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ATD Blog

Connecting the Dots: D&I and Engagement

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

How do we increase employee engagement? It’s a perennial topic within executive ranks and on HR and talent development action items. This priority has only moved up the leadership agenda as a consequence of an extremely tight labor market. Although recent evidence suggests that engagement has risen slightly within the United States, it is still paltry, at 34 percent, according to Gallup.

Compelling evidence from IBM and Globoforce demonstrates the employee experience is positively associated with employee work performance, discretionary effort, and turnover intention. Their recent report, The Employee Experience Index, also revealed that:

  • Organizations that score in the top 25 percent on employee experience report nearly three times the return on assets compared to organizations in the bottom quartile.
  • Organizations that score in the top 25 percent on employee experience report double the return on sales compared to organizations in the bottom quartile.

So, what are the factors that drive engagement, and how can companies capture this elusive goal? The IBM and Globoforce study referred to five drivers:

  1. Belonging—feeling part of a team, group, or organization.
  2. Purpose—understanding why one’s work matters.
  3. Achievement—a sense of accomplishment in the work that is done.
  4. Happiness—the pleasant feeling arising in and around work.
  5. Vigor—the presence of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement at work.

It is interesting to note that these factors also relate to diversity and inclusion (D&I). Evidence of the link between D&I and engagement is supported by multiple studies, including a notable Bersin by Deloitte report that examined 128 aspects of talent management and financial performance and found a causal relationship between D&I and business. In fact, D&I was rated as having the highest impact. By creating more inclusive workplace environments, companies can attract the best talent, increase productivity, and enhance the employer brand.

Focusing on engagement alone is likely not enough; there is a need to use a D&I lens. Without this dedicated perspective, elements of diversity get lost through unconscious bias and prevailing organizational dynamics. For instance, the inner circle of high performers, who tend to come from dominant groups, often crowd out others, who are rarely given the same chance to participate in important initiatives and have the same level of opportunities to shine.


Improvements in D&I and engagement occur and gain traction only when there is conscious, intentional effort to embed D&I throughout the employee life cycle and create accountability. Some actions your company can take now include:

  • Clarify what “good” looks like in D&I. This should be spelled out for every level, so that individual contributors, middle managers, and senior leaders see what actions they can take personally to build more inclusive workplaces.
  • Create accountability. Go beyond surveys and metrics to do a deep dive into how employees feel about the workplace, and capture specific data points around what is working and what is impeding D&I improvement.
  • Be aware of subtle clues or micro-aggressions. Behavior and comments, which may be unintended, often signal who is important and who isn’t. Foster a “speak up” culture to counteract moments of need when the perspectives of underrepresented groups are being ignored or dismissed. Review and revamp existing practices to uncover potentially exclusionary norms.
  • Challenge assumptions. Creating a fresh perspective extends to every aspect of the employee life cycle: where we recruit, how we write job descriptions, how we onboard people, what is rewarded, and how people are promoted through the ranks.

D&I has become a societal and business imperative, with proven impact on employee engagement and business results. Talent leaders need to step up, partner with key stakeholders, and obtain executive sponsorship to ensure their organizations foster more inclusive workplaces that will increase all employees’ level of engagement and enhance bottom-line performance. If you want to improve employee engagement, start with D&I—it has a multiplier effect.


What actions does your organization take to improve D&I and engagement? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Want to Learn More?

Plan to join me at ATD LearnNow: Leverage Inclusion to Drive Engagement in Alexandria, VA, on December 12-13, 2018. Key learning outcomes for the 1.5-day learning event include:

  • Review the current state of D&I practices in your organization, and opportunities for greater impact and increasing employee engagement.
  • Create a strategic plan for D&I that aligns with your organization’s business imperatives and establishes governance.
  • Obtain sponsorship for key initiatives.
  • Assess and create plans that build stakeholder buy-in (internal and external).
  • Gain traction for D&I through change management.
  • Build an inclusive culture, including self-reflection, learning, application, and reinforcement.
About the Author

Marjorie Derven, a director at HUDSON Research & Consulting, has worked with many leading organizations to design change management strategies and initiatives that integrate organizational effectiveness, DEI, and learning to create solutions that drive meaningful change.

She formerly served as chair for TD Editorial Board and as a Senior Fellow at The Conference Board in the human capital practice. With 20+ years of consulting experience with top-tier companies across multiple industries, her areas of expertise include emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion, global leadership development, talent management, and organizational research. Marjorie has published dozens of articles and is a frequent presenter at global conferences. For more information, contact [email protected].

1 Comment
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If you are interested in engagement and profitable growth, I suggest looking at companies who excel at both. Industry leaders, like Southwest Airlines and Capital One empower employees to think and act like owners, driving and participating in the profitable growth of the company. These Forbes and Harvard Business Review articles provide more background:
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