Inclusion in tech: You can’t manage what you don’t measure
By Sonja Gittens Ottley (Asana) and Ellen Pao (Kapor Capital, Project Include)
While we’re still in the early days of building diversity and inclusion (D&I) into tech culture, firms are not yet measuring key performance indicators with the same rigor that they do their financial, customer, or growth data. Especially in an industry obsessed with data-driven insight, tech companies need to improve how they track and measure D&I work.
It seems simple enough: Companies all over the world measure and track results for key business initiatives (Intel’s OKRs have stuck around for a reason — and the business intelligence software market is expected to reach more than $26-billion by 2021), so are they adopting this proven approach for another core business priority: D&I? The answer is: not quite yet. And while over the past few years firms have begun being more transparent with their current staff demographics, we were curious what companies are doing to go beyond broad and basic demographic metrics reports.
So we dug in and observed three key areas where more could be done, and which could lead to more robust measurements. We’ll also share a case study from one of Project Include’s founding cohort members, Asana, which shows how this can be actioned.
A Failure to Track Intersectionality
We observed that diversity demographics measurement of any type is also often limited to a few areas, and intersectionality — the impact of compounding identity factors — is rarely taken into consideration.
Timidity in Data Sharing and Use
When companies actually do measure diversity and inclusion demographics of any type, they’re often not shared or used broadly, with legal risks and PR concerns taking precedence over operating benefits. Access to results might also be limited to HR as a group directed to focus on protecting the company from legal and PR risk, leaving managers and team members without access at worst, or very limited insights at best. Which begs the question: if hiring managers and leadership don’t know what’s working and what isn’t, how can they improve? And if they don’t know who is satisfied and who is not, how can they begin to retain their talent?
A Lack of Inclusion Strategies & Measurement
One key area is currently lagging way behind in the way that companies track, measure, and report on D&I: the “I” itself — inclusion. Not only are companies not comprehensively measuring and leveraging inclusion data in some way, at times, inclusion isn’t measured at all. This is despite the fact that many third-party businesses exist to run surveys and measure the results of D&I work, so while there are costs involved, we conclude that actual access to the practice isn’t a blocker.
At Project Include, we have been working with a group of startups through our Startup Include program for nearly a year to not only stamp out these blind spots, but learn from their innovations. Fast-growing collaboration software startup Asana, one of our cohort members, has made strides over the past year to avoid the pitfalls above, with some interesting takeaways.
Project Include’s recommended approach
At Project Include we encourage startups to measure three things:
- Employee and individual demographics. These demographics include gender, race/ethnicity, immigrant status, education, veteran status, age, caregiver status, and more. In addition, we consider employee profile: how long have you been at the company, what is your role, how senior are you, and have you had a promotion or raise recently.
- Employee sentiment. We recommend looking in detail at eight areas: company satisfaction, job satisfaction, belonging and inclusion, growth and advancement, company culture, company values, communications and decision-making, and compensation.
- Company benefits and actions. These range from standard benefits like parental leave, or how compensation is determined, and how offers are negotiated. Most actions have an impact on diversity and inclusion; we look at 22 factors that we believe have the greatest impact and continue to look for questions to add and actions to recommend.
We recommend that startups survey employees twice a year to see how they are doing, how underrepresented groups are doing, and to see if new D&I benefits and actions are working — or not.
We are not the only ones interested in these metrics. Job seekers are looking for your diversity reports. Know that when they don’t see you sharing numbers, they think to themselves, why aren’t you sharing them, what else are you not telling them — and why?
We turn to Asana, one of the startups we see as driving inclusive values and culture, for a firsthand look at how they’re using metrics to do it.
Asana’s lessons from the ground
As Asana we believe that building diverse teams means creating a more inclusive environment for both our current and future employees, and we believe a diverse and inclusive company contributes to greater business success. We action our diversity and inclusion efforts on three key pillars (with a detailed overview here):
- Build: establish a supportive and inclusive culture
- Recruit: attract and hire diverse talent from underrepresented backgrounds
- Thrive: sustain an environment where all employees know they are supported
While we use data to drive all three of these pillars, for this discussion, we’re going to focus on the Thrive pillar, since it is the one that we believe most closely correlates to inclusion. When employees can be themselves, and work in cultures that recognize and support their differences, they’re also more likely to stay. When tech employees see unfair treatment, they are most likely to leave, according to the Kapor Center’s Tech Leavers Study. Surveys like the one developed by Project Include can show what groups feel less supported and in what areas — giving us information on where we need to improve. Here are some specific ways we’ve worked towards supporting a thriving workplace:
1. Measure meaningfully
We evaluate our success via our annual engagement survey, which measures various drivers, including overall satisfaction, belonging, diversity and inclusion, communication and decision making, growth and advancement, and fairness.
We work with a third party provider (Custom Insights) and as part of a Project Include cohort to develop the survey. Suggestions from both of our partners allowed us to create questions that could be benchmarked against the tech industry as well as other companies within our Project Include cohort. We also collected the data in a way that allowed it to be cross referenced against multiple factors, including race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, role, tenure, and manager status, to take into account intersectionality.
Working with external partners allows us to track our progress over time, follow and compare ourselves to industry trends, and learn from experts along the way. By partnering with organizations such as Custom Insights, Project Include, the Kapor Center, and many others, we’ve been able to participate in events, access research, and tap into invaluable resources that further our D&I efforts.
Being part of a network of contributors to industry-wide D&I efforts also comes with a responsibility to share best practices and learnings — something we commit to doing when possible. Just as D&I efforts require work from every individual at a company level, we can only hope to see change across an industry if we all actively participate and learn together.
2. Share your results internally
Sharing results with your company provides both accountability and transparency with your employees. It allows successes to be celebrated and a provides a shared understanding of areas for improvement. Giving managers access to their team results allows them to develop tailored action plans, while employees can also understand and contribute to what’s most important to them. And regular, ongoing communication keeps attention and focus on this important priority for your company.
At Asana, we shared engagement survey results with the entire company, including year over year trends and insights, and also shared the quantitative data with all employees, with access given to their own results, their department results, and the company’s results. Private information was only shared in aggregate, and where groups had fewer than 4 respondents, access was not given in order to preserve anonymity. Asanas were encouraged to review the data and to talk to their managers about the results, while managers were encouraged to develop action plans for their teams.
3. Build action plans
Action plans help to ensure that the engagement survey is not a ‘one and done’ event. It is an opportunity to ensure that the most salient issues outlined in the survey are addressed by the organization as well as to track progress.
At Asana, action plans were two-fold: the senior leadership team worked with our People Ops team to develop priorities and actions plans based on company wide themes, and the People Ops team worked with individual managers to develop their specific team action plans. Checking in on plan progress throughout the year, post-survey, allows accountability to be ongoing.
Just do it
Tracking diversity and, importantly, inclusion metrics may seem daunting and risky, but it is surprisingly simple and effective for improving diversity and inclusion efforts. An annual or biannual survey of employees can provide clear indication of areas for improvement — and areas that have improved. At Project Include and Asana, we’ve seen that commitment from the top drives buy-in at all levels to the company’s values of diversity and inclusion. It’s an area that is important and a priority for many, if not most, employees, and ultimately leads to measurable improvements in satisfaction.