As someone who has worked in and has been a champion for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) for much of my career, I know on an instinctive level the incredible value that a diverse workplace brings. It creates a sense of psychological safety, inspires employees to be their authentic selves, and enables companies to become magnets that attract and retain the best and brightest talent.

Good intentions and intuition, however, are not enough to create real change within any organization. The only way to do that successfully is through data.

Data is irrefutable. It’s relevant. And when leaders use data to design a long-term DEI strategy, it has the greatest impact.

The Value of DEI Data

Change happens incrementally in the DEI space. It can take three to five years before real progress materializes. That’s why many well-intentioned companies see a level of DEI fatigue among their teams. It occurs when people inside the organization begin to grow skeptical and frustrated with a perceived lack of progress.

Without data, companies starting or in the depths of a DEI program won’t know where to focus their efforts to drive maximum results. As a result, they may try to do too many things at once, which often leads to fatigue and failure. In addition, without data, it is difficult to measure progress or inform decisions about necessary pivots or adjustments.

In contrast, companies that use data to measure their DEI efforts can see exactly where the organization is making progress and where it is lagging. Data helps leaders make deliberate, purposeful and intentional decisions at every step of their journey. With data, they can identify wins, double-down on their successes, overcome DEI fatigue and move their strategies forward.

Data will also help gain management support and navigate pushback against DEI efforts. My response to any resistance has always been the same: Let’s look at the data and see what it shows. This lets me replace subjective reasoning with factual, scientific information that I can use to articulate the bottom-line value DEI is creating.

Where to Begin With DEI Data

Some organizations may shy away from taking a data-driven approach because they may not know where to start, or which data points will bring the maximum benefit. Additionally, sometimes the data points you need don’t exist, which can add to the frustration.

How do you overcome these challenges? I recommend taking a three-pronged approach.

Start with what you have. Begin with as many people-related data points as you can find. No matter how many you have — whether it’s five or 500 — you’ll find areas of opportunity and risk within your existing data. Once you know the data points you have, you can create strategies to obtain additional data that will develop your DEI story further.

Ideally, your data should be internal and external, and qualitative and quantitative. Begin with voluntary, aggregated self-identification data, such as gender identity (male, female and nonbinary), ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status and veteran status.

Look at the history. Review the past three to five years and identify trends. See where you’ve made improvements and where you’ve slid backward. This review will help you develop targeted DEI initiatives that have the greatest impact. For further granularity, match your diversity trends with your hiring practices. Discuss hiring practices with your human resources team so you know exactly what happens in your employees’ talent management and development journey.

Leverage different perspectives. You can then add other levels of qualitative data to the mix. For example, if you’re just starting out with DEI, you can host employee focus groups to learn more about their perception of and potential engagement in DEI initiatives. If you already started your DEI journey, you can ask your business resource groups (BRGs) to provide insight into what’s working with DEI and what needs refinement.

How to Benchmark DEI Data

Interpreting the data is just as important as collecting it. I recommend benchmarking your data against competitors, peer companies and vendors within the insurance industry and in the geographic regions where you conduct business.

You also should use external data as a benchmark. Both the U.S. Census and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offer objective community and industry-specific datasets. You can also find valid DEI data from business advisory groups and trusted sources such as McKinsey & Company, Gartner and the Harvard Business Review.

DEI teams must also commit to ongoing data tracking and assessment. Drive transparency by communicating your findings throughout your company regularly, and use data to hold your teams accountable.

Best Practices for Working With DEI Data

If you’re already taking a data-driven approach, consider ways to expand and enrich the data you collect. For example, at Verisk, we’ve identified DEI champions across the globe — Poland, India and the UK, to name a few — and asked them to help us bolster our strategy.

Corporate and industry groups can also add education and inspiration to your DEI efforts. The Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation, for example, plays a huge role in driving DEI initiatives forward in our industry through time, energy and charitable giving. IICF’s upcoming Inclusion in Insurance Global Conference is a key event that will help the insurance industry continue to take steps toward creating a more inclusive future.

Another excellent resource is CEO Action, a group of more than 2,400 CEOs who have pledged to advance DEI in their companies. The group’s website offers discussion guides, educational quizzes and a host of other resources to maintain your company’s DEI momentum.

See Where Data Can Take You

Many companies in the insurance industry may still be in the early stages of their DEI journey. I’m encouraged by the progress on gender diversity at the board, CEO and management levels. Other industries are at a more advanced level of maturity, and they’re starting to tackle next-level DEI topics such as supplier diversity, community investments, economic and education gaps.

Our industry will reach that next level, too. But there are no quick fixes. Taking a data-driven approach will help ensure that our DEI strategies receive the time, talent and funding they need to identify wins, celebrate successes and reap the many proven rewards that await diverse companies.

*This article was originally published by Insurance Journal, CM’s sister publication