Effective Strategies for Equity and Inclusion
Kelly Witwicki
Co-Founder & Executive Director
November 21, 2018

The contents of this post are intended to convey research findings only and are not to be regarded as legal advice. Many thanks to Diana Fleischman and Aryenish Birdie for reviewing and providing feedback. Edited by Jacy Reese.

Background

Defining “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI)

The “business case” for DEI

Priorities in the animal advocacy movement

Recommendations

Organizational inclusion

Attracting and hiring talent

Developing and retaining talent

Community inclusion

Reducing prejudice

Further thoughts on progress in the animal advocacy movement

Rectifying failures through restoration

Developments this year

Background

Defining “diversity, equity and inclusion” (DEI)

This post summarizes recommendations of strategies to improve equity and inclusion from academic research, government research, and research done in collaboration between consulting firms and companies. I have generally excluded recommendations based on individual lab studies or heavily qualified their conclusions. Most of the findings are either applicable across axes of inequity, were generalized from research on specific axes, or pertain specifically to gender or race (the best-studied axes). The available research is thinner and more reliant on correlational data than one might expect given that the diversity training industry alone is worth $8 billion and more than half the Fortune 500s have diversity programs or officers, but there is sufficient evidence to provide useful guidance to organizations and communities seeking to be equitable and inclusive.

The general takeaway from this research is that organizations will be more effective in efforts to achieve equity if they focus more on implementing inclusionary practices that limit the influence of attitudinal prejudice on behavior than on efforts to directly reduce attitudinal prejudice.

While diversity is well-defined — and in this post, I’ll mostly discuss demographic diversity — there is no consensus in academia or business on precise definitions of equity or inclusion, so I will attempt to lay out definitions that I find both useful and common. “Inclusion” generally has two meanings. It describes the feeling of being included, i.e. being welcomed and treated equitably. Note that this is somewhat distinct from the fact of the matter as to whether a person is being treated equitably, as there can be ambiguity. Inclusion or “inclusionary practice” also describes practices that help us to be equitable, such as heuristics of transparency in decisions where there may be ambiguity about their equitableness, or having an accountability system in place so that any decisions that are made inequitably can be rectified.

Inclusion’s goal of equity is distinct from a goal of equality. Equity is about equality of opportunity, which is not always synonymous with equality of treatment or outcome. Some people have more barriers in the way of their success than others, some of which others have set in place and some of which we ourselves do, and equity is about removing those barriers to even the playing field. Equity is instrumentally important in the same way that being fair and unbiased (which are essentially synonymous with equity) are important: Equity empowers individuals to reach their full potential, and enables teams to benefit from full talent pools. Nondiscrimination, a significant part of ensuring equity, is also a right held by all humans under the United Nations’ International Bill of Human Rights to facilitate human welfare and cooperation.

My own view is that equity and inclusion are important, and generally result in diversity, but that diversity is mostly only important as one of several indicators of equity and inclusion (i.e. if all else were equal, including if the cultural context was one of total equity, I’d be ambivalent between two job candidates who were identical except on a demographic axis[1]). In practice, the evidence herein also suggests that diversity’s instrumental importance is, while generally positive, generally only slightly so, with high variation depending on a group’s goals and the kind of diversity under consideration.

Efforts that merely aim to increase diversity, focusing for instance on the final demographics of a team to the exclusion of other metrics of equity and inclusion, may be counterproductive to the project of equity and inclusion because they may involve shortcuts, tokenizing people from underrepresented groups and counterproductively creating conditions that ultimately fail to recruit and retain excellent employees from underrepresented groups because they won’t help them feel respected, engaged, valued, and like they belong.[2] It is these equitable and inclusive conditions that I think we should strive for.

The “business case” for DEI

There is ample evidence of the prevalence of workplace bias, which I won’t belabor in this post,[3] but I would like to take a moment to discuss the “business case” for diversity and to elaborate on my view that equity and inclusion are the more important goals of the DEI trio.

The evidence of correlations between diversity and performance is substantial: An analysis by McKinsey found that “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians”; that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians”; that companies in the bottom quartile both for gender and for ethnicity and race lag in financial performance; that every 10% greater proportion of non-whites on senior-executive teams is associated with 0.8% greater earnings before interest and taxes; and that every 10% greater proportion of women on senior-executive teams is related to 3.5% greater earnings before interest and taxes in the UK.[4] Several recent meta-analyses have shown that gender diversity on a board is slightly correlated with company performance and corporate social responsibility, and that there are small but consistent positive relationships between women in CEO positions or top management teams and long-term company performance on fiscal metrics.[5] Research by human resources consultancy DDI found that companies in the top 20% of financial performance had 37% women leadership, while those in the bottom 20% had only 19%. The Peterson Institute for International Economics found that relative to having no women on the board and in the C-suite, “a 30% female share is associated with a one-percentage-point increase in net margin — which translates to a 15% increase in profitability for a typical firm,” and that while CEO gender was unrelated to performance in their analysis, having more women in the C-suite is. In partnership with Fortune, Great Place to Work also found that the 50 companies ranked best for diversity had 24% higher year-over-year revenue growth than other companies.

Importantly, these are just correlations, and may be explained by diversity improving a company’s performance, but may alternatively be explained by a third variable that makes companies both high-performing and diverse, such as an equitable culture that successfully recruits top talent regardless of demographics; an inclusive culture that fosters belonging for all employees; or the lower number of people from marginalized social groups who currently make it into leadership positions being more impactful than their counterparts from non-marginalized groups because they were subjected to higher standards of competence to access the same positions. In other words, while we can say that diversity — particularly the better-studied cases of gender and racial or ethnic diversity — is correlated to company performance, it’s not clear whether merely increasing diversity — in terms of the demographics of a team — will cause increased performance. Publication bias may also limit this evidence if we expect reports showing negative correlations between diversity and performance to be harder to publish.

There is some evidence that gender diversity does predict revenue independent of employee engagement, and evidence that hiring more women improves the performance of venture capital firms. However, other studies of bio-demographic diversity (as opposed to task-related diversity) show no detectable overall effect on team performance, and mixed effects on innovation (with gains in idea creation apparently getting lost in idea selection and implementation). It’s possible, though, that sufficiently inclusive teams could reap the studied benefits of diversity while mitigating the challenges. And since it seems likely that people from marginalized groups face more day-to-day obstacles, time costs, and stress than those of more privileged groups at the same apparent performance levels, which presumably prevents them from performing as well as they would in a fully equitable world, it’s also possible that the benefits of diversity will increase as communities become more equitable. But these arguments are fairly speculative.

A stronger case for valuing diversity as more than a mere metric of equity is that, relative to corporations, in a social movement, visible demographic diversity may be more important as public relations, figureheads, and interpersonal outreach are all presumably more important to selling an ideology than they are to selling a product, and people might be more readily persuaded and recruited by people they identify with (though they might not be).[6] And of course, the farmed animal movement is a global movement that we want to see scale dramatically, and the US isn’t going to have any single race as the majority within just a few decades, so our movement-building efforts could be negligently limited if we failed to recruit allies from different demographic backgrounds and missed out on massive numbers of potential supporters.

Given all of that, and the reasons stated at the beginning of this post to value equity and inclusion, I think the animal advocacy movement should focus on equity and inclusion much more than diversity (which should still be used as one of several metrics of equity and inclusion, and should also be valued somewhat on its own in the interest of public representation).

Priorities in the animal advocacy movement

Within the animal advocacy movement, to name a few examples of inequity which affect large numbers of advocates and are fairly easy to discern, there is significant room to include and empower people of color; to empower women in leadership; and to ensure the recent swell of interest in and action on sexual harassment results in sustained change. Given the prejudices in society at large, the movement presumably has room to improve on other axes of exclusion too, such as ageism, ableism, and cissexism. My hope is that the recommendations in this document will enable us to improve on all axes of exclusion.

Racial inequity seems worse than gender inequity in the ranks of the movement, as indicated by the large majority of advocates being women while a mere ~10% of staff at farmed animal organizations surveyed by Encompass are people of color. The percentage of people of color in the general population is roughly four times that; rates of vegetarianism are consistent across racial groups; and people of color may even be slightly more opposed to animal farming than white people. So we seem to have significant room to improve racial equity and inclusion.

Rates of people of color and women in leadership appear to have similar rate reductions of around a third, relative to the ranks [7] (while I estimate men have around double the representation in leadership that they do in the ranks), suggesting that leadership has a ceiling of similarly low permeability for both groups.

This potentially higher priority for racial equity may be a mostly immaterial consideration in practice as most of the strategies recommended in this report should reduce inequity generally because they empower people from a multitude of marginalized groups, and there are generally few situations where we have to make tradeoffs between gender and racial equity efforts. When we do, for instance in deciding who to mentor, we can probably usually hit both of these targets at once by prioritizing women of color.

Keep in mind that inequitable behavior within the movement is only part of the explanation for inequities in the movement — though potentially a substantial part — as various external factors may divert people from marginalized groups in earlier parts of the pipeline to the movement.

Recommendations

Organizational inclusion

Organizations should keep an eye on their whole pipeline: attracting, hiring, developing, and retaining talent. Beyond implementing the strategies recommended below, in order to identify team-specific gaps and refine inclusionary efforts large organizations can collect data on the relationships between demographics and, for instance, hiring stages, promotion rates, tenure/turnover, compensation,[8] performance scores, utilization of the professional resources offered by the organization, employee engagement, belonging, and perceptions of the culture. Leadership should commit to addressing any gaps and have some form of accountability in place (e.g. a DEI officer or committee) to ensure they make those efforts. Smaller teams can still try to assess and act on these metrics of equity and feelings of inclusion even though their sample sizes are smaller, conversations may be more suitable than surveys, and they generally have less to gain from such organizational infrastructure work.

Attracting and hiring talent

Research suggests that organizations should:

Research has unclear findings regarding:

Other strategies which I have not seen research on, but which follow the general principle of increasing standardization and otherwise limiting selection effects and the influence of biases, include:

Developing and retaining talent

Research suggests that organizations and managers should:

Community inclusion

Research suggests that communities should:

Other strategies which I have seen little relevant research on, but which are based more on my experience and that of colleagues and which follow the general principle of making people feel they belong, include:

Reducing prejudice

I put this section last because reducing prejudice and bias directly seems more difficult than limiting their influence on our behavior. Bias reduction is also harder to measure, at least in terms of its impact on behavior. Still, there are a few weak findings for the most effective ways to reduce prejudice.

The authors of a 2009 meta-analysis concluded that the following strategies were effective, primarily in reducing implicit prejudices,[16] but also in reducing prejudicial behavior:

They also concluded that the following strategies are understudied, ineffective, or have negative effects:

Other research has resulted in the following recommendations:

The research regarding informing people of their bias or asking people to not be biased is mixed, meaning we should prioritize other strategies, and possibly avoid this entirely at the risk of counterproductive effects.

Further thoughts on progress in the animal advocacy movement

Rectifying failures through restoration

I’d like to express my pride in the restorative actions that some community members have taken in the face of mistreatment by other community members. It’s important that we create a community that is sustainable and healthy, and it seems to me that we will better achieve that through restorative justice than retributive justice.

“No tolerance” is an important policy for preventing and responding to misconduct, in the sense that every issue will be addressed. But no tolerance doesn’t require a “heavy handed” approach — to the contrary, I think it’s critical for the heaviness of our responses to be commensurate with the severity of an action and to escalate progressively with failures to participate in restorative processes. Small transgressions, for instance, should be “called in”[17] so the person who made the apparent mistake has the opportunity to defend themselves if necessary, or to rectify their mistake and improve. If someone has committed a transgression, we want them to seek understanding, and if they do come to understand, apologize, and demonstrate a credible intention to improve, they should be given the chance to carry forward as a better community member, if possible depending on the severity of their action. To create a culture in which they are incentivized to cooperate like that, any negative consequences resulting from their admission of guilt and cooperation in restoration have to be much less severe and much less likely than the consequences of refusing to cooperate. Otherwise people will have incentive to instead aggressively defend themselves against accusations, which is a lost opportunity for both the healing of the person who was wronged and the betterment of the person in the wrong, and which may result in the disempowerment of everyone involved in ensuing drama.

Of course, restorative justice requires the participation of the accused, and in some cases, when private restoration has been attempted but is failing, it may be necessary to escalate to punishment, “calling out,” or a period of exclusion.

But restorative justice often succeeds, in my own experience and that of others, and it’s what we all want for ourselves when we make mistakes. Because of my own efforts in restorative justice, several people who may have lasting influence in my communities are now more capable allies than they would have been if I had behaved retributively in response to their poor behavior towards me. Instead, they made efforts to understand, make amends, and improve. Private efforts in restoration can take great patience and compassion on the part of the wronged, and that may feel unfair, but the only way we change people is by giving them the opportunity to grow away from the harmful misunderstandings and behaviors that a prejudiced society has taught them, just as we give that opportunity to everyone who used to eat animals or engage in other speciesist and harmful behavior towards nonhumans but pulled their way out of that enculturation — including almost every one of us as farmed animal advocates.

Restoration takes a lot more fortitude and effort in the short run than retribution, but when both the accuser and accused participate it seems to ultimately result in a lot less fighting, stress, time, and harm on all sides, and helps us build a strong and healthy community where people are encouraged to come together and grow rather than a weak and unstable one where we divide and stagnate. So I hope we have the fortitude to work hard for restoration and positive-sum outcomes, even when we’re wounded and rightly frustrated. And I hope we have the courage to accept when our efforts are failing and there will not be a cooperative, healthy resolution, and the resolve to push forward to the least bad outcomes when we fail to reach good ones.

Developments this year

This year, the animal advocacy movement took up the #metoo movement and made notable progress on sexual harassment. Leaders and influencers have been making more public statements of their commitments to DEI. Organizations are seeking guidance from Encompass and other DEI advisors and are developing thorough policies on sexual harassment and nondiscrimination. Women and non-binary advocates in the US organized a productive seminar that took place before the Animal Rights National Conference (ARNC) and are preparing ongoing activities through a Gender Equity in Animal Rights group. DEI was the talk of the town in presentations and conversations at the ARNC this summer, and the conference speaker roster was more demographically representative than in previous years. And one of our largest organizations, Mercy for Animals, is now being led by Leah Garces, who has a track record of caring about and acting on inclusion. And that list is not exhaustive!

I’ve been excited, grateful, and proud to see so much enthusiasm in the animal advocacy community for equity and inclusion, and I’m optimistic about the progress we’ll make, especially with the empowerment of these research findings.


[1] I acknowledge that this is legally what we have to do now anyways, despite the cultural context not being one of total equity.

[2] This is especially true if we seek to include only a token minority of people from underrepresented groups, as there is some evidence that a “critical mass” of team members from socially marginalized groups, including in management positions (maybe 20% in management, at least for women) is necessary to improve team performance relative to a homogenous group, whereas it’s possible that a proportion between zero and that critical mass may harm performance. If this is the case, maybe it owes to “stereotype threat,” anxiety, underconfidence, or a lack of a feeling of belonging for the team members in the small minority, or to the majority’s dismissal of the minority of marginalized team members as tokens. This may only be an effect when a small minority of a team is from a socially marginalized group, whereas groups comprised mostly of people from socially marginalized groups with a minority of people from a socially dominant group (such as a group of mostly women with a small number of men) may fare as well as balanced groups. For instance, men do not seem to demonstrate the increased vigilance, decreased belonging, and decreased desire to participate that women do when their gender is underrepresented in a group, suggesting that there may be no such negative effect of “overshooting” if we end up over-representing people from marginalized groups.

[3] If evidence of inequity in career pipelines has slid past you, here are just a few research findings to start you off. Beyond directly discriminatory decision-making by authorities, people are also alienated from teams and communities when they are mistreated, for instance if they are bullied or sexually harassed, and all of the minor and ambiguous discriminatory interactions people experience can aggregate and amount to significant burdens of stress and feelings of devaluation and exclusion, on top of which cultural stereotypes and the norms and expectations that are cyclically shaped by and shape people push us towards narrow ranges of opportunities and roles that may not be where we would otherwise want to be or can make the most impact.

[4] They also found that racial and ethnic diversity currently have a stronger relationship to financial performance in the US than gender diversity, and that no company is currently in the top quartile on both gender and racial/ethnic diversity.

[5] Studied boards have low percentages of women, so how this extends to or changes with boards closer to or exceeding half women directors is unknown, and there are arguments for why a balanced board could show higher or lower performance. To the extent that prejudice and prejudicially created norms are disempowering women at that stage — e.g. if those who make it through the “glass ceiling” are being dismissed as tokens, aren’t made to feel they belong, and/or only gain entrance to the board in the first place if they meet a higher bar than the men who do — then increasing their numbers will mean less competent men are replaced with more competent women, increasing the board’s performance, perhaps until equilibrium is met around parity. But if pipeline problems create a relatively smaller pool of comparably qualified women than men, then increasing women’s numbers beyond that pool size will result in the reverse.

[6] Note that in the case of anti-smoking PSAs, while demographic similarity (in terms of age, gender, and race) with a smoker character was positively associated with engagement and the perceived effectiveness of a PSA, demographic similarity with a separate non-smoker persuader character was not. This suggests that the persuasive effect of demographic similarity is limited by the extent of deeper context-relevant similarities.

[7] For further clarity, based on the Encompass survey mentioned above, a glance at the National Animal Rights Conference speaker roster, and my memories of many events and knowledge of various groups’ leadership, my estimates are, very roughly, as follows: The ratio of people of color in society compared to the ranks of the movement is 4:1; the ratio of women in society compared to the ranks of the movement is 2:3; the ratio of people of color in the ranks of the movement compared to movement leadership is 3:2; and the ratio of women in the ranks of the movement compared to movement leadership is 3:2. Other groups and intersections are harder to estimate on a glance like this on account of smaller population sizes. For women, the movement's figure of roughly ~75% in the ranks and ~50% in leadership tracks with the general trend in the nonprofit workforce.

[8] Google seems to have done a great job evaluating their pay gaps and immediately addressing them.

[9] Merely hiring the most intelligent individuals may be an ineffective route to developing the most effective team anyways.

[10] The studies it analyzed typically relied on supervisory ratings, which correlate weakly with more objective measures of performance such as output. The study’s methodology also found work sample tests to be poor predictors of job performance, which is suspect as in theory they should very directly measure task performance, and one could choose to measure on-the-job performance by a very similar metric (e.g. a work sample test could be to write an article, and an objective task performance metric on the job could be an evaluation of an article written on the job) just as readily as they might use supervisory ratings. That low ranking of work sample tests and the study’s reliance on supervisory ratings may merely show that supervisors are poor judges of task performance or fail to consider it heavily in their evaluations. The analysis also only looked at general mental ability and combinations of other tests with it, leaving out comparisons between other predictors. Richardson and Norgate have further criticisms of the study’s methodology that limit the weight of its conclusions.

[11] See page 24 of this study. This is very limited evidence and I’m surprised I didn’t find other information about demographic rates within individual hiring pipelines, but this does offer some reason to proactively advance people from marginalized groups at early evaluation stages when it feels like they fall just shy of the bar — because that may just be bias talking.

[12] When engagement is low, employees of a different race than their managers are less likely to want to stay at the company than employees of the same race, but when engagement is high, intention to stay is much higher in both groups, and even higher for the racially diverse dyads than the racially homogenous ones. This both indicates the particular importance of engagement for people from underrepresented groups, and suggests that diversity is an amplifier of engagement (making low engagement lower and high engagement higher).

[13] These five questions correlated best with employee engagement, according to findings based on the use of a Diversity and Inclusion Survey created by Culture Amp, an employee feedback platform, with Paradigm, a DEI consulting firm. Culture Amp has additional question recommendations.

[14] After controlling for compensable factors, organizations may still see discrepancies that may be attributable to gender bias or gender-bias-related challenges such as the double-edged sword women walk when negotiating compared to men. Controlled gender pay gaps within the US are much smaller than the US national pay gap of 78%, which is half explained by gender differences in occupation and largely further explained by other compensable factors such as hours worked, though several percentage points are still unaccounted for by various controlled estimates such as those made by PayScale (0.5-4% depending on the industry, with 1.9% in nonprofits). The national figure indicates inequity in society generally, in industries, and in organizations, but the inequity it points to is largely one of opportunity, caused by direct discrimination throughout pipelines and by the related influences of inequitable social norms and expectations, while it’s only minorly accounted for by direct gender discrimination or otherwise unfair gender-related factors in compensation decisions. Because there still is some unexplained difference in pay for equal work across industries, though, organizations have a responsibility to ensure their compensation is fair. Women also take on more voluntary community work than men, so it’s possible that a controlling variable of “hours worked” fails to capture a significant number of unpaid hours which are still contributed to a company or organization, which would make these apparently-controlled figures inappropriately low estimates of true controlled gaps. This seems particularly relevant in the nonprofit sphere which relies so heavily on voluntary labor. In activist spaces, that voluntary labor may also be significantly comprised of emotional labor for the community and as such may come with a higher stress burden than paid hours.

[15] This may be because they activate stereotypes, make prejudiced behavior appear normal, or make the viewer feel ”woke” for seeing the training or believe that their organization is for showing it, which could enable the viewer to adopt a moral license or relax their care with their behavior.

[16] Implicit prejudice is poorly studied, and popular measurements such as Implicit Awareness Tests (IATs) are poor predictors of behavior. A 2013 review of IATs found “little direct evidence” regarding whether changing implicit prejudice changes discriminatory behavior, that no studies on the correlation between implicit prejudice and discriminatory behavior “reported that implicit prejudice mediated the effect of the manipulation on the behavior,” and that the only study that reported an analysis found no mediation, in addition to which the researchers “found no published paper (successful or not) that tested whether a change in implicit prejudice predicted a later change in behavior.” IATs have low test-retest reliability among other issues, and its founders acknowledged in 2015 that the tests’ failings “render them problematic to use to classify persons as likely to engage in discrimination.” Note that this suggests that changing individuals’ internal beliefs is not a priority for improving equitable behavior in a community (relative to, perhaps, changing their perceptions of community norms, or creating policies and norms and holding people accountable to them).

[17] “Calling in” means addressing a transgression privately, charitably, and probably ideally with “nonviolent communication, in the interest of decreasing the likelihood of putting the accused on the defensive and increasing the likelihood of a healthy exchange and productive outcome.


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