D&I Predictions for 2017

2016 was a year of transition for diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts. Building on the push for transparency that began in 2014 and 2015, 2016 saw organizations begin to speak publicly not only about their demographic representation, but about specific goals to improve. Companies also began to engage in a richer, more complete conversation about their efforts, considering representation in an intersectional way and sharing specific strategies that worked and didn’t work. While progress was slow, a number of companies began to see movement in the right direction. We hope that these trends continue.

But in 2017, we predict organizations will begin to focus more heavily on the following themes, all of which will enable them to make faster progress towards building more equitable, inclusive cultures.

(1) People analytics

Over the past few years, a growing number of companies have adopted a data-driven approach to making people-related decisions. This trend began in the tech industry — at Google, for example, there’s an entire People Analytics team. Now, even smaller companies like Pinterest, Square, and Airbnb have data scientists analyzing people-related processes like hiring and performance management. Through people analytics, organizations are getting better at determining how to hire candidates with relevant skills and experience, how to train employees and managers, and how to make promotion decisions.

In 2017, we expect to see a dramatic increase in the extent to which organizations leverage people analytics to identify disparities and design effective diversity and inclusion strategies. For example, by analyzing data at each stage of the hiring funnel, from application to phone screen to onsite interview and so on, companies can identify where in their hiring processes candidates from underrepresented groups might be falling out. They can then tailor solutions more effectively and make faster progress. This strategy can be applied across the employee lifecycle, considering performance reviews, promotion rates, compensation, attrition, and engagement survey responses, among other data points, to identify where disparities between groups exist. We’re excited to see 2017 bring a more data-driven approach to D&I.

(2) Structural change

For over a decade, organizational inclusion efforts have focused almost exclusively on three areas (1) ensuring compliance (submitting annual EEO reports, for example), (2) launching and sustaining employee resource groups, and (3) training employees (for many years this was sensitivity training; more recently it’s unconscious bias training). As D&I becomes increasingly data-driven and barriers more precisely identified, we expect to see an increased focus on structural change. Systems and processes that amplify bias are to blame for some of the most common barriers we see at Paradigm.

In 2016, we began to see organizations add structure to these processes to boost objectivity and reduce the impact of bias. It’s these structural changes that will ensure candidates from all backgrounds are being evaluated fairly in the hiring process. That will provide all new hires the support they need to be successful early on. That will hold managers accountable for giving effective and unbiased feedback. That will compensate and advance people based on skill and performance. While some existing initiatives, like employee resource groups, should remain a core component of inclusion efforts, they mean little in the absence of fair systems and processes.

(3) Belonging

Even organizations that have made strides with respect to diversity often struggle to cultivate inclusion. While inclusion is an important concept that deserves continued emphasis, we expect that 2017 will bring increased focus on one key aspect of inclusion: “Belonging.” We think about “inclusion” as creating an environment that signals all people are valued, and where everyone has access to the same opportunities. Belonging is the feeling that you can be your authentic self within that environment. If inclusion is about the atmosphere, belonging is about people’s lived experience within that atmosphere. Belonging is important not only because it makes people feel good (though it does). When people aren’t confident they belong in their environment — a feeling that’s especially pervasive among people from underrepresented backgrounds — this uncertainty can dramatically reduce people’s performance. Creating a sense of belonging therefore empowers people to do their best work, ensuring people from all backgrounds have an opportunity to succeed and advance in organizations.

In 2016, belonging began to emerge as a theme in organizational D&I efforts. At LinkedIn, for example, belonging is now at the core of the company’s inclusion efforts. In 2017, we expect that a growing number of organizations will prioritize creating cultures of belonging. At Paradigm, we’re expanding our research on belonging in 2017 through a collaboration with researchers at Stanford.

(4) Growth mindset

In 2016, a handful of organizations began to emphasize growth mindset as a strategy for organizational success. Microsoft, for example, has begun to focus on growth mindset in its efforts to develop leaders. And Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has emphasized the importance of growth mindset with his executive team, even handing out copies of the book Mindset at a team retreat. In addition to helping organizations set better goals, take smarter risks, and recover more effectively from setbacks, growth mindset has another important consequence — it can drive diversity and inclusion.

This is because organizations with a growth mindset will more effectively attract candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. They’ll also be less likely to stereotype employees. In 2016, Paradigm trained thousands of employees, managers, and executives across numerous financial services and technology companies on how to cultivate a growth mindset culture. In 2017, we expect to see companies that want to be both more innovative and more inclusive focus on infusing a growth mindset into their organizations.

As a growing number of companies leverage data, engage in structural change, and create cultures oriented around belonging and growth, we’re hopeful that 2017 will bring more meaningful change to diversity and inclusion efforts.