Feb 17, 2022
Getting the Most of HR Analytics for DEI Will Take a Mix of Art and Science

Fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce is key to employee health and well-being. 

The business case for cultivating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace is strong. In fact, research from McKinsey & Co. finds that companies with ethnic diversity at the executive level are 36% more likely to outperform their peers, and those with a gender diverse executive team are 25% more likely to outperform financially. And there’s even more data out there that further supports the need for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within the workforce.

The challenge is that even though most organizations understand the importance of DEI, it can be difficult to navigate and know exactly where to start. Cheryl Wade, global head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Cigna, says to look no further than your company’s human resources (HR) analytics to better understand your people, the different employee demographics that work at your organization, how specific business lines are performing, and what needs to be done differently.

Below, we look at some best practices and tips for getting the most of your HR analytics when it comes to fostering DEI at your company. According to Cigna's Wade, it is going to take a mix of both art and science.

HR Analytics – A.K.A. People Analytics – Can Help Companies Shape Their DEI Strategies

According to Wade, HR analytics can help companies uncover gaps in DEI. 

“HR analytics allow us to take a data-informed approach. Data gives us insight into where the bright spots are and where our areas of opportunity are, helping us to really hone in and prioritize what’s most important.”Cheryl Wade, global head of diversity, equity and inclusion at Cigna

Companies, she said, must avoid the “peanut butter spread approach,” where they are doing a lot of different things, but not really, truly addressing the needs of their people and the opportunity areas. “HR analytics help us to better focus and better tailor our programming efforts and strategy.”

People analytics also allow an organization to set measurable goals and measure its progress and the effectiveness of programs that are being launched, allowing for on-the-fly optimization and better performance in the long run.

Top DEI Metrics to Focus On

A lot of organizations lean in heavily into representation measures, Wade pointed out. And while these are, of course, important, they aren’t the end-all be-all for a sound DEI strategy.

“Representation numbers tend to be lagging indicators,” Wade said. “They are important but there are other measures that also need to be taken into account.”

For example, other talent measures – such as a company’s diversity recruiting measures, promotion rates and turnover – can be indicative of where an organization is going, and must also be taken into account. 

Retention is also an important lever to pull, Wade says, when looking to shape an organization’s DEI strategy, because it is a big indicator of people’s desire to work at your company.

Wade also stressed the point that many organizations are very much focused on diversity, with less intention toward fostering inclusion – which she believes is a miss. “Diversity is the mix and inclusion is making the mix work,” Wade said. “They go hand in hand and companies cannot foster one without the other. Diversity grows out of the soil of inclusion. You really do need to have measurements around both so that you can manage a more holistic and effective program.”

Building DEI Programs (Art) that Support the Numbers (Science)

Last year, Cigna's HR analytics data showed that some employee demographics were hit harder from a health and well-being standpoint due to the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This insight allowed us to put some intentional focus on certain programs, to really help our people feel better and be more informed on the programs and benefits that were already available to them,” Wade said, adding that not every data point is going to need a new program launch. Oftentimes it’s about driving awareness among certain employee demographics on the resources that are already available to them.

Additionally, Cigna has also seen much success in looking at markets and employee demographics where there is higher turnover or attrition and launching programs to engage these localities and employee groups.

“Our data is helping us engage our employees in a very different way than we ever have before,” Wade said.

Best Practices for Getting the Most of Your People Analytics

The most important piece of advice that Wade had for other DEI and HR professionals when it comes to getting the most of people analytics was to be thoughtful in sharing the insights with the right people – namely managers and other people leaders. The insights need to be presented in a personalized and understandable way so that leaders can recognize the implications and how they play a role in fostering a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

“It's not enough to have the data and keep it locked up within the HR function,” Wade said. “It has to be cascaded down. Transparency is key and helps with accountability.”

In 2021, Cigna launched its first Diversity Scorecard Report. Though this is an external document, available on Cigna.com for anyone who is interested, Cigna shared the report with its employees to educate the organization on where we are as a company and what we need to do differently going forward.

“We also meet with leaders regularly – on a quarterly basis – to talk through our goals and how they can help us to meet them,” Wade said. “HR isn’t the only business unit on the hook for DEI. It’s a team effort.” In these quarterly meet-ups, Wade’s team helps to tailor goals to different parts of the organization.

Not everyone, for example, might need to focus on hiring insights—because not every part of the organization is hiring at any given time.

“Maybe a certain part of the business needs to be focused on retention because they've been struggling with attrition challenges,” Wade said. “Being thoughtful and personalized with the picture your painting with your HR data is really important. Every part of the organization has its unique opportunities and challenges. It’s up to us as HR professionals to make sure we are presenting the right data to the right audience, in a really easily consumable way.”

DEI is Just One Way to Foster a Happy, Healthy Workforce

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