Evidence-Based Approaches for Achieving Gender Equity: Making DEI an Intention, Not Just a Quota

Alice Duthie
on 5 October 2023

Sarah Liu, Founder and Managing Director of diversity, equity and inclusion consultancy (DEI), TDC Global, shares her tips for organisations.

Corporate events have long been utilised in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs across organisations to improve their public image, often overshadowing their effectiveness in meeting DEI targets. However, this trend is gradually shifting as business leaders and their employees become disillusioned with superficial efforts lacking tangible impact. With government projections indicating a 26-year wait for gender pay parity, the demand for swifter change is growing. 

Coinciding with the finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, TDC Global supported Coca-Cola in hosting a one-day diversity, equity and inclusion summit. Here, Luli Adeyemo, Director of the TechDiversity Foundation, said, “We have to be able to measure and define DEI through metrics. We’ve got to get better at measuring the impact of change and recognising that impact.”

To effectively address and dismantle systemic gender inequalities, organisations must confront challenging realities and adopt solutions driven by data. Business leaders can cultivate a DEI approach grounded in real evidence by integrating methodologies that establish objectives, assess outcomes, and monitor achievements.

The business case for data 

Developing evidence-based approaches to DEI is critical for a multitude of reasons. Without well-defined benchmarks that allow companies to monitor their progress and a clear methodology to achieve this, the effectiveness of their efforts toward gender equity remains obscured. 

Mistakes in strategy implementation are common and acceptable, yet the ability to recognise these missteps, understand their origin, and then adapt the approach is necessary. The absence of data-based approaches further jeopardises the potential for program extensions, as the lack of substantiating evidence leaves business leaders unable to rationalise these investments. 

In an era of tightening financial constraints, meticulous tracking of every initiative and demonstration of solid outcomes has become vital. Business leaders are awakening to the reality that DEI initiatives solely aimed at enhancing the brand’s reputation often yield insufficient returns on their investments.

During the summit, Alisha Fernando, Head of Diversity and Inclusion APAC at Bloomberg, outlined a refugee employment program they implemented called Give Them a Chance. This initiative placed skilled workers who arrived in Australia as refugees in a role at a bank. This bank became increasingly busy as people went to it because they wanted to be served by people who understood them. Due to its original popularity, this program is now company-wide. Success in this program and initiative is what tells the story.

Although advancements have been made towards the objective of gender equity, there remains a substantial journey ahead. The envisioned timelines set by organisations continually shift, lacking the necessary metrics to hold them and individuals accountable. These metrics not only serve as accountability measures but also as a platform for celebrating areas of excellence. Integrating DEI metrics with long-term incentives, such as bonuses akin to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) targets, enables positive acknowledgment of their achievements in fostering gender equity.

DEI women career

Making DEI an intention and not a quota 

In the past, diversity was a nice-to-have element without a strong business rationale. Now there is a strong body of evidence that gender and racially diverse teams outperform their peers. In fact, businesses that lead in gender-diverse teams are 25 per cent more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile.

When companies foster inclusion and equity within their organisation, diversity will organically follow. While many prioritise diversity alone, overlooking the crucial aspects of equity and inclusion can hinder the attraction of diverse talent. Progress thrives where intentions are focused, transcending the mere fulfillment of quotas – embracing DEI not as a checkbox exercise, but as a driver of organisational change and workforce productivity, especially for underrepresented groups.

To achieve this, establishing performance, cultural, and well-being benchmarks proves more effective, shifting the focus from headcount to the development, contentment, and integration of diverse employees.

DEI women career

Embracing Discomfort

At the summit, Munir Nanji, Co-Chair of, Women Leadership & Diversity Committee at Citi, Singapore, said that “If a leader can be comfortable feeling uncomfortable in the feedback process and the other person embraces giving it in the right way, it will result in increased understanding and inclusivity.” Confronting unpleasant truths in data and lived experiences is needed to action any real change.

So while organisations should always celebrate wins, there’s good reason to also visit shortfalls and learn from them. By adopting an evidence-based approach to DEI, businesses will often encounter data that is uncomfortable to read. Embrace this discomfort and dissect these figures. Ignoring them doesn’t resolve the issue; it merely shifts the problem and discomfort to those enduring inequality. By acknowledging this unease and committing to change, organisations can collectively shoulder the burden and gradually experience the triumph of witnessing the data transform. 

When recording data and evidence, transparency is key. Engage employees in conversations about observed trends within the company and encourage them to share their thoughts and experiences. Companies may be surprised; some employees find it easier to voice challenges when backed by data, leading to fresh perspectives. This dual approach allows for a comprehensive evaluation of qualitative and quantitative metrics to track transformations.

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