said, “We found the model very practical, so we were excited to learn more about it and to understand how that was going to help us in our journey.”
Measuring DE&I maturity
MRL used the Korn Ferry DE&I Maturity Model to help map the current state and chart a plan for how to grow on their diversity, equity and inclusion journey.
The model measures an organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion maturity across five strategic dimensions:
- Compliance: The quality and depth of an organization’s infrastructure, capabilities, and behaviors necessary to identify and mitigate diversity, equity and inclusion risks.
- Awareness: The extent to which an organization and its leaders and employees are aware of and committed to the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
- Talent integration: The extent to which diversity, equity and inclusion are embedded in an organization’s talent management processes.
- Operations integration: The extent to which an organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are integrated into business operations and are used to drive operations.
- Market integration: The integration of an organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within markets, customers, and community strategies.
Each dimension has elements of both behavioral and structural inclusion.
- Behavioral inclusion: Describes inclusive mindsets, skillsets, and relationships.
- Structural inclusion: Describes equitable and transparent structures, processes, and practices that work for all employees and customers.
Organizations should focus on both components when they embark on their diversity, equity and inclusion journey.
The Korn Ferry DE&I Maturity Model helped the MRL team streamline its approach and focus on the right areas. Anderson commented, “We went from a big-picture view to focusing on the things in our control. We shifted from a more generic focus on our culture to something more tangible and measurable — something that we had that accountability for. For us, that was looking at our relationships within our organization and with our stakeholders and at how we form and interact as teams.”
It was critical to form diverse teams, she observed, because of how much cross-functional work the MRL Quality Assurance group does. “It helped us ensure that we have all the right perspectives at the table and that we’re truly innovating and driving to the best business outcomes.”
Understanding the employee perspective on diversity, equity and inclusion
“Understanding employee views is a critical component of building a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy,” according to Royal. Organizations must consider more than just whether employees feel included, appreciated and valued.
He explained, “It’s as important to assess employee perceptions as experiences. We want to gather feedback of people across the organization with different characteristics, backgrounds, and experiences. So, we ask employees to share information about their interactions with their co-workers and managers. We want to know how they see their leaders operate and function. And we want their opinions on policies and practices. Together, these insights offer powerful information.”
The employee perspective matters because it fills in gaps.
Royal added, “What leaders can see from atop the organization is valuable, but their perspective can be incomplete or based on filtered information. What we get on the ground level is raw. And it helps us make more informed decisions about diversity, equity, and inclusion that reflect the true employee experience.”
Examining the DE&I survey results
In the engagement with MRL, Korn Ferry ran two surveys: one for leaders and one for employees.
The two surveys allowed the company to compare leader views with employee insights. The leadership team then met with Korn Ferry to dig into the results and learn what was most important to employees.
Anderson recalled, “The results were enlightening. Some validated the work we were doing, but other results pointed us in new directions. The results helped focus our plan on the things that matter the most. For us, that included themes such as inclusive leadership, psychological safety, the importance of trust, and how we work as teams.”