Diversity and inclusion are rapidly being recognized as key success factors for organizations. Building an organization with employees from different race, gender and age groups helps teams unfold new ideas and challenges the traditional concept of workforce, thus enabling the company to thrive in a constantly changing environment.

The challenge of balancing diversity and inclusion

When companies decide to embrace diversity and inclusion, they often make the mistake of prioritizing the former over the latter. This results in employees being primarily perceived as members of a particular age, gender or ethnic group, without much regard for their actual interactions within the organization.

As Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid explain in their article “Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion”: “In the context of the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth won't happen”.

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Figure 1: Diversity & inclusion scenarios. Source: Cognitive Talent Solutions

 If companies were to put more emphasis on inclusion as a key element of their DE&I strategy, they would be able to break down silos and foster new interactions across different groups,  enabling unheard opinions and perspectives to be considered.

When companies decide to embrace diversity and inclusion, they often make the mistake of prioritizing the former over the latter. This results in employees being primarily perceived as members of a particular age, gender or ethnic group, without much regard for their actual interactions within the organization.

To be inclusive means to empower people to express themselves, share and value their new ideas, give them access to relevant data and enable them to participate in decision-making processes. This is more important than ever in the context of the adoption of hybrid work models, as 55% of employees say they feel more alone or lonely since the shift to hybrid/remote work.

Using the right tools to measure inclusion

One of the reasons why companies tend to prioritize diversity over inclusion is that the former is perceived as being easier to measure than the latter. When it comes to measuring inclusion, many companies rely on self-assessment surveys where employees are asked if they are feeling included at work. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of this approach relies heavily on the veracity of the submitted responses and the level of participation.

Many employees might not submit genuine responses or decide to not participate at all out of fear of the survey results not being anonymous. In the context of hybrid work, some employees might also attribute their lack of inclusion to working remotely rather than pointing at more systemic issues like those related with the company’s culture.

Companies can address this challenge by adopting more agile, decentralized systems to monitor inclusion. An example is organizational network analysis (ONA), a people analytics method that allows companies to analyze and visualize the informal interactions that exist within the organization by leveraging active and passive data sources.

ONA monitors informal interactions between employees, delivers an overview of internal collaboration dynamics, and highlights the presence of organizational silos and bottlenecks, accounting for metrics like age, gender and ethnicity among others.

There are two main methods that ONA uses to gather data about informal interactions within the workforce. It can be either done “actively” via an online survey, or “passively” by analyzing the digital footprint of teams in collaborative tools like Office 365 and Slack. When analyzing passive data, several mainstream collaborative tools offer the possibility of analyzing aggregated metadata without accessing the content of the communications, thus protecting employees' right to privacy.

Case study in a Fortune 500 biotech company

ONA is already helping leading organizations unveil inclusion dynamics that had remained invisible until now. A Fortune 500 company in the biotech sector leveraged active and passive ONA to understand internal collaboration dynamics between communities, accounting for metrics like age, gender and ethnicity.

The analysis revealed that black and African American employees were twice as likely to be excluded from the organization’s informal network, which had profound implications in their engagement, productivity, attrition risk and overall employee experience.

ONA also highlighted gender-based homophily in employees’ daily interactions. Female employees were more likely to recognize the support of their male counterparts, based on informal interactions like sharing information, technical and personal support and inspiration.

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Figure 2: Distribution of interactions by gender. Source: Cognitive Talent Solutions

The overall analysis revealed unconscious bias in employees’ daily interactions, as they tended to prioritize interactions with people of the same gender, age or ethnicity group, especially when belonging to a dominant group. This resulted in members from underrepresented groups having lower chances to participate in decision-making and idea-sharing processes.

The analysis revealed that black and African American employees were twice as likely to be excluded from the organization’s informal network, which had profounds implications in their engagement, productivity, attrition risk and overall employee experience.

Thanks to this initiative, the company was able to set a baseline to improve inclusion through targeted interventions supported by prescriptive analytics.

Conclusion

Hiring employees from underrepresented groups will increase the organization’s diversity, but will not necessarily result in those employees having a greater involvement in internal collaboration dynamics.

Companies can’t improve that which they can not effectively measure. Therefore, in order to successfully embrace inclusion and diversity, it is imperative that they adopt new monitoring systems that are more agile and decentralized and account for both social and human capital metrics.

Verna Myers said: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being invited to dance”. Organizations are using human capital metrics able to measure who is coming to the party. Social capital (ONA in particular) is giving them the opportunity to finally measure how many are actually getting the chance to dance!