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How to measure inclusion to accelerate your EI&D efforts

Published 9 February 2023 in CEO Circle • 12 min read

Society and business are changing. Josefine van Zanten and Alexander Fleischmann recommend five steps to update the quality and reliability of an organization’s inclusion measures, as well as tips to foster inclusive leadership behaviors.

The tectonic changes we witnessed in the early 2020s brought equity, inclusion, and diversity (EI&D) to the top of CEOs’ priority lists. By now the business case for EI&D is well-proven, in addition, social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter (BLM) have reached all corners of global societies.

First and foremost, organizations must know where they stand when it comes to EI&D and be able to track their progress on several fronts: the broad diversity of employees, the equitability of their systems and processes, and the quality of their inclusive environment for all employees.

To guide organizations in this endeavor, IMD ran the independent academic research project Inclusive Future*. Part of this research revisited how corporations, academics, and large consultancy firms define and measure inclusion today. The common approach companies currently take is to ask their employees about their individual perception of inclusion in a survey. Usually, 5-10 questions are combined to form an inclusion index. The broad array of operational definitions used, and the different levels addressed, coupled with often similar yet deferring questions, make a comparison of these inclusion indices, or even benchmarking between organizations, almost impossible.

So, the question is how organizations can measure inclusion in a reliable and future-proof manner. Hence, Inclusive Future explored how global social movements like #MeToo and BLM, together with other factors such as COVID-19, technological changes, and younger generations entering both the workforce and leadership positions, impacted how we look at inclusion and inclusive leadership. The research demonstrated how these recent changes have greatly impacted the components of inclusion.

To help organizations navigate this complex space, we condensed everything into usable actions that organizations can take to adjust their EI&D efforts and measure their progress in a reliable manner.

One of the key drivers to foster inclusion is inclusive leadership; the challenge for leaders is how to balance two seemingly contradictory needs to feel part of the whole (“belongingness”) while remaining true to their identities and themselves (“uniqueness”). Leaders who show inclusive leadership behaviors are not only able to create an inclusive environment, but they also act as visible role models and advocates.

Defining and measuring inclusion and inclusive leadership

To help organizations create a truly inclusive organizational culture, we developed a comprehensive and future-proof inclusion model (see Figure 1).

Components of Inclusion

Although we have known for some time that psychological safety is the core to inclusion, other components were added over time such as belonging as well as participation and fairness. Newer areas that percolated to the surface as a result of recent societal shifts include authenticity and uniqueness. Hence today’s core inclusion components include:

  • Belongingness, authenticity, and uniqueness as aspects that account for the personal level
  • Participation and fairness as organizational components pointing to equity
  • Psychological safety being at the center as it establishes an environment that allows individuals to speak up freely without fear of retribution
  • Diversity to ensure that individuals from all walks of life are included.

Each of the core components on the chart is backed up with scales described in academic literature to measure them in a reliable way. Yet, in corporate settings, measuring inclusion is restricted due to time and budget constraints. The key to measuring inclusion in organizations is to balance practicality, thoroughness, and reliability. While longer surveys offer in-depth insights, the risk of over-surveying means employees might rush through the answers to fulfill what is – to many – just another task.

Moreover, key to measuring inclusion is to analyze how specific intersectional groups feel included. This brings along the challenge that apart from gender and nationality, assessing a broader diverse composition of the workforce is nearly impossible for global corporations. Leading companies have started to address this issue and established ways for employees to self-identify along other diversity dimensions, such as disability and sexual orientation, in a safe and secure way.

Changing global societies

Current global shifts urge organizations to move up a gear in their EI&D efforts. Global social movements like #MeToo popularized concepts like patriarchy and toxic masculinity to point towards systemic inequalities, pervasive in societies around the globe. A toxic and patriarchal male culture from which both women and men suffer has been normalized for a long time. Behavior that has long been unwelcomed but often seen as normal – for example, men interrupting women 30-40% more than they interrupt men – becomes more and more denormalized. Organizations need to address toxic masculinity and patriarchy – both sensitive but crucial topics – to get to the root causes of gender inequities.

Black Lives Matter is another global social movement that has had a large impact on inclusion. It raised awareness of systemic racism and highlighted the complex topic of white privilege. Many companies supported BLM vocally, yet questions were raised about the visibility and lives of underprivileged groups working in manual roles within their organizations. Both #MeToo and BLM sparked not only waves of advocacy and allyship – avidly picked up by Gen Zs – but also resistance. Organizations in the 2020s must proactively navigate this space to represent their clients, partners, and stakeholders, as well as keep close contact with all their employees and changing expectations around inclusion.

In addition to these global social movements, COVID-19 was a profound force that disrupted our lives at the workplace and beyond. The pandemic made already existing socioeconomic inequalities glaringly apparent. The list starts with the unequal distribution of child and elder care work among women and men which made working from home more stressful for female employees, to more women resigning, and to black people, younger employees, and manual and zero hours workers being dismissed in disproportional numbers. These groups were hit hardest in the labor market – and, in the case of women, were set back several decades.

While COVID-19 disrupted the work lives of nearly all white-collar workers globally, it set in motion a gigantic investment in remote work as the new norm. While remote work technologies mean that corporations can include employees from around the world, the hybrid workplace is not a guarantee for inclusion.

Active enactment of inclusive leadership is needed to make all work settings inclusive and reap the full extent of their opportunities

These tremendous shifts are accelerated by the ever-faster pace of technological transformation and by newer generations in the workplace. Millennials – those born between 1981 and 1996 – are currently stepping into management positions. These employees are driven by purpose and meaning and aim to make a difference in the world as well as within their organizations. Contrary to baby boomers, work-life balance is high on their list of priorities. They demand frequent feedback, have a high need for social connection, and are outspoken supporters of the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements. They push hard for climate change action and see EI&D as far more relevant than previous generations.

Impact of changing socioeconomic framework on inclusion and inclusive leadership

For organizations, these macro trends call for an increased focus on inclusion – not least because organizations are increasingly fact-checked and held accountable for their EI&D performance. This means that inclusive leadership at the organizational level is needed. Organizations need to take a stand – also in potentially heated debates – and back this up with broad and sustainable systems and processes to help organizations become visible allies.

Five steps to update inclusion measures

We recommend five steps to update the quality and reliability of inclusion measures to give them more meaning and provide a more accurate pulse in tune with employees’ perceptions of inclusion.

1. Update your existing inclusion index, or start an inclusion index that covers questions related to all components of inclusion

Organizations that already actively measure inclusion might start by asking themselves if they have updated their questions to reflect all the components of inclusion. Including those who have been added in the last two years.

2. Consider adding an Inclusion Net Promoter Score (iNPS) and Inclusion Nudges

Both tools are simple and easy to implement. The iNPS, a new tool developed as part of the Inclusive Future project, asks employees if they would recommend the organization to members of underrepresented groups. This score can give you a pulse on what employees think of your organization while nudges can spur employees to adjust their behavior and foster more inclusion.

3. Analyze your inclusion index and iNPS results to hear all voices, especially underrepresented ones, including intersections of employee groups

Ensure that results are analyzed by using several sub-groups to raise the voices of underrepresented groups, including those belonging to different underrepresented groups (e.g., people of color and LGBTQ+; or gender and management level and region) so that their input is not drowned in the majority group’s input. More often than not, the experience of inclusion is different based on different diversity aspects coupled with seniority, business, location and more.

4. Consider running an in-depth dedicated survey focused exclusively on inclusion

Several organizations have decided to spend time and effort to address inclusion in more depth and breadth than the inclusion index allows. These surveys are usually based on questions tested for their reliability and meaningfulness and are rolled out every two or three years.

5. Add qualitative insights to the quantitative inclusion measures and give both visibility

Qualitative insights offer a sense of what is happening right now and may raise topics unaddressed in yearly static surveys. Consider building in quarterly lunch-and-learns, blogs, digital boards, leader-led speaking sessions, or any other live engagement session and bring in burning inclusion topics to discuss and sense the pulse. This is a good opportunity to lead difficult conversations such as white privilege and patriarchy and understand what opportunities surface to address these.

In addition to the above steps, it is highly recommended that leadership development and talent frameworks list inclusive leadership as a core leadership and talent requirement and that leaders are held accountable to deliver.

Regular 360s including questions related to inclusive leadership will provide insights for further action and improvement. It is through the role modeling of leaders at all levels of the organization that culture changes, one conversation, one day at a time. 

Here are some behavioral nudges that can lead to more inclusive leadership:

Only when diversity is present can we can talk about real inclusion. Without the presence of diversity, organizations face groups of like-minded people from similar backgrounds who happily agree they feel included. When there is visible diversity in an organization, it becomes important to foster inclusive behaviors through daily interactions, which will lead to inclusion. 

Organizations can act on power imbalances by reviewing their talent pipeline, fast-tracking members of underrepresented groups, and reviewing their external hiring policies. While many organizations are already working on these steps, few have mastered the fine nuances and behavioral influences that impact the result. Most require a thorough review of these steps to identify key decisive moments to improve the selection and promotion of all talents. Inclusive leadership, that is for leaders to act as visible allies and vocal advocates, plays a pivotal role in progressing towards further equity in organizations. For example, leaders visibly speak about talents from different backgrounds in formal and in informal settings, openly sponsor their work, regularly highlight their achievements, and vocally and convincingly recommend them for the next promotion.

The socioeconomic and political turbulences of the early 2020s raise many pressing questions and development opportunities for organizations and leaders. They point to a refreshed focus on leadership strategies and talent competency frameworks to include explicit inclusive behaviors and inclusive leadership. More specifically, it highlights the importance of different styles in daily interactions and behaviors to reflect the ability to foster inclusion in broad ways, and encompassing newer inclusion components, for all talents to progress.

Leaders from all backgrounds can firmly yet constructively counter multiple interruptions that many women face in meetings. For example, open statements such as “Tereza wasn’t quite finished with her idea, let’s give her an opportunity to share it in full”, or “I know you want to contribute John, and I think we ought to give Jing the opportunity to finish her comments first” are easy to adopt and implement. By displaying these simple behaviors regularly, the habit of interrupting people from under-represented groups will fade as leaders ensure new behaviors are adopted through consistent role modelling. In addition, men can be encouraged to become active allies and advocates in debating patriarchy and toxic masculinity by toning down macho talk and behaviors.

Power dynamics are at play at work and in society. People of color remain less visible in Europe as well as in North America. Black and Asian women especially are too often not heard nor seen, yet key social movements were started by them (BLM and MeToo). Intersectionality is key. People from underrepresented groups may be the source of groundbreaking ideas that are dismissed or get ridiculed. It is helpful to understand their ambitions – and their daily realities, which are often filled with hurdles and discrimination their leaders may not be aware of. Inclusive leaders ought to be open to learn with humility, reflect on their (white) privilege, and use their position to support and sponsor them. Becoming a member of an employee resource group is a good first step, providing the leaders steps in with the open mindset to listen and learn.


Leaders are well-advised to add socioeconomic diversity to their teams. This offers a more realistic representation of the world in which the organization operates. It requires sourcing from a larger university pool, accepting different clothing, language, and writing styles. It also discourages code switching or adjusting one’s style of speech, and supports uniqueness instead, while bridging similar values and beliefs. Hence, the scope of inclusion should be broadened beyond a focus on talent and high potential to ensure all voices are heard in an organization.

While hybrid work means that organizations can reap the benefits of including employees from around the world, the hybrid workplace is not a guarantee for inclusion. Proactive enactment of inclusive leadership is needed to make all work settings inclusive and to reap the full extent of their opportunities.
During hybrid meetings, leaders need to ensure accessibility for those online, oversee how airtime is shared, manage side conversations in the room, and ensure those online are included in the conversation. It is wise to co-create a clear hybrid meeting protocol with the team, and ensure it is implemented and sustained successfully over time through on-going enhancements.

Leaders are wise to tap into the energy of Gen Zs and Millennials to help drive sustainability topics in their organization, including EI&D. Encouraging and rewarding Employee Resource Group participation, giving them space and a platform to share their views and mindsets on a regular basis, as well as giving them a voice to contribute to creating inclusion at all levels of the organization, may unleash a tsunami of engagement and enhanced loyalty. Often, fostering inclusion is decided in the nuanced behaviors, the informal conversations and coaching, where reverse coaching and mentoring may equally prove to be insightful for inclusive leaders and all talents.

Inclusive Future was an independent academic research project conducted with full editorial control by IMD and funded by Philip Morris International.

For more insights, access to further recommendations, insights and recommended questions, as well as references, please read the entire research at:

A longer version of this article also appeared in Readings and Cases in International Human Resource Management 7th edition, edited by Sebastian B Reiche, Günter K Stahl, Mark E Mendenhall, and Gary R Oddou.


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