Want To Advance Inclusion and Diversity? Don't Just Show the Data. Expose the Data.

By Ernest W. Marshall, Jr.
Nov 29, 2022 11:00 AM ET

Business leaders today know that diverse teams drive smarter, better decisions. How? An emerging body of research indicates that heterogeneous teams spark creativity and challenge our standard ways of thinking, which in turn, strengthens our performance.

According to a recent McKinsey report, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile—up from 21 percent in 2017 and 15 percent in 2014. What’s more, the greater the representation, the higher the likelihood of outperformance. Companies with more than 30 percent women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30.

"Ensuring you expose, understand and make decisions based on your data and the deeper story it tells will allow you to create the inclusive culture you desire while realizing the powerful benefits of a diverse workforce."

Ernest W. Marshall, Jr., Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer

Although we may know the potential benefits of building a diverse team, how do we ensure we are on the right path to attracting, developing and retaining one? How can we ensure we intentionally and equitably advance historically underrepresented people? Although the answer may be simple, it takes some finesse: to uncover the story, we must expose our data.

But first, a caution. There’s an art and a science to this. I want to warn you that data alone will never be enough. Though numbers are part of the science, insight from those numbers takes a kind of art—and you need the two together. Raw data alone never tells you everything you need to know. For that, you must peel back the layers.

In years past, a company’s leaders or board might have been presented with analytics, percentages and attrition rates of employees to make decisions. Yet, this reporting likely never painted a complete picture for them. The view was obstructed. Think about it; what if you only looked at the growth numbers of your women hires? If you never coupled those figures with those who were leaving, you might have thought your representation was good—because you never factored in those walking out the door. It gets much more complex than that, but you get the point.

To put this into context, at Eaton, we aim to increase the representation of our professional workforce of global women to 40% and U.S. minorities to 34% by 2030. (See Eaton’s 2020 Global Inclusion and Diversity Transparency Report). And to achieve it, we know we must fully understand the barriers and challenges that are getting in our way. So, we’ve made it a practice to look at who we hire and why some may be leaving. We examine things such as pay equity, learning and development opportunities and even the hiring patterns of our interns to make better decisions that strengthen our bench of talent.

Getting here didn’t happen overnight. It took some time and even more planning across the enterprise. As a new CHRO with Eaton just a few years back, I was fortunate to have the flexibility to build a team that had deep data engineering and statistics expertise. And over time, we have methodically moved our organization from pure reporting to delivering insightful data analysis allowing us to introduce intentional and focused solutions. We now have a far more profound understanding of where to direct our efforts to drive sustainable change.

I can also attest that we are now providing our board of directors with what they need to make evidence-based choices affecting our workforce. Better decisions, by the way, which are not just better because of what we are providing them—but because our board is diverse too. Today, more than half of Eaton’s board is comprised of women and U.S. minorities.

I have often said that if business leaders are not intentionally inclusive, they are unintentionally exclusive. If we are not purposeful in driving equity, access and fairness across our companies, we deny it to those who deserve it. Ensuring you expose, understand and make decisions based on your data and the deeper story it tells will allow you to create the inclusive culture you desire while realizing the powerful benefits of a diverse workforce.

By no means are we at the end of our journey. We are not even close. But we are closer to achieving our aspirational goal of becoming a model of inclusion and diversity in our industry than at any other point in Eaton’s history. And we’re better equipped to make the decisions we need to make to get there, with the data we need to help guide us on our way.