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For decades, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) consultants have helped companies hire and retain a workforce that is more diverse and who feel a strong sense of belonging. While this focus is important, the process of auditing a company’s DEI initiatives and coming up with an appropriate action plan can often be time-consuming, expensive and lead to short-term solutions.
One woman has set out to change that through a platform called Inclusology. Cheryl Ingram has been engaged in DEI work for 18 years, most recently as the founder and CEO of Diverse City LLC. She created Inclusology because she recognized a need for DEI audits and action plans to be more sustainable and accessible to a broader range of companies.
I had a chance to talk with Cheryl about the work she is doing, and her vision for this innovative new platform.
Rebekah Bastian: You’ve been working in the DEI space as a consultant for a number of years. What drove you to want to start a tech company to help with corporate DEI initiatives?
Cheryl Ingram: I’ve observed many areas where DEI could be improved across the companies I have worked with. Oftentimes companies are doing this work as if it is a separate program – therefore not weaving it into their culture’s DNA. They need guidance on how to communicate and scale their initiatives.
Consultants are often brought in after there is an issue, as intervention instead of prevention. And often the consultants just point out problems, but don’t provide the tools to solve them.
Tools for conducting DEI audits are limited too. I’ve had to use different spreadsheet and survey tools, and there are many components missing from these platforms. Ultimately, I realized that if companies could easily build out their own DEI audits, their work could be more sustainable and have longer-term impacts.
I wanted to create an advanced, automated system that would support companies to not only identify DEI issues, but also help solve them. We spend too much time in this field identifying and talking about problems, but not enough providing solutions. I’m going to change that with Inclusology.
Bastian: How does Inclusology use the analytics that are collected to provide actionable tools and solutions?
Ingram: Inclusology breaks down questions by trends that impact different demographics and automates the question workflow for participants based on their identities. We are looking to see which groups are impacted by certain themes, and how this impacts their ability to show up as their best self at work. It also inspects systems in the workplace, looking for inclusion gaps between identities.
Based on the outcomes of this analysis, companies are given a performance benchmark and potential solutions are offered. DEI best practices are built into the system and continuously updated with content from the Global D&I Benchmarks in order to help companies establish long-term and short-term strategies. Companies are provided dashboards to track their progress over time and to see a comparative analysis against the anonymous results of other companies. Inclusology combines awareness, benchmarking and action plans to drive results.
Bastian: When investing in DEI initiatives, it’s important to take a long-term approach to building sustainable programing. At the same time, companies don’t want to have to wait years before seeing results. How does Inclusology balance the desire for fast action with long-term sustainability?
Ingram: Much of the time that goes into DEI work is taken up by a slow audit process–that is something that Inclusology can help speed up. While long-term strategic plans can take as long as five years to execute, I want to make the awareness and solutions available much faster. But companies also must commit to long-term efforts and be willing to confront the hard stuff humbly!
There are four main lanes that are required in order to distribute accountability evenly and see scalable results: executive leadership, employees, marketplace and ecosystem. Companies need to create a plan that has long-term and short-term goals around the different DEI themes in all four of these lanes, prioritize their needs in each lane, and have a diverse group of people who are working together on the issues impacting each lane.
Bastian: What are the main categories that you have seen emerge in terms of areas of opportunity for DEI improvements in a company?
Ingram: The first category for improvement we see is in defining DEI accurately and inclusively so that no one feels excluded from the conversation. This includes internal communications, such as a company’s DEI statement and employee communications, as well as external materials, such as marketing, social responsibility and recruiting.
The next category is around the training and support that companies provide around DEI. Managers and supervisors need different types of support than the overall employee base. DEI should be a competency and skill required of every job, but the competencies will vary for different roles, as they should. Trainings need to be seen as a piece of the solution, not the only solution.
In our audits, we see trends around discrimination that impact some populations more than others, such as people who come from racially-stigmatized backgrounds, women, LGBTQIA+ populations, veterans, individuals with disabilities, etc. Leadership needs to be held accountable for addressing these discrepancies in the employee experience. Oftentimes they have good intentions, but don’t know what to do–that’s where Inclusology comes in.
Bastian: In a space such as corporate DEI, where everyone is on an ongoing journey, there is so much room for knowledge sharing and group accountability. How do you envision that Inclusology’s network of corporate clients will help lift each other up in this work?
Ingram: Inclusology is working to build a community of practice within the system. We want to identify issues, create solutions and build a community where people can compare practices and give feedback on what worked and what didn’t work for their company. Human beings need support systems, and our system is working to do just that!
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Inclusology is currently in beta testing in preparation for a January 2020 launch, and is in seed funding. US companies with at least 50 employees that want to be beta testers and early stage investors can reach out to Cheryl to get involved.
July 1, 2019 at 11:46AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs