In the wake of the #MeToo movement, fathers of daughters have frequently referenced their parental status as the impetus behind their concern for the state of women at work. This phenomenon is the latest manifestation of a long-running trend among business leaders – the majority of whom are White men – who cite the birth of their daughters as the catalyst for their social consciousness aha! moment.

The research shows that men CEOs with daughters lead companies that are more diverse and more socially conscious.  Daughters pull on their fathers’ heart strings in way that humanizes workplace diversity. The good news is that this empathy spurs moral obligation, introspection and other-mindedness amongst leaders to the benefit of their employees and bottom lines. The bad news is that procreation is not a sustainable strategy for engaging organizational decision-makers to get on board with the diversity and inclusion business case. Tapping into employees’ feelings of inclusion and belonging is a more scalable solution.

Considering employee inclusion and belonging is more than a touchy-feely endeavor. Feeling excluded or uncertain of one’s fit in the workplace negatively impacts meaningful talent outcomes like motivation, engagement, retention and performance. Yet, when organizations review their demographic (diversity) data, the feeling of going about one’s work (inclusion) can get lost within the context of a dashboard, leaving leaders unmoved and under informed.

The following strategies can help rehumanize diversity, drive empathy and inspire leaders to proactively invest in building inclusive company cultures.

Strategy #1: Encourage leaders to tap into their own experiences with identity at work.

eBay’s head of diversity and inclusion challenges business leaders to remind themselves of what it feels like to be excluded. By tapping into their personal experiences, leaders are better equipped to connect to the diversity conversation and the human condition more broadly.

Unfortunately, conventional approaches for engaging White men in diversity efforts tend to stir up unfavorable responses. Surfacing leaders’ experiences with exclusion or times when they’ve covered meaningful aspects of their identities, which 45% of straight White men do, is an underutilized method for making diversity personally meaningful. Facilitating a dialogue in which leaders can interpret any discomfort around this introspection as a challenge to lean into versus a threat to avoid can be the spark that prompts meaningful action.

Strategy #2: Animate demographic data with qualitative data.  

A global technology company leveraged Paradigm’s Inclusion Survey to examine employee belonging, fairness, voice, and access to opportunities. The survey illuminated that the gender gap in perceptions of fairness in promotions was greater than the reality. This gulf between perception and reality yielded specific recommendations for how the organization could better structure its promotion processes, and how it could improve perception through more transparent communications on how promotion decisions are made and how growth paths vary.

Qualitative data are, in fact, data. Conducting focus groups or 1:1 interviews can add useful color to quantitative data points and enable organizations to identify the why behind demographic trends. A psychologically-wise inclusion survey can do this at scale. When woven into a broader quantitative story, qualitative data bring demographic data to life. They elevate the diversity conversation from idealistic and aspirational to grounded and person-first.

Strategy #3: Individuate demographic data.

The HR team at a professional services firm humanizes the employee experience by anchoring talent conversations around their “employees of the future.” These employee prototypes have names, stock photos and brief biographies. This approach serves as an elegantly subtle reminder that diversity work is about real people with real lives on which work cultures have real impact. Whenever this firm discusses headcount, HR leaders ground the conversation around these individuals, their aspirations and their ambitions.

Rather than isolating diversity statistics to columns and pie wedges, D&I leaders should play with developing a prototype for each employee population that is measured. Instead of discussing White vs. Black vs. Latinx employees as large, anonymous swaths, talk instead about how Employee X’s career path and workplace experience fundamentally differs from Employee Y’s as a function of their respective identities.

Strategy #4: Put a face to demographic data.

At one higher ed institution, university leaders convened for a half-day summit on campus diversity. This meeting was their inaugural exploration of diversity challenges and opportunities. The day began with the usual opening remarks and calls to action from the University President and Provost but a palpable shift occurred when the leaders watched a 10-minute video. Depicted therein were actors’ testimonials reciting anecdotes gleaned from focus groups conducted with actual students, faculty and staff. Seeing and feeling the emotion behind quotes that are normally static on a page visibly moved the room of 55+-year-old White men. In the small breakout discussions that followed, a Dean reflected on the story shared by a Latina professional who felt chronically undervalued as she was regularly mistaken for janitorial staff and asked to show identification as she navigated campus buildings. He turned to the other leaders at his round table and earnestly asked, “Does this really happen here?”

Organizations should provide regular opportunities to get a diverse sampling of employees in front of business leaders to share their experiences. This can take the form of reverse mentoring opportunities or inviting leaders serve as Employee Resource Group Executive Sponsors to them with firsthand insight into employees experiences.

Erin L. Thomas PhD

Quantitative measurement of demographic data is essential for driving leadership commitment to diversity and inclusion. However, for some leaders, an appeal to their hearts may be the inroads to their heads. Leveraging leaders’ own experiences and their employees’ insights can be the hook needed to move the needle on D&I. No daughter required.

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