Global Leader, Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Solutions
Organizations face three common challenges when they try to develop an effective diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.
Most organizations aren’t starting from scratch with a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy, so you need to know where your organization stands and how much progress is made. Part of this assessment includes whether you’re focusing on the right things. Another critical question is whether the views of your leadership team align with those of your employees.
Achieving diversity, equity and inclusion is a journey. Depending on your priorities and level of ambition, as well as any constraints in your resources, set goals that are reasonable and achievable at each stage of the journey.
How are you tracking your diversity, equity and inclusion progress? How will you know that what you’re doing is working and that your progress is meaningful? Are you tracking the right sources of data and the right metrics? And where you should focus next?
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.
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.
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.”
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:
Each dimension has elements of both behavioral and structural inclusion.
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 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.”
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.”
Anderson was careful to note that employee feedback will be ongoing. She added, “The employee perspective will continue to be important to us as we progress through our journey. We’ve set up mechanisms to keep that feedback coming in to get our employees involved. We’re trying to grow this as a grassroots effort, so the passionate individuals who are volunteering and contributing their ideas are feeding the journey that we’re on.”
To celebrate the company’s progress, MRL is tapping into its rewards and recognition program to acknowledge the work that employees are putting into this and how they’re promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Demographics are key to understanding inclusion and equality, according to Kirtzman. So, it’s important for organizations to consider the differences in perception through the lenses of various demographic groups.
Before they collect any information, organizations need to carefully think about what they plan to gather. “Cultural and legal implications exist for this data collection, particularly when organizations span different countries and regions,” Kirtzman cautioned.
Organizations also should view differences between survey responses for demographics as valuable insights. “It doesn’t matter whether the aggregate results are all favorable. Gaps reveal opportunity areas,” Kirtzman noted. “What matters is that there’s an inequity that’s visible in scores, and it’s important to dig deeper there.”
Sometimes these differences in experiences and perceptions show that the organization needs to take a deeper dive into other aspects of an organization, such as how talent flows from hiring to promotion to exit. This data gives us a full picture for us to examine, so we understand the impact on various groups and how those groups are represented throughout the organization.
The panel was asked whether there’s a pattern in how leaders and employees perceive the work to build a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.
Royal commented that he’s seen a variety of perspectives. In some organizations, he noted, “There’s a leadership bubble, so there are some surprises for leaders as they compare their own perceptions with employees. That can be very powerful.” For some companies, leaders and employees are closely aligned, “which can be reinforcing, especially when they’re in the early stages and have a road ahead to full maturity,” he added. And sometimes employees can be more positive than leaders.
For example, Royal recently worked with an organization where employees thought the company was connecting well with its diverse customers. But, he observed, “Leaders were challenging the organization and saying ‘We need to do more to connect with external stakeholders in new ways. We need to leverage diversity, equity, and inclusion to help us do that more effectively.’” Regardless of how it plays out, all of these are useful insights, Royal said.
While building a DE&I strategy is an initiative often started from the top down, Kirtzman observed that the exercise “can also be an initiative that gets buy-in from leaders.”
That’s because assessing your organization and evaluating that data against a maturity model yields data, which is so critical to convincing leaders to move forward with a strategy.
Kirtzman added, “It’s great if you have buy-in up front. But if you run a survey, if you run an assessment and an audit and see all of the discrepancies among demographic groups, that’s data that the leadership team can’t ignore. That data shows the impact on productivity, an impact on retention, and an impact on all of those other metrics that everyone is interested in.”
Polonskaia added, “With that data, you don’t have to start at the enterprise level. You can start within a specific business unit, where you already know they understand the importance of DE&I and have the right energy and readiness. And then you can start the project in a way that will create momentum for the rest of the organization.”
Before you embark on your diversity, equity, and inclusion journey, you need to understand your organization’s current state. Only then can you sort out your priorities and determine how to reach your goal of a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
To get started, watch the full webinar, How to create a DE&I strategy that works, and think about where your organization falls on our DE&I Maturity Model.
Next, you’ll need true insights into your employee experiences and perceptions. That’s why you’ll need the Korn Ferry DE&I Compass, a simple yet powerful 15-minute survey that can chart a course for moving forward and measuring your progress. Our specialists will also design a roadmap to guide you along your journey to optimizing your diversity, equity, and inclusion maturity — contact us for more details.