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The Consequences of Forced Diversity: How to Properly Align Initiatives to Maximize Effectiveness


The Consequences of Forced Diversity

How to Properly Align Initiatives to Maximize Effectiveness

The Justification

One of the justifications for diversity initiatives is the following phrase. 

“Company diversity leads to higher profits.”

Like everything we read and hear, we must use critical thinking to discern if this is true. No doubt, the original issuer of this statement ran a regression analysis and determined a correlation between companies that had more diverse employees and those that had high profits. However, all of us in the analytics space know that correlation does not imply causation. It could be that more profitable companies have the added budget to fund diversity initiatives. 

We’ve seen many statements similar to the one above that have been used for budget justification. 

“Companies that invest more in training are more profitable.”

Or, more likely, companies that are more profitable have the added budget to be able to invest more in employee training. 

We have also seen a social agenda related to diversity which is driven by the media. It doesn’t take much analysis of these articles to determine that they are not fact-based and the authors don’t know anything about mathematics, analytics or statistics. Yet, many HR teams are using these as justification for forced diversity initiatives. 

Diversity initiatives can be effective if they are properly aligned to facts and data. If not aligned to facts and data, companies can spend thousands and sometimes millions of dollars and see no reward for their investment. 

The Consequences of Forced Diversity

What happens when companies try to force diversity levels by setting random goals and quotas? Goals start to look something like this: 

“We will have 25% minority employees by 2020.”

“Our employee base will be 40% female by 2021.”

When enquiring about these goals, it is sometimes revealed that the values were selected without any study of the related data. Thankfully, with the expansion of analytics in HR, this is becoming less and less the case. 

Unfortunately, companies and organizations that try to force their employee base to match a badly set diversity goal encounter serious consequences. Existing employees can feel slighted if they do not fall into one of the categories upon which diversity is focused.  

Additionally, goals can be impossible to accomplish. If a company’s employee base is primarily engineers and universities are producing graduating classes that are 20% female, a goal to become 40% female in two years is not realistic. 

Data for Better Diversity Initiative Alignment

Instead of promoting or hiring people to meet a diversity goal, why not use data to support realistic diversity initiatives? Here’s an example. 

  • What are the job roles into which minorities enter the company?

Sometimes a study of applicant data reveals a list of preferred roles for various subgroups of the population. A company wishing to attract more minority employees can focus on these roles and ensure that there is a path upward in the organization. Create career maps for these job roles and communicate these to both existing employees and people applying to these positions. 

You may be reading this thinking that all jobs should have career maps and that all career maps should be communicated to all employees. In a perfect world, yes. But in the real world, HR resources to manage the well-researched creation of career maps and the associated communication plans are limited by a long list of competing strategic projects. Like any other functional area, HR needs to prioritize where it will focus its efforts each year. 

Here’s an additional practical example of aligning diversity initiatives to data.

  • At what level in the company do women significantly reduce their willingness to apply for internal promotions?

A company wishing to attract more women into higher levels of the organization can use the answer to this question to focus on specific levels and to determine why the applications drop off for certain employee subgroups. They can then review job descriptions at this level to see if the language is more “male-oriented” or to rewrite the descriptions to alleviate some of the concerns that women generally have. For more information on these concerns, see the eBook listed at the bottom of this article. It contains a summary of several decades of scientific gender research. 

In Short… 

Diversity initiatives have received a great deal of attention in recent years. Some of the attention in based on fact but much of it is a misguided interpretation of media articles. It is important to use facts and data to set proper goals and project plans in order to avoid the unintended consequences of forced actions.

Diversity projects should certainly be conducted to determine: 

  • Fairness of pay (equal pay for equal work and experience),

  • Fairness of promotion,

  • Fairness of hiring and terminations (impact analyses), and

  • Fairness of performance evaluations.

We, in the analytics community, have the responsibility to guide our clients or employers to use data to set realistic and practical initiatives each year. 

[Author’s Note: For more information on scientific gender studies, see the eBook called Gender Gaps in the Workplace: Facts and Science.]



Tracey Smith is a recognized analytics expert, speaker and author. She is the President of Numerical Insights LLC, a boutique analytics firm addressing the needs of businesses large and small. If you would like to learn more about using data for better decision-making, please visit or contact Tracey Smith through LinkedIn.