‘Consequential Accountability’ Could Be Solution to Corporate DE&I Stalemate

By Nicole Lewis September 14, 2021
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​Seventy-six percent of HR leaders say their organization tracks metrics to measure diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) goals; yet while tracking DE&I metrics creates awareness, it doesn't yield results, according to a report from Gartner. To get results, Gartner recommends companies adopt "consequential accountability," which evaluates HR leaders' DE&I efforts and ties the success or failure of those efforts to job performance.

Research from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, conducted in partnership with SHRM, came to similar conclusions: Executives must regularly monitor all DE&I-related metrics and use that information to better manage DE&I and communicate progress, the researchers wrote in their report, Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

For its report, Diversifying the Leadership Bench, Gartner polled 53 HR leaders and 3,523 employees to gauge their thoughts on the status of DE&I programs at their organizations.

Among the findings, 79 percent of HR leaders say their organization offers unconscious-bias training, but 55 percent said DE&I goals are less important than other business goals at their company. Furthermore, HR leaders say a key problem is not having enough diverse leadership among existing employees.

The report notes that progression of underrepresented talent stalls among midlevel and senior leaders, with 41 percent of women and 25 percent of racial minorities making up midlevel and senior leaders and 29 percent of women and 17 percent of racial minorities representing the C-suite.

DE&I's importance has grown among corporate executives following the murder of George Floyd by the police, which sparked global demonstrations and prompted corporations such as Walmart, Bank of America, Johnson & Johnson and Google to release plans to break down racial barriers at their organizations.

As HR leaders wrestle with how to deal with racism, their organizations should think more critically about incorporating DE&I goals by practicing consequential accountability, said Sari Wilde, managing vice president of research at Gartner. 

"Over the last year, so many CEOs and business leaders came out very publicly to say how important this DE&I issue is. I think it's just a matter of to what extent are they going to hold their executive teams to the same level of accountability that they would any other business goals," she said.

The report further states that organizations that adopt consequential accountability will reach gender parity in the leadership bench 13 years ahead of those that don't, and racial parity six years ahead.

Looking forward, companies have more work to do to create consequential accountability among senior leaders in charge of DE&I. When asked to what extent DE&I measures influence leaders' overall performance evaluations, 77 percent of HR leaders said DE&I measures have no impact on the evaluations of leaders' performance.

Wilde said there are many ways to incorporate consequential accountability into HR performance evaluations. 

"We have a spectrum of different ways to do that," she said. "One might be to withhold promotions or withhold compensation. On the other hand, one way to reward leaders for achieving or exceeding their DE&I goals is through compensation—by giving them more in bonuses."

Steve Pemberton, chief human resources officer at Workhuman, a company that provides human capital management software solutions and is co-headquartered in Framingham, Mass., and Dublin, Ireland, thinks it will take more than accountability and consequences to change the behavior of leaders toward DE&I.

"What I found," Pemberton said, "is that sustainable DE&I efforts don't come as a result of this consequence that Gartner is referring to. It comes when you have the hearts and minds of people who are leaders who understand the importance, the value and the necessity of DE&I efforts. That's what makes it most sustainable." 

To elevate the importance of DE&I, organizations must eliminate the bias in the criteria that leaders use to make talent decisions. One way to do that is for leaders to use objective data at key decision-making moments, such as when candidates are evaluated for a promotion or when they analyze succession pools.

Gartner's report calls on HR leaders to work closely with the business's other leaders on DE&I measures and to give them the same priority as other business goals. Organizations should also use technology such as dashboards and software that generate data to support the following tactics:

  • Create standardized mechanisms to monitor and track leaders' progress against individual DE&I goals.
  • Establish peer-to-peer leader transparency around DE&I measures to motivate leaders toward action. Gartner defines leaders as anyone in director-level positions and above. "By making leaders' progress on their DE&I goals transparent to their peers—for example, through dashboards or scorecards—it provides additional motivation to meet those goals through pressure from others," Wilde said
  • Integrate DE&I measures into performance evaluation processes so that leaders' advancement depends on their being inclusive.

Technology can play a significant role if accountability and consequences become more prevalent in DE&I efforts, Pemberton said.

"Data doesn't allow for excuses," he said. "You would not be able to say, 'I can't find anybody' or 'That person just did not work out.' Data forces this objective way of assessing the challenge, but removes the excuses. It will also direct the strategy. Gathering the data in and of itself is the activity; directing the data toward a sustainable end is the accomplishment."

Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami.

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