Many employers survey their workforce, hold town hall meetings, and solicit employee feedback in a host of other ways. Yet these same companies often miss key insights by failing to use diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a lens through which to view the resulting data or design future feedback efforts.
Listening and learning from underrepresented employees is an essential part of leading an inclusive organization. It’s all too easy for business leaders to grow removed from the daily experience and culture at their company as a whole, let alone for specific groups of underrepresented employees. Leaders who do listen to their stories, develop an awareness of their lived experiences, and examine employee feedback from specific groups are doing the ongoing work of fostering an inclusive and equitable workplace.
Without consistent information about how employees feel, especially people in underrepresented groups, it’s nearly impossible for leaders to know if their DEI efforts are moving in the right direction. In larger companies, leaders need formal mechanisms and processes to gather this critical data. These can include:
- employee sentiment surveys, segmented by diverse employee groups (e.g., Black employees, LGBTQ employees);
- focus groups for specific employee segments;
- listening tours aimed at better understanding the lived experiences of specific employee groups; and
- social listening tools (e.g., reviewing Glassdoor ratings).
Why it works
A sense of belonging and engagement is part of the foundation of a good job for anyone—and the ultimate goal of every DEI effort. When employees are engaged and feel heard and respected, they contribute more meaningfully at work. And Bain has found that companies with highly engaged workers grow revenue 2.5 times faster than companies with low worker engagement levels.
The adoption curve
As noted, employee surveys and town halls are common company exercises; breaking the data down by diversity segments is not. In one survey of over 500 companies, only 10% responded that they both conduct employee engagement surveys and analyze the results by race, gender, and other diversity vectors. Yet doing so can provide leaders with meaningful insights. As in any setting, peoples’ experiences at work can vary dramatically depending on race, gender, and other factors. While it’s valuable to have a broad sense of how all employees are feeling, understanding whether particular groups of employees face more challenging circumstances or negative environments can meaningfully advance equity and inclusion.
How retail industry leaders took action
Walmart and Target both have been leaders in this space. Spurred by the murder of George Floyd just a few miles from Target’s headquarters and the global calls for social justice and racial equity that followed, Target CEO Brian Cornell convened a group of Black executives to address the impact on employees. This resulted in an initial $10 million commitment to fund racial justice initiatives, as well as listening tours across the company and the formation of the REACH (Racial Equity Action and Change) committee. The committee is composed of six senior leaders of different backgrounds and focuses on how to enhance the Black experience in hiring, retention, and promotion; in stores as Target guests; in store communities; and in national and local policy.
With support from Target’s DEI team, the committee heard from thousands of employees in multiple sessions, then used the lessons learned to guide a number of initiatives. Since REACH was launched, the company has grown Black senior leadership by nearly 40%. Target is also expanding its existing supplier diversity efforts by committing to provide 10,000 hours of pro bono consulting services for BIPOC-owned small businesses in the Twin Cities region, and it plans to spend $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by the end of 2025.
Similarly, Walmart committed $100 million to create a new center on racial equity. The center supports philanthropic initiatives focused on the nation’s financial, healthcare, education, and criminal justice systems. Walmart has made key changes to establish more inclusive practices, including further developing its supplier diversity efforts and recruiting partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities, and ensuring that formerly incarcerated people are appropriately considered for roles. CEO Doug McMillon also established a special committee of CEOs at the Business Roundtable focused on racial equity and justice.
In remarks to his company, McMillon summarized his approach: “To influence and lead change, we are going to use the power of Walmart to invest resources and develop strategies to increase fairness, equity, and justice in aspects of everyday life … Words and feelings matter, but they are not enough. More action is required. We will find new ways to accelerate the desired changes inside our company, and we will also find the ways that our business can influence real change in our country.”