What do organizations mean when they talk about diversity and inclusion? How do these definitions affect how we measure diversity and inclusion in the workplace? Denise McLean, an experienced consultant in this field, is leading a research project with TRIEC that aims to answer these questions, and more. She tells us what they have found so far.

 bio photo 3 jan 2015Tell us about the project you’re working on with TRIEC – what are the aims?

We’re looking at how organizations can be more evidence-based in their work around inclusion. We have been carrying out primary and secondary research to look at how organizations talk about, measure and report on  diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

From the insights and information we gather, we’ll recommend structured and evidence-based tools that can help employers move the needle from good intentions to excellent practice in building inclusive workplaces.

What have you found interesting about the research so far? Were there any challenges in finding the information you needed?

Diversity and inclusion are subjects that are often talked about but not always understood – they can be a bit ephemeral – like nailing Jell-O to the wall!

The main challenge we encountered is that terminology is not used consistently. There are a lot of words around that general concept, but meanings are not clearly defined.

Some people will talk about inclusion, some talk about engagement or involvement or belonging. Sometimes we use the word inclusion to describe actions people take – what do we do to include people – and sometimes we use it to talk about the feeling of being included.

Why are you looking at definitions of inclusion? Why is this important?

When words are used in different ways by different people, it can be challenging to define the impact of inclusion. If you don’t have a clear way to talk about something, that can make it harder to measure.

One thing we found in our research is that it’s easier for organizations to measure what they do as opposed to measuring the impact. It’s like a New Year’s resolution to get fit – you can say “I went for a run”, but if you can’t measure your fitness and set targets, it’s very hard to make sustainable change.

What are some of the different ways that the organizations you’ve looked at define diversity and inclusion?

I see there is a trend over the last number of years towards more nuanced, multidimensional definitions of these words. A few years ago the definition of diversity was limited to employment equity. Now there is an understanding that identities are not binary, that intersectionality exists between identities.

I also think there’s been a shift from focusing on diversity as representation to inclusion – the quality of someone’s experience in the workplace and how organizations can leverage that to build their business.

How do these changing definitions affect how organizations measure workplace inclusion?

We think there’s an opportunity for measurement to catch up. When you have a binary understanding of the world, it’s easier to measure. Now that organizations take more of a multidimensional view, the way they measure should change too.

When developing a measurement framework it’s important to be clear on what we mean when we say these things. With consistent definitions in place, organizations can set objectives and goals that meet SMART criteria – the kind of goals that people can make progress on and achieve.

What’s next?

We are carrying out a survey and in-depth interviews with employers. At the same time we’re developing a set of competencies for different organizational roles hat are needed in order to create an inclusive workplace. Finally, we’ll be looking at how these findings can be built into TRIEC’s work, to help make sure its programing is as impactful as it can be.

*Update* Read the full research report.