Becoming an Evidence-based Diversity and Inclusion Professional

Think back to when you first became a diversity and inclusion practitioner. Whether it was two weeks or 20 years ago, most likely the thrill and exhilaration of the career change quickly gave way to the sinking realization that implementing a diversity and inclusion change process is harder than it looks if you desire to make a measurable change and impact in the organization. Becoming an effective diversity and inclusion practitioner isn’t simply a matter of years on the job. Unfortunately, there are countless diversity and inclusion practitioners who have been in the job for years and are not convinced demonstrating diversity ROI impact is necessary and have yet to master the skill set to demonstrate a basic diversity return-on-investment impact of the initiatives to the C-suite’s and board’s satisfaction.

Many of their approaches focus only on the “art” of the work. Although the techniques used appear factual and promise results if you use their approach, it often is not based upon real science. Instead, the approaches are based upon the practitioner’s personal best practices drawn from experience and intuition. Sometimes these methods are transferable to you; however, they can be hit or miss. Why? Because art and intuition is usually unique to an individual. Diversity and inclusion practices that work for one diversity practitioner in one environment may not work in another environment, let alone for another diversity and inclusion practitioner. Though the art and intuition of diversity and inclusion does have value, they can seldom be taught or transferred in a sustained, measurable way with scientific accuracy. In contrast, diversity and inclusion ROI performance sciences can be taught and transferred using high-performance techniques that are grounded in empirical research and demonstrated measurable evidence. This scientific process produces a “causal chain of impact” that demonstrates how the specific diversity and inclusion intervention was the variable that generated the measurable.

Too Much Art, Not Enough Science

For more than 30 years I have contended that our diversity and inclusion field has too much “art” and not enough practices steeped in evidence-based diversity ROI performance sciences. I have written more than 40 books; the last 12 books are evidence and science-based diversity ROI texts that are specifically designed to bring together a unique combination of research and empirical data to prepare diversity practitioners for the frenetic global workplace demonstrating the ROI impact of their work. Too often, I have witnessed D&I departments being dismantled and cut out of the budget, not because they were not helpful, but due to the lack of utilizing proven diversity sciences that demonstrate D&I’s impact in evidence-based ROI performance terms.

What, then, does make for an effective, evidence-based D&I practitioner? Demonstrating effective, evidence-based D&I acumen is both an art and science: it results from using solid, proven, tested techniques (the science) of diversity ROI analytics and measurement strategies in an inspiring and engaging way (the art of diversity ROI analytics and measurement strategies). Rather than advocating one specific diversity intervention product or service, a strategy I have found worth considering is thinking about the active science-based ingredients that constitute an effective diversity intervention or solution — then you can match and locate the effective features in the measurement and analysis approach you are reviewing to ensure it meets your needs.

There are a huge number of diversity, inclusion and training approaches available in the marketplace. They usually try to lure you in by highlighting their ability to address a particular problem or issue the organization is facing and promise to provide you with the things you need to achieve your organizational goals. As a diversity professional, the real trick is finding the interventions or solutions that work and work consistently to drive sustainability. If you want to implement a solution or intervention that delivers a measurable ROI or a measurable non-financial impact, you must be able to access a decision framework that is effective and drives results. The proposed solution or intervention must be able to connect to the roots of your organization’s DNA.

Building a Recipe for Accountability and Success

It is important to have as much detail as possible when specifying the requirements of a diversity intervention. Many projects run into difficulty, misunderstandings and differences in expected outcomes because the requirements are not planned and well-documented. These issues are often outlined in a diversity project proposal or detailed in the project’s scope documentation. Regardless of the way it is developed, the following items should be included to achieve the best chance for success. More importantly, the evidence-based diversity professional and the evaluation project’s sponsor need to reach an agreement about these key issues to create a sound strategic partnership and build accountability for the end result.

Ingredient 1: Does the Proposed Solution Include a Diagnostic Approach and Analytical Alignment Tools?

I have long advocated that diversity and inclusion should not be seen as a mere theory, but should be used as a performance improvement technology with its own set of ROI-based analytics and process improvement sciences. Driving business performance improvement requires that you have a detailed understanding of the diversity ROI evaluation methodology and how it works. It begins with some initial planning, and continues with the implementation of a comprehensive data collection and evaluation process. The initial planning and analysis step is critical for generating a successful diversity intervention. Many diversity practitioners trying to develop effective business solutions find out after the fact that they should have spent more time planning the strategic linkage and alignment of the diversity initiatives that will drive the business challenges and opportunities they are trying to effect.

Ingredient 2: Does the Proposed Solution Have Objectives That Are Behaviorally Specific?

When it comes to diversity evaluation projects, there are two sets of objectives. First, there are the objectives for the diversity evaluation project itself, indicating specifically what will be accomplished and delivered through the evaluation process. The other set of objectives are called the diversity initiative objectives and focuses on the goals of the actual diversity initiative that will ultimately add value to the organization.

Every diversity evaluation project should have a major project objective, and in most cases, multiple objectives. The objectives should be as specific as possible and focused directly on the diversity evaluation. Sample project objectives may focus on the following outcomes:

  • Determine if the diversity initiative is accomplishing its objectives.
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses in the diversity initiative.
  • Determine the benefit/cost ratio and ROI of the diversity initiative.
  • Identify who benefited the most and least from the diversity initiative.
  • Gather data to assist in pursuing future initiatives.

As the list illustrates, the objectives are broad in scope, outlining from an overall perspective what is to be accomplished. The details of timing, specifications and specific deliverables come later. The broad diversity evaluation project objectives are critical because they bring focus to the project quickly. They define the basic parameters of the project and are often the beginning points of a discussion with those involved in the project.

Ingredient 3: Does the Proposed Solution Have a Clearly Defined Scope?

The scope of the diversity evaluation project needs to be clearly defined. The scope can pinpoint key parameters addressed by the project. The following list shows typical scope issues that should be defined in the project:

  • Target group for the evaluation.
  • Location of the target group.
  • Time frame for the evaluation.
  • Technology necessary to conduct the evaluation.
  • Access to stakeholders.
  • Product line(s) to cover.
  • Type of diversity process/activity/competencies being evaluated or improved.
  • Constraints on data collection.

Perhaps the project is limited to certain employee or demographic groups, a functional area of the business, a specific location, a unique type of strategy or a precise time frame. Sometimes there is a constraint on the type of data collected or access to certain individuals, such as particular customers in a targeted market segment. Whatever the scope involves, it needs to be clearly defined in this section.

Ingredient 4: Is the Timing Clearly Defined?

Timing is critical in showing specifically when the diversity intervention activities will occur. This means not only the timing of the delivery of the final diversity ROI study report but also the timing of particular steps and events — including when data are needed, analyzed and reported and when presentations are made. The following list shows typical scheduled activities:

  • Diversity initiatives or solutions developed.
  • Diversity initiatives implementation started.
  • Diversity initiatives implementation completed.
  • Start of the diversity ROI evaluation project.
  • Data collection design completed.
  • Evaluation design completed.
  • Data collection begins.
  • Data collection completed.
  • Specific data collection issues (for example, pilot testing, executive interviews).
  • Data analysis completed.
  • Preliminary results available.
  • Report developed.
  • Presentation to management.

Ingredient 5: Does the Proposed Solution Spell Out the Specific Diversity Intervention Deliverables?

This section describes exactly what the project sponsor or client will receive when the diversity intervention is completed in terms of improved competencies, reports, documents, systems and processes. Whatever the specific deliverables, they are clearly defined in this section. Most projects will have a final report, but they often go much further, delivering new skill sets, processes and suggested methodologies for improving the diversity process and business issues being addressed.

Ingredient 6: Does the Proposed Solution Clearly Utilize a Proven Science-based Methodology and Approach?

If a specific methodology is to be used for the diversity ROI intervention, it should be defined and state the scientific basis for its ability to obtain measurable results. A reference should be made to the appropriateness of the methodology, and how the methodology will accomplish what is needed for the diversity initiative to be successful. This helps prevent initiatives that are merely “fads” that do not and cannot generate the desired outcome. Just because participants enjoy the intervention doesn’t mean that you will have improved performance. It must be constructed with key ingredients to achieve its behaviorally stated objectives and measurable, evidence-based outcomes. A well-designed diversity intervention can produce both: an enjoyable process and measurable results.

Ingredient 7: Does the Proposed Solution Have Clearly Defined Steps?

The specific steps that will occur should be defined showing key milestones. This provides a step-by-step understanding and tracking of the diversity evaluation project such that at any given time the project sponsor or client can see not only where progress is made but also where the evaluation project is going next.

Ingredient 8: Does the Proposed Solution Spell Out the Resources Required for Success?

This section should define specific resources required to implement the intervention. This could include access to individuals, vendors, technology, equipment, facilities, competitors or customers. All resources that may be needed should be listed along with details regarding the timing and circumstances under which the resources will be needed.

Ingredient 9: Does the Proposed Solution Highlight Fully Loaded Costs and Benefits?

The cost section details the specific costs tied to different steps of the intervention process. There is often reluctance to detail costs; however, it is important to understand the different steps of the process and their relative costs. This cost outline should also be linked to driving the organization’s strategic objectives and mission. When calculating the diversity return on investment for a diversity initiative, all costs are considered. This includes not only development and implementation costs but also the costs of evaluating the program.

Ingredient 10: Does the Diversity Intervention Provide a Causal Chain of Impact to Demonstrate and Isolate Diversity’s Contribution to the Results Versus Other Contributors?

Eventually a diversity initiative or intervention should lead to some level of impact on the organization’s business. In some situations, the diversity initiative is aimed at softer issues, such as improving the diverse workforce climate, employee satisfaction, diverse customer group satisfaction and diverse workgroup conflict reduction. In other situations, diversity initiatives are aimed at more tangible issues such as cost reductions, market share, revenue improvements, productivity and number of voluntary turnovers, all sorted by demographic group. Whatever the case, diversity initiatives and interventions should have multiple levels of objectives and must be able to demonstrate how the specific diversity intervention drove the improvement differences and results that were achieved. These levels of objectives, ranging from qualitative to quantitative, define precisely what will occur as a particular diversity initiative is implemented in the organization. These objectives are so critical that they need special attention in their development and use. The Hubbard Diversity ROI Model and seven-level chain of impact can assist you in generating diversity interventions with these characteristics.

Ingredient 11: Does the Diversity Intervention Have a Comprehensive Data Collection Process?

Data collection is the most crucial step of the evaluation process because without data, there is no evidence of the diversity initiative’s impact. During the data collection process, it is necessary to determine the participants’ reactions to and satisfaction with the diversity initiative (Level 1), their level of learning from the intervention (Level 2), the amount of application and implementation that happened as a consequence of the diversity initiative (Level 3), the resulting business impact (Level 4), and whether the initiative generated benefits and a return on investment (Levels 5 and 6). It is necessary to collect data from at least levels 1-4 because of the chain of impact that must exist for a diversity initiative to be successfully applied into the organizational system and provide value. To reap the benefits of the chain of impact, a key business problem that can be addressed by diversity must be identified. It also requires that participants in the diversity initiative experience a positive reaction to the initiative and its potential applications. They must acquire new knowledge or skills to perform at an improved level that is a direct result of the diversity intervention. As application or implementation opportunities arise, there should be changes in their “on-the-job” behavior that result in a measurable, positive impact on the organization. The only way to know if the chain of impact has occurred up to this point is to collect data at all four levels. The diversity initiative will also generate benefits that are either quantitative or qualitative in the forms of benefit-to-cost, dollar return on investment and anecdotal impacts.

An effective evidence-based diversity ROI initiative must be built on a comprehensive, evidence-based planning and data collection model that incorporates appropriate scientific process and critical factual information. By utilizing these science-based techniques to plan and collect data, your diversity intervention and evaluation studies will begin on a solid foundation that positions the initiative for improved performance and organizational success.