How to take your I&D journey from insight to impact

15 Dec 2021

How to take your I&D journey from insight to impact

Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) is central to how we do business at Odgers Berndtson. It informs who we hire and how we ensure fulfilling careers across the board, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Through events, analytics, and ally groups, we show our clients the many advantages of inclusive and diverse business. But how does a company start on its I&D journey?

Sue Johnson, head of Inclusion & Diversity Consulting at Odgers Berndtson, held a webinar this month to advise organisations on how to get started and the best ways to achieve change.

“Some people say ‘I don’t want a target around representation of women and men in leadership,’ but how many people would not have a target for how much they want to sell every month, how much profit they need to make, or customer satisfaction. Once you start talking about a topic, then you talk about a topic more, then people start to be more curious, and it permeates through the organisation,” she says.


A company’s first move should be to identify what the problem is that’s impeding inclusivity and diversity.

“I always talk about an organisation being an onion. When you start with an onion it all looks quite healthy, but we want to start peeling the onion, because the rot tends to be inside, in the middle, so I am always saying ‘can we peel the onion?’”

Slicing data will give one perspective on perceived problems, while what Johnson calls “slicing and dicing” data offers opportunities to examine intersectionality.

Using a case study from a UK-based non-profit, Johnson showed how Odgers Berndtson analysed data to tackle a problem that, from the outside of the onion, looked like a lack of men in the workforce.

Through slicing and dicing the data, the organisation identified different issues, including women struggling to progress into senior management, and specific gender disparities in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific.


Securing sufficient data from as many staff as possible is integral to successful analysis, but can be complex, she says. For staff who have historically been underrepresented or marginalised, a shift to self declaration is hard.

“It’s important that you’re really clear that this is what you’re doing as an organisation, how committed you are to inclusion and diversity, these are all the actions you’re taking and you need some help from them. That’s where I find people are more open,” she says.

Where company size allows, she recommends at least 300 people contribute data and trend analysis covers a period of three years. Gender often offers a solid place to start because it’s a data point recorded in every single country, Johnson says.

“Anything you do to improve the working lives of women, you improve the working lives of everybody,” she says, pointing to Sodexo research as an example of a multinational reaping the rewards.

Sodexo's gender balance research from 2018 took data from 50,000 managers from 70 entities globally. The study found entities with gender-balanced management scored higher on five KPIs including client retention and safety.


Part of analysing data is recognising the ways different life stages and circumstances inform career choices. This in turn can unlock bias around career progression.

“One example [of systemic bias] I saw is that you can’t be identified as a high-performing talent until you’re 30, and actually if you think of men and women and their life cycles, different things are happening in their 30s, and so that’s systemic unconscious bias where women who choose to have children have time out of the workplace and are then not part of the high potential process,” says Johnson.

Organisations should consider “how we are going to have on and off ramps depending on people’s circumstances and requirements through their career”.

Confirmation bias is another challenge for leaders, which drives home the value of gathering as many data points as possible.

"We are living in an echo chamber and confirmation bias is something we just don’t see…it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are, we all fall to it. Involve more brains, different brains, especially if your findings confirm what you suspected to begin with,” Johnson says.

Number crunching is a valuable tool, but shouldn’t be used in isolation. People’s voices are crucial to establishing a full picture. In the case study, Odgers held focus groups of single genders, mixed genders, and also had non-reporting lines so people felt they could speak openly.


Once you have sliced and diced your onion, how should you present your findings?

Johnson advises organisations identify no more than eight KPIs, with a mix of leading and lagging benchmarks. She suggests as few annual KPIs as possible to drive energy towards achieving goals. She gave Best Buy and Suntory Group as examples of companies with clearly-stated and publicly available indicators.

Executives need to consider their audience when presenting. Showing findings to an HR department may demand more focus on data, whereas presenting to the C Suite should lead with recommendations for change.

“Don’t be afraid to put names against functions and departments, because then it becomes quite personal and people feel far more motivation to act,” she says. Some changes might appear simple, such as internal job advertising, but they still represent a shift in the way of doing business.

She recommends a tailored approach depending on company culture, and says that being open about your analysis and the changes you’re making can only be beneficial.

“I think it’s fabulous making public commitments because then everyone can hold them accountable internally and externally,” she says.

In the meantime, find out more about Odgers Berndtson's commitment to Inclusion and Diversity.