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A Fair and Inclusive Workplace Starts with You

New research shows companies that are successful at increasing diversity, equity and inclusion have strong momentum and commitment from the C-suite. Timely and specific data is also a critical component.

A group of business people holding a puzzle piece.

If you want to create a workplace culture that values diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), start with the man in the mirror. Better yet, start with the man, woman or nonbinary person. Because genuine commitment from executive leadership and diverse representation in the upper ranks are among the defining characteristics of organizations that report making meaningful strides in advancing DE&I.

New Trusaic-sponsored research from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services and SHRM, Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, identifies DE&I Leaders (respondents who rate their organizations as being very successful at improving DE&I), Followers (those who are moderately successful) and Laggards (respondents who rate their organizations as unsuccessful), and compares their experiences with DE&I.

The findings reveal that momentum for change begins in the C-suite:

  • Successful organizations drive DE&I as a strategic priority from the top, put a senior leader in charge of DE&I efforts and share accountability for DE&I more broadly than others.

  • Furthermore, when the CEO sets the strategy and frequently communicates progress on DE&I initiatives, the company is 6.3 times more likely to have a diverse leadership team and to be a leader in its industry segment.

  • 77% of Leader organizations have visible executive support, compared with 65% of Followers and 34% of Laggards.

  • Half of survey respondents from Laggard organizations say they are hindered by a lack of commitment among leadership, and 72% say they are held back by a lack of diversity at senior levels of the organization.

  • DE&I Leaders are significantly more likely than Followers or Laggards to set goals for levels of diversity among senior executives and board members.

Commitment must be coupled with measurable action to effect real change. The numbers tell us that good intentions alone aren't enough. While 65% of respondents say DE&I is a high strategic priority in their organizations, 67% of these same respondents indicate that efforts to create a work environment that is actually diverse, equitable and inclusive are, at best, only somewhat successful.

According to the research, companies that truly move the needle on DE&I recognize the power of data to drive outcomes. They regularly monitor DE&I metrics, communicate progress to key stakeholders and use data to identify areas where intervention is needed. DE&I Leaders are also more than twice as likely as Laggards to track all three aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion. They measure progress across a wider range of metrics, and they are more likely to share results with all employees. Access to timely, reliable data is key to closing the gap.

The study revealed that executives who want to improve DE&I use data and analytics to:

  • Establish a base line and set goals for the future. It's important to be clear at the outset about your current state of play and to set achievable goals.
  • Measure progress on a regular basis. Nearly half (47%) of survey respondents measure progress toward their diversity and equity goals at least twice a year. Slightly fewer (43%) measure progress toward inclusion goals at least twice a year.
  • Communicate progress widely. Organizations that report success around DE&I initiatives are almost twice as likely as Laggards to share DE&I metrics. This transparency demonstrates that progress matters and underscores a sustained commitment toward achieving a fair workplace.
  • Look beyond high-level metrics to identify areas where intervention is needed. Segmenting data by departments, for instance, allows you to identify areas of concern disguised among otherwise positive trends. This is also true of specific intersections of identities.
  • Hold the organization accountable. Viewing DE&I data at the department level helps hold people accountable for results. Experts interviewed by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services advise carefully introducing incentives to drive desired outcomes. Only 12% percent of organizations surveyed offer financial incentives for DE&I improvements.

Creating a culture that consistently supports DE&I won't happen overnight. Companies reporting greater success have certainly not conquered the complex challenges that improving DE&I presents. In fact, the numbers suggest we still have a long way to go. Yet by driving DE&I as a strategic priority, building real accountability into their programs, measuring the metrics that matter, and communicating with frequency and transparency, business leaders can take the critical steps necessary to foster a fair and inclusive workplace for all.

Robert Sheen is CEO of Trusaic.


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