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Demands for action against systemic inequities are not new. Organizations must act boldly to advance equity by transforming how they architect their structures.
Organizations constantly undergo changes to stay resilient in the face of market disruptions, but they should consider making bold advances in how they’re structured to attempt true overall transformation. Leaders currently have the great opportunity to redesign the systems that dictate how works gets done, who does the work, and who is involved in the decision-making process.
Often, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are only considered once the organization design (OD)—including teams, reporting lines, role and responsibilities, and decision rights—is already determined. The focus is typically toward filling roles with talent from underrepresented backgrounds, rather than on the systemic structures that either promote or impede DEI. Incorporating a DEI lens earlier, throughout the OD process, is a critical starting point and key differentiator to how organizations can systemically advance equity.
Introduce an OD committee
One solution is expanding who’s involved. Usually, the functional leader and their respective HR business partner lead the process. In addition to these traditional decision-makers, nominate a couple of people who have shown commitment to advancing DEI. They should be empowered to keep the broader team honest in how decisions impact equity and have influence over the future-state design. Incorporating this step could increase the likelihood of architecting more inclusive organizations and decrease unconscious bias.
Conduct a workforce analysis
Once this committee is established, seek to understand DEI gaps. Many organizations begin the OD process with a current-state assessment to understand pain points and opportunity areas as they relate to how teams collaborate and share information.
Standard HR system data may only contain information like race, age, and binary gender to meet compliance requirements. This provides only a quick glimpse into the workforce composition—not the full picture. Recently, many organizations have launched voluntary self-identifying surveys, so their workforce can provide information on gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, veteran status, etc. Analyzing self-ID data allows organizations to pinpoint gaps in representation. For example, standard HR data would show that women are promoted to managerial roles at far lower rates than men, but further analyzing the self-identified data may likely show that the progress in representation is even slower for women of color or women identifying as LGBTQ+.
Lastly, the increase in virtual work and the usage of networking tools have unlocked a wealth of collaboration data, which organizations can analyze to generate a visual map of who shares information, makes decisions, and influences others. Pairing network analysis and workforce composition data can unearth insights about marginalized groups that are isolated from information-sharing and decision-making. For example, an organization could visualize who has decision-making and knowledge-brokering power (by ethnicity, gender, etc.), and then target specific pain points as they architect their new organization.
Incorporate DEI considerations earlier
Once they’re prepared with workforce analysis insights, the team can make informed design decisions. Organizations can ask the following questions to pressure test developing a more inclusive design:
What organizations can do to advance equity in the organization design process?
An organizational transformation is an opportunity to advocate for equity, but DEI often comes too late in the conversation. However, taking three tactical, DEI-focused steps can help to advance equity through OD:
DEI can no longer be an afterthought when designing the organization; long-term, systemic outcomes are only possible if organizations thoughtfully consider—and include—the workforce while architecting systemic structural change.
1. Evelyn R. Carter, “Restructure Your Organization to Actually Advance Racial Justice,” Harvard Business Review, June 22, 2020.
2. Stanford University, “Part 2. Subtle Gender Bias and Institutional Barriers,” Gendered Innovations in Science, Health & Medicine, Engineering, and Environment, accessed March 18, 2022.
3. Joan C. Williams and Marina Multhaup, “For Women and Minorities to Get Ahead, Managers Must Assign Work Fairly”, Harvard Business Review, March 5, 2018.
4. Laura Morgan Roberts and Anthony J. Mayo, “Toward a Racially Just Workplace,” Harvard Business Review, November 14, 2019.