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Three steps to turn diversity talk to diversity action



Inequality and injustice have once again taken center stage of the news cycle, ripping the headlines from a world-panicking pandemic, souring unemployment, economic turmoil, and a heated election cycle. This is not the first time rage at injustice and inequality has spilled into our streets, but perhaps this time we can make it last.


Social, political, economic, and business change ignites with the uprising of people demanding it. But, without a path to achieve those changes, it fizzles and we find ourselves back where we started, doomed to repeat the injustice, the unrest, and the demands.


We don’t need to walk in devastating circles. We can drive true and lasting change in our own spheres of influence. And, like dominoes, our changes enable others to effect change, which enables others, which enable others, until we stand in a world that proudly embraces true diversity, equity, and inclusion.


How do we do this?


From an organization standpoint, it’s not another endless round of sensitivity and awareness training squeezed in between meetings, nor a “we care” marketing campaign, or an internal hashtag memo saying that the organization supports justice. Those are all great starts, but they are only the beginning.


The real key is turning those words into actions. Creating plans that are clear, measurable, and, when executed, achieve goals.


Truly impactful initiatives require the following three steps:

Step 1: Define meaningful goals


One of the most common problems with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are that they don’t have strong goals. Without strong goals, you can’t gain financial support, prove the initiative is successful, or make adjustments to drive success. Without these goals, there is no initiative.


Strong goals must be:

  1. Clear. When it comes to goals, there is no room for interpretation. Goals must clearly convey the expectations of achievement for the initiative.

  2. Measurable. Goals are only useful if you can prove you’ve achieved them (or not). Goals must be measurable so you can track progress, adjust if necessary, and show when you’ve met them.

  3. Compelling. Only goals that matter will get the necessary financial, resource, and emotional support. Goals must be aligned to the values and drivers of the organization and its members.

  4. Reasonable. Unachievable goals are just as valuable as no goals. Goals must be reasonable in scope and expectations or it will act to discourage rather than encourage progress. That doesn’t mean initiatives can’t have large, aggressive goals, but they should be broken down into achievable steps to drive continuous progress.

For example, in D&I initiatives:


Goal: “Increase diversity”


  1. Clear - No. What kind of diversity? How much does it need to increase? and in what way?

  2. Measurable – No. Without knowing what diversity, where, and by how much, it can’t be measured.

  3. Compelling – Maybe. If the organization values are strongly aligned to diversity, it could be compelling. Most organizations are far more likely to fund efforts that tie to profit, cost, and/or risk mitigation. (Make me money, save me money, and keep me out of trouble).

  4. Reasonable – No. There is no way of telling when this goal is achieved, which makes it unachievable.

Goal: “Fairly, and within the scope of equal opportunity, increase the number of women and minorities in leadership roles of director and greater by 20% in the next three years.”


  1. Clear - Yes. Clearly states the what, where, why, and by how much. There is no ambiguity.

  2. Measurable – Yes. Measure the current number of women and minorities in leadership roles of director and greater, calculate what a 20% increase will be, and you know how many must be hired/promoted to reach the goal.

  3. Compelling – Yes, if. Alone, it may not be enough for the same reason as above. Tying the goal to an organization driver will increase the value of the goal – how will revenue increase, cost decrease, and risk decrease by achieving this goal.

  4. Reasonable – Yes, if. Depending on the talent pool, this could be reasonable. Data such as percentage of the current workforce at manager level and available talent pool that are women & minorities is a good way to prove that three years is a reasonable (or not) goal.

Step 2: Identify real actions


If goals are the ‘X’ on the map, then the actions are the steps along the path to get there. If the actions are vague, unrealistic, or unactionable, then the organization can’t follow the path. Without real actions, there is no way to achieve the initiative.


Real actions must be:


  1. Defined. Teams can only execute actions they understand. Actions must be well defined so everyone knows what to do, when to do it, and if it was done correctly. This includes what it is and how to do it as well as the roles, responsibilities, outcome expectations, budgets, tools, and validation (i.e. was it done correctly).

  2. Measurable. If you can’t verify the action was done and done correctly or effectively, there is no purpose to the action. Actions must be measurable so you can verify if it was done, done correctly, done to budget, and if the outcome was effective.

  3. Aligned. Even the best defined and executed actions have no value to an initiative if they don’t support the goals. All actions must align to one or more goals in a measurable and impactful way.

  4. Reasonable. Unreasonable actions will fail. Actions must be reasonable for people to execute them. That means they have an appropriate scope (remember, many of your resources will be balancing other responsibilities), are effectively supported through tools, training, accessibility, support resources, and are enforced (i.e. the participants are compelled to do them through reward, consequence, or strong value drivers).

For example, with the goal: “Fairly, and within the scope of equal opportunity, increase the number of women and minorities in leadership roles of director and greater by 20% in the next three years.”


The action:


“Awareness training for inclusion for women and minorities.”


  1. Defined - No. Training for what? To what purpose? At what frequency, to what audience, for what outcome, at what cost? What is success? Without a sense of purpose, expected outcome, and measurement structure, awareness training will not have a clear impact on the goal.

  2. Measurable – No. Same as with defined. Without a purpose, an expected outcome and way to measure it, there is nothing measurable.

  3. Aligned - Maybe. Awareness training may support a goal, depending on the content and outcome of the training. The only way to be sure is if the training has a well-defined purpose, expected outcome, and measurable results.

  4. Reasonable - Yes. It’s usually reasonable to expect participation in training, as long as it is not too long, or too frequent. Training that has an understood impact (i.e. why am I being asked to come to this training? What’s in it for me?) is even better.

“Redesign screening process to attract, engage, and qualify a more diverse candidate pool. This will be done through three steps: 1) increasing the inclusive language of job descriptions 2) modifying requirements and screening questions to focus more on potential and ability and less on specific ‘proxy’ criteria such as educational requirements and previously held titles, and 3) training interview teams on inclusive techniques and practices during the interview process.


We will start with three jobs in a single department to prove the effectiveness of the approach before systematically expanding across all jobs and departments. The target is a 20% increase in women and minorities applying to the jobs and a 10% increase in women and minorities qualifying for the positions through the screening and interview steps.”


  1. Defined - Yes. The action, scope, steps to achieve the action, and expected outcomes are all clear.

  2. Measurable – Yes. There are clear parameters of what is expected and points to measure (demographic distribution of candidates applying, screened through, and qualified).

  3. Aligned - Yes. The action directly contributes to the goal in a measurable way.

  4. Reasonable – Yes, if. The action can absolutely be reasonable if the scope and responsibilities of the individuals involved are clear, fits within their schedule and their efforts are prioritized and valued by their management.

Step 3: Execute the plan


If the actions are the steps along the path to reach a goal, the execution of those steps is ensuring that you are going where you intend at the speed and path you intend. If the execution of the actions are not deliberate, measured, and validated, they can quickly go sideways or get deprioritized. Without execution, there is no action, and no way to reach the goals of the initiative.


Plan execution must be:


  1. Supported. Unsupported action plans don’t get very far. Action plan execution must be supported financially with resources (participant efforts are valued, celebrated, and supported), and time. Ideally, the action plans have executive champions so that when problems do arise (and they will), the executive champion can enable solutions.

  2. Measurable. Like with the goals and the actions, if there is no measurement there is no way to tell if the plan is working. Action plan execution must include clear measurements with expected results. Ideally, this is done throughout the execution phase rather than just at the end.

  3. Flexible. Things will not always go as expected, and, in some cases, learning from the experience is more valuable than achieving the metrics themselves. Action plan execution must be flexible so that the team can adjust when things are not working as planned. And they must be able to apply learnings from the experience rather than continuing to follow a path that is not going in the intended direction.

  4. Documented. When a plan is executed flawlessly and no one is there to witness it, does it have an impact? Every step of the action plan execution must be documented including what was done, what happened, and lessons learned. This documentation not only captures and proves the value of the effort, it also becomes the map to a repeatable process so that others can follow.

For example, with the action of: “Redesign screening process to attract, engage, and qualify a more diverse candidate pool. This will be done through three steps: 1) increasing the inclusive language of job descriptions 2) modifying requirements and screening questions to focus more on potential and ability and less on specific ‘proxy’ criteria such as educational requirements and previously held titles, and 3) training interview teams on inclusive techniques and practices during the interview process.


We will start with three jobs in a single department to prove the effectiveness of the approach before systematically expanding across all jobs and departments. The target is a 20% increase in women and minorities applying to the jobs and a 10% increase in women and minorities qualifying for the positions through the screening and interview steps.”


The execution plan could include:


  1. Supported. The project kicks off with sign-off on a project plan including timeline, budget, allocated resources, and expected outcome. An executive champion volunteers for the team and gets monthly updates on the progress, potential challenges and their solutions, and requests.

  2. Measurable. The hiring process redesign generates weekly reports to monitor the key metrics of the progress such as demographics, time to screen, candidate experience, etc., against expected results. The team meets for one hour weekly to discuss results.

  3. Flexible. When results are not as expected, the one-hour meeting switches to solution conversations, exploring if adjustments are required and, if so, ideas for those adjustments. Solutions are selected, implemented, and progress is checked the following week to verify the adjustment worked.

  4. Documented. Reports, weekly meeting minutes, ad-hoc conversations, and all process outcomes are documented and collected in a shared environment. The project concludes with a review of the success of the project, lessons learned, and a recommendation for if the project should continue, grow, or stop.

Bringing it all together – driving change through action


In diversity and inclusion, like in any established process, real and measurable change is hard. But, without change we are doomed to continuously repeat the devastating circles of discrimination, inequality, and injustice. By turning words into action through clear goals, measurable actions, and executing the action plans, we will become part of the solution – breaking out of the endless cycle to a more fair, equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment.


#NoBias

#diversityandinclusion #COVID19


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