Targets are controversial. Those in favour of them often say what gets measured gets done, while others might say that setting targets skirts the issue of creating greater diversity and inclusion by focusing on the numbers rather than inclusive leadership, inclusive behaviours and genuinely impactful initiatives.
We agree with all of the above.
Confused? Let me explain.
We think that setting targets can be tremendously helpful if we use them as a measure of our progress to become more inclusive. In other words, when targets are linked to an impactful initiative, they provide a useful measure by which we can gauge the success of our EDI efforts. But we also know that there is little or no value in setting targets without attaching them to a purposeful set of actions designed to improve Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
How to set impactful Diversity targets
Read on for some suggestions for setting sensible, realistic targets that measure how inclusive your organisation is becoming. These are targets set on a big Diversity dimension, such as female graduate candidates or the percentage of women at leadership level. They are the targets that you would encounter most often in company’s press releases about their commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.
To set these targets in a meaningful way requires some due diligence, which might begin with the two questions below. What is required then is identifying which specific initiatives to put in place, with appropriate and achievable targets.
1. Which is the most underrepresented group in your company?
This might be women if you are in a STEM environment. It might, however, be ethnicity if you are in the Third or Public Sectors.
Identifying the biggest underrepresented group in your organisation can also be a useful exercise in understanding your target market. How different are your clients, customers, or users from your employee population? Where is this gap the biggest?
Alternatively, if you are looking at growing your market share, you may wish to look beyond the representation of your current customers to those you wish to attract. What is the biggest gap between the representation of the additional market opportunity and your employee population?
2. Where in your career ladder is the underrepresented group missing or dropping off?
Once you’ve identified which underrepresented group you wish to attract or retain, it’s time to identify where the biggest hole is for this group in your employee life cycle. Is it in attracting candidates from this group? Perhaps it’s in the actual hiring process? Or are you managing quite well in hiring people from the underrepresented group, but failing to keep them over a certain period of time? Or is your company unable to progress them beyond a certain level?
Finding the process that creates the biggest obstacle to building the desired level of representation will help you identify the right measures to turn things around.
3. Employ impactful measures to address the challenge.
As stated above, targets are most impactful when they measure the success of a specific initiative. So, having identified the specific challenge you face, it is time to develop an initiative that addresses it. Here are two examples of companies who generated their own ideas and solutions to their individual challenges:
One client, having identified that they were unsuccessful at attracting female engineering graduates to their company, started partnering with women’s engineering networks at several learning institutions. They started sending female representatives to university fairs and sending ambassadors to talk about their company’s efforts to improve the representation of female graduates, clearly stating their reasons for doing so. It worked.
Another client, having recognised that women were not being promoted beyond a certain level of seniority, introduced a sponsorship programme which pairs many of its senior leaders with emerging female leaders to ensure they get the visibility and opportunities that might typically be reserved (inadvertently) for male colleagues. This has also been highly effective.
4. Identify the right target.
Once the specific measure is instituted, care must be taken to set realistic expectations for the impact the measure will have. By what percentage does the company expect the targeted underrepresented group to grow in the identified area? (This will depend on the usual percentage of the target group in the identified area, as well as the impact of external market forces.) What is the usual percentage of female graduates in your pool? What is the sector average for this measure? What is the lowest and the highest percentage of this range?
Having taken the answers to all these questions into account, it becomes easier to set a more realistic target to measure the success of the relevant initiative. Even then, targets may need to be periodically revisited – based on their success or failure – and adjusted accordingly.
When it comes to setting big targets, doing a bit of thinking and planning in advance will always yield more meaningful results.
There are, of course, other types of targets to consider, including so called ‘no more than’ targets for specific teams where, instead of identifying a target percentage for a specific type of person (for instance, women), the emphasis shifts to having no more than a certain percentage of a specific type of person (for instance, men).
Finally, you will also want to consider how widely to set the targets. Is one common target appropriate for the entire company globally, region by region, office by office or even department by department? We know that, although average figures might make certain targets look favourable, when looking more closely, Diversity might not have really been achieved in areas where it would be more difficult (e.g., technical vs administrative, front office vs back office).
Whatever you decide to do about targets, following Nancy Kline’s advice (included above as our quote for the week) will ensure successful implementation.