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How to Set Diversity and Inclusion Goals

January 28, 2020
By

Diversity and inclusion aren't nice-to-haves. Today, they're table stakes. So if "D&I" is a part of your company's OKRs this year, where do you begin?

Goals give professionals something to work toward. But concepts like belonging or inclusion can’t be measured the way sales goals or revenue targets are. Setting D&I goals takes a different approach — and for leaders, a lot more listening than talking.

1. Identify your “why.”

Last year, over 800 CEOs from companies like JP Morgan, McKinsey, and Ford pledged to tackle unconscious bias and prioritize diversity. Why?

Kellie Wagner is the founder and CEO of Collective, a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultancy. According to her, teams often rush to set goals without intent. We all intuitively know that diversity is good, but that rationale won’t sway a skeptical CFO or boardroom.

“A lot of companies are unclear about why they're setting these goals. They’ll set arbitrary goals and have a hard time sticking to them because they don't actually understand how they’re going to benefit the business,” she said. You need to identify your “why” first.

Incentives aren’t hard to come by. There’s no shortage of studies correlating diverse teams with better returns and more innovative ideas. When employees feel like they belong, they’re more productive. In the current market, the most compelling reason to invest in D&I might be to attract and retain talent — most CEOs’ top priority in 2020, according to a recent survey.

“A lot of people want to work at places that are inclusive and diverse. If you aren't offering that, it's going to be harder for you to pull in talent,” Wagner said. Thanks to Glassdoor, Blind, and similar platforms, candidates can look before they leap. If your company doesn’t value diversity, that can wreak havoc on your employer brand and reputation. “People care now if your leadership team is all white men. People will call you out on that,” she said.

2. Make the process collaborative.

Who sets your company goals? There’s a good chance it’s leadership, the segment that’s often the least diverse. An industry study found that women and minority employees accounted for less than 30% of the highest-paid employees. Your HR department, likely involved in setting D&I goals, has its own representation challenges.

To Wagner, setting goals is a lot like launching a new product. You wouldn’t do it without conferring with key stakeholders or even customers. In this case, employees.

“We do focus groups for product design. We get input from the people who are going to be the most impacted. The idea that we wouldn't do that with our culture initiatives or our HR-related processes doesn't really align,” she said.

Employee surveys
can help you arrive at those insights, as can in-person interviews. Wagner recommended a few specific questions, including:

  • How do you want to be treated?
  • How do you want to treat others?
  • How do you want your manager to treat you?

“Start to pull out some of the behaviors that people associate with feeling included, like they belong, [feel] respected, and [are] valued,” Wagner said. That feedback won’t just be eye-opening, it’ll also clarify what you should prioritize. “It’s an opportunity to get a definition of inclusion straight from employees. Then you’ll get really clear benchmarks for what you should be measuring,” she said.

Focus groups are another effective tool, one Wagner and her team often turn to. “A lot of times, we’ll do design thinking workshops to start thinking about what the goals for our strategy should be. We’ll look at the challenges and understand what we’re trying to solve for,” she said. While employees should do most of the talking, leadership can’t be left out entirely.

“You don't want the employees leading it completely because you need to understand what's feasible and what's sustainable for the business,” she said. And while leaders know they should invest in D&I, hearing it face-to-face will make them realize they need to. 

3. Look beyond recruiting quotas.

Some teams respond to employee feedback by setting “diversity hiring” quotas. It’s an approach that seldom works. “It can be a money pit if you’re only focusing on the recruiting side. You really don't want to be spending money only to have them leave, just because you didn't properly invest in inclusion and equity,” Wagner said.

Don’t let arbitrary quotas get in the way of setting more impactful goals around inclusion and pay equity. Draft targets that get to the heart of the concerns your employees voiced in your surveys or workshops. Hone in on topics like compensation, career growth, and belonging. Here are a few sample goals:

  • Introduce unconscious bias training by the end of the year.
  • Launch new inclusive job descriptions ahead of the summer hiring season.
  • Facilitate the launch of employee resource groups this quarter.
  • Commission a pay equity audit ahead of this spring’s compensation cycle.
  • Decrease pay disparities by 10 percent next year. 

Don’t lose sleep trying to tie every goal to a number. Inclusion doesn’t always lend itself to being measured that way. Prior to founding Collective, Wagner spent years in technology, a sector that’s obsessed with the quantitative. Tech giants like Google and Apple regularly publish their diversity numbers despite making little progress. “A lot of companies will focus on the quantitative only, so they miss out on hearing what programs are effective or where employees need more support,” Wagner said.

It’s not just that diversity numbers don’t tell the whole story — they don’t tell the most interesting part.

“Seeing that, ‘This is a place that's promoting people of color at the same rate as white people,’ is a different narrative that shows the effort that's really going into it beyond just recruiting,” she said. Data points like those are something that Wagner thinks more companies should try to track and measure. In other words, meaningful goals that make a lasting impact, not arbitrary quotas that look good on a corporate website.

For the targets that can’t be reported on, turn back to workshops and surveys. For the latter, consider checking in with employees more frequently than just once or twice a year, as arrivals and departures can skew your insights. “Ongoing feedback can be really helpful if you need to nip things in the bud. A lot of people are moving toward or adding in pulse surveys on a regular basis to gather that feedback,” Wagner said.


There’s a reason why companies still struggle with moving the needle on diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s hard setting goals, let alone achieving them. It takes introspection, uncomfortable conversations, overhauling old processes, and exposing yourself to failure. But when the majority of job candidates value diversity, making that leap isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s a business imperative.

Register for the Resources for Humans Slack community to learn what other HR leaders are doing to make their organizations more inclusive.