Diversity and Data: Why DE&I Efforts Should Start With the Numbers

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I am the father of mixed-ethnicity children. I started my career around the same time I had my first child. Diversity and inclusion have always been important in my personal life, and this focus naturally carries over into my work. As I’ve taken on roles with more leadership responsibilities and broader scopes, I’ve made it a point to bring that focus with me.

But awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) only goes so far. To make any real progress, a DE&I effort needs key performance indicators, and DE&I have to be values we hold the entire company to.

What the Data Says About DE&I

One of the easiest ways to see the lack of equality in the workplace today is to look at pay. According to the raw salary data from PayScale’s “The State of the Gender Pay Gap in 2021,” women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, an 18 percent difference. When the study controls for experience, industry, and job level to compare nearly identical employees, women make 98 cents per dollar earned by men. Sounds better, right? Perhaps, but this gap has only decreased by a single cent since 2015.

In terms of the racial pay gap, PayScale’s data shows that Black men with the same experience, education, and geographic location doing the same job earn 99 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.

While gender and racial pay disparities may appear small when all the variables are controlled for, these minor pay differences can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a career.

DE&I Starts at the Top

There are lots of places to begin when it comes to DE&I, but I tend to lean toward the top. I advocate for a diverse executive team. When your company’s top decision-makers have diverse points of view, backgrounds, and experiences, it just makes the organization better. You look at things from a much broader perspective, and if you have a diverse leadership team, you will do far better when it comes to attracting diverse talent.

In addition, it’s a good idea to diversify your customer base, stakeholders, and investors. This helps drive the success of a diverse leadership team, and it becomes a virtuous cycle. One drives the other, and bottom line, it’s flat-out good for business.

A Permanent Solution Through Contingent Work?

Five or ten years ago, age was the No. 1 diversity issue was age. A couple of years ago, the No. 1 issue was gender. Right now, most would say ethnicity is the top priority. Our diversity concerns seem to come and go — but we never seem to really solve the problem for good.

Today, I see the world looking for permanent solutions to systemic issues. This, I think, will fundamentally change how we deal with problems. When DE&I challenges do pop up in the future, I think we’ll be more trained to deal with them on a more systemic level. With each win now, we can develop a foundation we can use for the future.

Now, despite all this talk of permanency, the rising tide of the contingent workforce actually has a key role to play in bringing about long-lasting solutions to DE&I challenges, in my opinion.

Contingent workers make it so companies can bring on the expertise they need when and where they need it. That helps companies respond to issues — like DE&I challenges — more quickly and more effectively. That contingent expertise does come at a premium, but that premium may also help us build more equitable pay structures across racial and gender lines.

Look to the Numbers

Of course, we’ll need data to back this up. Intuition is important. Emotion is important. But if we’re not proceeding from the facts, we won’t be effective. We need data to show us where our organizations are and where they need to be. If you’re not regularly harvesting and analyzing data to hold your company accountable to its DE&I goals, you won’t reach them.

Once you have the data, you need to build programs around it. For example, if your contingent talent pipeline isn’t diverse enough, build programs to address that particular challenge. The data is great for identifying roadblocks, but you have to put a plan to beat those roadblocks.

And, ultimately, if leadership doesn’t set the tone and make strategic investments in talent, the transformation won’t happen. Leadership has to walk the walk and talk the talk. The entire organization has to be committed to diversity and inclusivity, and that starts with the leaders.

Don’t be afraid to look beyond your organization for help. We have to make sure we collaborate in the community, working with special interest groups, nonprofits, and academia. The whole world should be working together as a team to solve this. That’s the only way change can truly happen.

Kevin Akeroyd is CEO of PRO Unlimited.

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Kevin Akeroyd serves as PRO Unlimited's chief executive officer and leads the vision and strategy for the company. He is recognized as one of the technology industry's most tenured and trusted experts. Kevin has held executive leadership roles at some of the world's most notable brands that were category leaders in cloud software, services, and data. Prior to PRO, Kevin served as global CEO at an industry-leading SaaS marketing and communications software provider, where he took the company public on the New York Stock Exchange before selling it for $2.8 billion.