Juneteenth, the federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S., is an annual reminder of our collective journey toward equality.
The commemoration offers a moment for organizations to reflect on the progress that has been made toward racial equality. It also allows us to reaffirm our commitment to the work that still needs to be done.
As a Black woman and a dedicated HR executive, fostering an inclusive workplace culture isn't merely a professional obligation for me; it's a deeply personal commitment. However, transparency in diversity reporting—a critical step in establishing inclusivity—is often avoided by companies due to fear of criticism or negative perception.
Several high-profile organizations have faced the dilemma of representation.
For instance, Google initially resisted disclosing its workforce demographics, only releasing its first annual diversity report in 2014 following allegations of discrimination. The report revealed a stark imbalance: Women constituted only 30 percent of the workforce, while Black and Hispanic employees represented only 2 percent and 3 percent, respectively.
Similarly, Goldman Sachs faced scrutiny over its diversity data, but in response, the company amplified its commitment to enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I).
Transparency is not merely a tool for damage control, nor is it simply checking a box. It's about honestly assessing current circumstances to catalyze progress. Diversity reporting needs to be an active part of an organization's DE&I strategy.
Employers that openly share their diversity data are held to a higher standard, thereby accelerating meaningful change. In turn, companies can cultivate a greater sense of belonging for employees of diverse backgrounds.
Why Transparency Is Crucial
Misreporting diversity data obscures existing issues, making some employees feel their struggles are trivialized or overlooked. This dissonance with their experiences can lead to feelings of invisibility and exclusion, undermining trust in the organization and the culture of belonging it may be working to build. A lack of transparency can also discourage prospective talent from joining the organization, compounding existing diversity issues.
Conversely, accurate diversity reporting can enhance profitability for organizations by ensuring a wider range of perspectives, which fosters improved decision-making. It also cultivates accountability and enables stakeholders to track progress on diversity commitments.
However, businesses that aren't forthcoming with diversity data may appear more focused on maintaining a facade of diversity rather than cultivating an authentically inclusive culture. A report by the Josh Bersin Company, an HR consulting firm based in Oakland, Calif., revealed that 40 percent of companies perceive diversity work as a strategy to offset legal, compliance or reputational risks.
The Road Ahead
Transparency in diversity reporting is crucial, but it is not the sole requirement for creating a more inclusive workplace. Here are several actions employers can take to enhance their diversity reporting:
- Define clear metrics: Employers need to establish clear, specific and measurable metrics for diversity. This could include representation across various demographics, such as race, gender, age, disability status, etc., but should also consider diversity in leadership roles, pay equity, employee retention rates and promotion rates.
- Incorporate data collection and analysis: Implement robust systems for collecting and analyzing data on diversity metrics. Using HR systems or specialized software can help ensure that data is collected consistently, securely and accurately.
- Exercise transparency: Make diversity data publicly available in an easy-to-understand format. Regularly share updates about progress and future goals. Transparency demonstrates a company's commitment to diversity and holds the organization accountable.
- Conduct third-party audits: Allow a third party to audit diversity data to ensure accuracy and transparency. This can prevent unintentional discrepancies and internal bias and can help build trust with employees, stakeholders and the public.
- Create action plans: Develop and share action plans that detail how the organization will address identified gaps in diversity. This should include both short-term and long-term strategies.
- Engage employees: Foster an environment where employees feel safe sharing their experiences and perspectives. Include their voices in diversity reports to highlight the company's commitment to an inclusive culture.
- Link to company goals: Tie diversity goals to overall business objectives, and report on these connections. This highlights the strategic importance of diversity to the business and shows that the organization is doing more than just checking a box.
- Standardize reporting: Adopt industry standards for diversity reporting to ensure data is comparable across businesses and over time.
- Focus on training and education: Implement training programs for managers and executives about the importance of diversity and inclusion as well as unconscious bias training. The more educated the leadership, the better they can make decisions that promote diversity.
By integrating these practices, companies can not only enhance their diversity reporting but also make significant strides toward fostering a more diverse and inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and respected.
The goal of every company should be to cultivate a culture of belonging where employees are seen, supported and connected to one another and the organization. Committing to transparency helps employers maintain accountability while accurately tracking progress and identifying areas for improvement.
Let Juneteenth serve as a call to action for organizations to pursue authenticity and transparency in diversity reporting. The path to diversity, equity, inclusion and, ultimately, belonging is challenging, and it must be traversed with honesty. Acknowledging the existence of a problem is the first step toward its solution.
As leaders, we must commit to transparently sharing diversity statistics and making a conscious effort to improve them. This is how we demonstrate to our employees, customers and the world our commitment to fostering a more just and equitable society.
Yolanda Slan is the head of HR at Televerde, a global revenue creation partner supporting marketing, sales and customer success for B2B businesses around the world.