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  • Andrew Gordon-Kirsch

Measuring Inclusion

This is the third post in a series on diversity and inclusion (D&I). Previously, I wrote about the importance of inclusion in D&I efforts and 5 principles for designing more inclusive organizations. Here, I focus on how to measure progress and review a few different approaches to collecting and analyzing data on organizational culture.

Much like in any change effort, organization development practitioners want to be able to periodically measure inclusion in order to demonstrate progress over time. Measuring inclusion, however, is a challenging task because it has to do with organizational culture, an elusive concept that’s hard to put a finger on.

How does one determine what to measure when assessing inclusive culture? A tension exists between measuring (a) perceptions and feelings related to inclusion (e.g. a survey item that reads “The manager is open to hearing new ideas.”) and (b) observable data points on diversity that serve as proxies for inclusion (e.g. retention rates aggregated by demographic information, or demographics of the C-suite). The solution probably lies in a combination of both tailored to the specific organization.

In this post, I’m going to focus on survey items measuring perceptions and feelings related to inclusion. Even still, the question of scope exists. Should one measure at the individual, interpersonal (1-on-1 interactions), or institutional (organization-wide) level? By comparing three empirical studies and their survey items side-by-side, I found that they measure both cultural norms at the institutional level (i.e., “How inclusive is my organization?”) and leadership behaviors at the interpersonal level (i.e., “How inclusive is my leader?”).[1] An additional, statistically validated instrument developed by diversity consultants Alan Richter and Armida Mendez Russell measures inclusion at the individual level through a self-assessment (i.e., “How inclusive am I?”).[2]

How inclusive is my organization?

In order to measure institutional cultural norms (organization-wide norms), practitioners can ask employees how much they agree with statements referring to inclusion in their day-to-day work and the organization overall. Researchers employ a number of strategies to address these concepts, including assessing personal feelings, organizational policies, and perceptions of top leadership. Overall, I identified four themes for measuring inclusive cultural norms: (1) safety and trust among colleagues, (2) acknowledging and appreciating differences among employees, (3) perceptions and accountability of top leadership’s commitment to and competency with diversity, and (4) the presence of organizational structures and policies that promote diversity and inclusion. See below for a comparison of survey items:

How inclusive is my leader?

In order to measure interpersonal leadership behaviors, practitioners can ask employees to indicate how often they experience their leaders behaving in inclusive ways. Inclusive behaviors span dimensions ranging from being open to hearing new ideas, making oneself accessible to direct reports, providing inspirational motivation, giving individualized consideration, and empowering employees to influence decision making. I found four themes for measuring inclusive leadership behavior: (1) fosters collaboration among team members and coworkers, (2) encourages candidness, transparency, and frank discussion between individuals, (3) demonstrates flexibility with processes and new ways to do work, and (4) values and develops others to reach their full potential. See below for a comparison of survey items:

How inclusive am I?

Sometimes it can be helpful to ask people to take a self-assessment. These surveys provide a jumping off point for further conversations about diversity and inclusion. This tactic can be especially effective if the organization falls somewhere in the middle of the inclusion-exclusion spectrum I talk about in my previous post. In such places, self-assessments can help individuals move from a stage of awareness to one of desire for change. One such tool is the Global Diversity Survey, an instrument aimed at helping employees develop competence in diversity management and building inclusive cultures. The survey includes 45 items broken down into three constructs: insight (head), inclusion (heart), and adaptation (hands). Self-assessments are relatively easy to implement because they’re self-administered, and effective tools are typically accompanied by an automatically generated report intended to guide participants through individualized, action-oriented learning tailored to their responses.

This comparison exercise is useful insofar as it helps the practitioner identify indicators for measuring inclusion. The normative (organization-wide) and behavioral (interpersonal level) themes identified can be used as guides for conceptualizing and envisioning the qualities of inclusion that leaders wish to cultivate. The reviewed self-assessment may serve as a lever for individual learning and development. Keep in mind, however, that regardless of what survey(s) you choose to employ, this should be done in the context of a broader, holistic strategy for inclusive culture change — this is but one tactic in the organization development toolkit.

If you’ve made it this far, you’ve followed what I hope was a coherent train of thought starting with the importance of inclusion in D&I efforts, continuing with 5 principles for designing more inclusive organizations, and finishing with this post on measuring progress. When I started writing this series, I hoped it would serve as a resource for “people people” — those who often find themselves in HR, People and Culture Operations, organization development, and organizational leadership — whether they’re consultants like myself or work internally within organizations.

How might you apply any of these concepts in the organizations you live and work in?


  1. See Ashikali, T., & Groeneveld, S. (2013). Diversity Management in Public Organizations and its Effect on Employees’ Affective Commitment: The Role of Transformational Leadership and the Inclusiveness of the Organizational Culture; Carmeli, A., Reiter-Palmon, R., & Ziv, E. (2010). Inclusive Leadership and Employee Involvement in Creative Tasks in the Workplace: The Mediating Role of Psychological Safety. Creativity Research Journal, 22(3), 250–260; Sabharwal, M. (2014). Is Diversity Management Sufficient? Organizational Inclusion to Further Performance. Public Personnel Management, 43(2), 197–217.

  2. Richter, A., & Russell, A. M. (2016). Global Diversity Survey. Global Diversity Services, LLC.

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