Devin FosterJanuary 18, 2021
Topics: Employee Experience

Walk the Walk: Driving Systemic Change with a DE&I Expert

Working in the field of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I), Kristina Kohl, MBA, PMP, Managing Principal at HRComputes, is all too familiar with organizations that take a check-the-box approach to complex DE&I issues.

Driving organizational systemic change in DE&I requires significant time and resources. Kohl joined us last week on Talent Experience Live to provide a better understanding of DE&I as a continuum that matures over time. Discover how HR leaders can make real changes in DE&I that support a culture of acceptance and drive better organizational outcomes in the recap below!

Can you provide more detail on the concept of DE&I as a continuum?

Although DE&I maturity is an individual process that's different for each organization, Kohl breaks it down into five general levels:

  • Compliance: A “baby step,” necessary as a basis of understanding what’s required by laws and regulations, as Kohl calls the initial level.
  • Awareness: As understanding grows, organizations start grasping the benefits of DE&I, what it means to stakeholders, and what a strategy should look like.
  • Talent Pipeline: The company starts examining how to integrate DE&I from a candidate perspective and leadership development perspective.
  • Operations Integration: How is DE&I reflected internally in team structure, meetings, goals, and supply chain?
  • Ecosystem Integration: The organization achieves a holistic approach, looking outward at what peer institutions are doing, considering public and private partnerships to drive substantial change.

What key areas should organizations focus on, and who are the key players?

For maximum effectiveness, DE&I must be a broad initiative. “It could be led by HR, but needs to involve everyone,” Kohl said.

Areas of focus and key players also will change depending on where an organization’s efforts fall on the continuum. Here’s how it might look in the talent integration phase:


  • Embed DE&I into talent strategy and pipeline.
  • Reset recruitment, development and promotion policies.


  • HR-driven program
  • Senior leadership


  • Embed compliance, awareness and integration into recruitment, development and advancement process.
  • Build relationship with more diverse institutions and groups (e.g., historically Black-attended colleges).
  • Revise talent strategies.


  • Power dynamics/inappropriate behaviors not tolerated
  • Employees feel safe reporting intolerable behavior.
  • Leadership team models desired behaviors
  • All employees are included in DE&I initiative.
  • More diverse talent pool

“The outcomes are what you can expect by driving these types of programs throughout the organization, and by making them important to the culture of your organization,” Kohl said.

What specific actions can HR leaders take to get the ball rolling on systemic change?

HR leaders should act as coaches and supporters, Kohl advises, and engage with other c-suite leaders to raise awareness of DE&I issues. And if your role doesn’t offer that capacity, find a c-suite team member who can act as an advocate, piloting DE&I programs to demonstrate their effectiveness and a path forward for the rest of the organization.

How can leaders support the educational and training needs of employees as DE&I progresses?

The most important thing leaders can do to educate employees is to act as role models, demonstrating commitment to DE&I in their everyday activities, which means broadening the approach when it comes to recruiting for senior level positions. DE&I-specific goals and objectives should become part of the senior leadership team’s performance appraisal, and they should be included in discussions on tools and technology to support DE&I education during c-suite and board meetings.

“Education and training is about role models, providing tools and training, and holding everyone accountable,” Kohl said.

How do you measure the impact of DE&I initiatives?

Regular measuring and sharing of data is crucial to changing the decision-making process, shifting from intuition-based to data-driven decisions.

Some of the most important metrics for DE&I initiatives include:


  • % identity group (IG) by organization level
  • Number of lawsuits, fines, grievances


  • IG turnover compared to average turnover
  • IG pay equity analysis


  • % of applicants from IG
  • Employee referrals of friends and family


  • % of chosen applicant from IG


  • IG% in the pipeline
  • IG% promoted

Development Opportunities

  • IG number of high-profile assignments
  • IG number of key clients
  • IG number access to leadership
  • IG number leadership training

Exit interviews

  • Reported experience


  • Employee survey results

Comparison of Employee Demographics with:

  • Customer demographics
  • Community demographics
  • Competitor demographics

“You have to understand what your goal is, and then select the metric that best measures that goal,” Kohl said. “Make sure the metric you’re using actually measures what you’re trying to achieve.”

How can organizations avoid “woke washing?"

Companies that make insincere claims of supporting social justice movements but don’t take real action to make changes have been characterized as “woke washers.” Even when organizations want to make meaningful change, missteps can result in the impression of woke-washing.

Understand where you are in your journey relative to the DE&I continuum, and make sure that external communication and messaging reflect the internal reality, Kohl advises. Make sure data metrics back up what you’re saying to candidates and other stakeholders: If you represent yourself as welcoming to candidates in a certain identity group but have high turnover among these employees, then you need to address this authentically.

Should DE&I goals be shared externally?

Organizations should share goals regarding DE&I as long as they’re acting internally to back them up. For example, the high-level message might be about creating a culture of belonging so that everyone can bring their full selves to work, every day, and be given the empowerment and respect needed to contribute in a meaningful way.

When it comes to sharing more granular metrics and data, it depends on factors such as what your peer group is doing, and the level of demand of shareholders and investors. Carefully consider which data to share, and how it would help or hurt the organization’s ultimate goal, Kohl recommends.

How can technology provide transparency and support DEI efforts?

Technology – when implemented as a tool in conjunction with carefully defined strategy and vision – can support DE&I in many ways.

Kohl’s firm uses technology from an assessment point of view, leveraging tools for pulse surveys, natural language reading, and informing opinions from employees and other stakeholders.

Talent experience platforms like Phenom’s provide distinct advantages for building DE&I, Kohl said, with capabilities that support:

  • Broadening the diversity of the candidate pool.
  • Showcasing a more inclusive work environment. Sharing authentic stories from diverse groups of employees gives candidates a higher level of comfort applying and engaging with your organization.
  • Bringing greater transparency to internal mobility. Too often, internal career opportunities or gig work positions aren’t broadly shared with the employee base, limiting the ability of all groups of employees to grow and develop.

When implementing technology to address unconscious bias, many often question whether it reduces or increases unconscious bias. This is a hot topic with a lot of implications, but to avoid introducing bias into AI-driven recruiting tools, diverse voices and data sets must be involved from the outset. It’s also important to remember that AI technology needs to be checked and tweaked regularly; it can’t run on its own without human verification and intervention.

What outcomes can an effective DE&I strategy produce?

HR leaders might consider taking a business driven approach to catch the attention of senior leadership, Kohl advises. Research equates more diverse companies with stronger financial performance, more innovation, and customer success, providing an entrée into markets that less diverse companies can’t access.

“Empowering people to fully contribute builds tremendous employee dedication; it also builds customer dedication,” Kohl said.

DE&I efforts build agility and resilience, positioning organizations with “diversity of thought” – a range of perspectives and experience that strengthens problem-solving.

What DE&I resources can HR leaders take advantage of?

Kohl compiled some resources for podcast viewers to help establish and expand DE&I initiatives that we’re reprinting right here:

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