How employee ratings can push companies on diversity and inclusion

As major businesses and institutions pledge to double down on their diversity and inclusion (D&I) agendas in the wake of international protests against systemic racism, it's becoming easier for employees to rate their companies' efforts.

Jobs site Glassdoor has unveiled a new tool allowing workers to rate their satisfaction with current or former employers' diversity and inclusion policies on a scale of zero to five. It bolsters the site's five existing employee feedback metrics: Career opportunities; compensation and benefits; culture and values; senior management; and work-life balance. 

The update adds a numerical value to existing user comments and is designed to empower employees by giving them a "collective voice," Glassdoor's CEO Christian Sutherland-Wong told CNBC Make It. 

"Job seekers and employees today really care about equity, and for too long they've lacked access to the information needed to make informed decisions about the companies that are, or are not, truly inclusive," he said. "We have a responsibility as a platform and employer to bridge the information gap." 

Pushing for equality

The rollout comes as the push toward workplace equality gains new urgency in 2020.

The economic fallout from the pandemic has unearthed disproportionate hardships for minority workers. In addition, the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — whose deaths followed that of other Black people killed by police brutality — have again shone the spotlight on deep-seated racial injustices in society. 

Since June 2020, jobs marketplace ZipRecruiter has seen a five-fold spike in job seeker searches for the term "diversity." Related job postings have similarly risen further this year. 

In August, a Glassdoor survey conducted by The Harris Poll found that three-quarters (76%) of job seekers and employees say having a diverse workforce is an important factor for them when evaluating companies and job offers. In the same study, nearly one in three (32%) said they would not apply for a job at a company with a lack of diversity among its workforce — a figure that was higher for Black workers (41%). 

That heightened attention has prompted many employers to announce new D&I initiatives.

BlackRock, Microsoft and Target, are among the major companies to promise greater hiring of minority employees. Elsewhere, California last week signed a new law requiring all publicly traded companies headquartered in the state to have at least one diverse board member and Japan's top business lobby set a goal to increase female leadership to 40% by 2030.

Holding companies accountable

However, understanding how such metrics translate into company culture is not always easy. 

ZipRecruiter's labor economist Julia Pollak said it remains "challenging" for job seekers to evaluate D&I policies based on company data alone because "many of the companies that are most vocal about the topic have the least demographically representative workforces."

Indeed, according to Glassdoor's survey, two-thirds (66%) of employees and job seekers say they trust employees the most when it comes to understanding what diversity and inclusion really looks like at a company. That's well ahead of senior leaders (19%), the company's website (9%) and recruiters (6%).

During trials of Glassdoor's new D&I tool, employees rated Salesforce (4.6) ahead of other major companies Google (4.4), Accenture (4.2), Facebook (4.2), Amazon (4.1), Starbucks (4.1), Target (4.1) Apple (4.0), Deloitte (4.0), McDonald's (3.7), Walmart (3.7) and Uber (3.6).

That has led jobs sites, including Glassdoor and LinkedIn, to incorporate new tools to measure companies' efforts. TopResume career expert Amanda Augustine said such transparency could have the two-fold impact of informing workers and holding employers accountable. 

"What gets measured (and publicly shared) is often what gets improved," she told CNBC Make It via email. 

Improving company culture

That could become all the more important as employees attribute increasing value to company culture.

Despite the prevalence of work-from-home policies this year, an August TopResume survey saw company culture rank as the single-most important factor when choosing a job, beating out salary and bonus. Indeed, the growth of remote workforces could enable companies to reach new, diverse talent pools, according to ZipRecruiter's Pollak. 

"Blacks/African Americans make up just 1.55% of the population in Palo Alto, for example. So companies that choose to locate there, or in other areas with extremely high housing costs and limited diversity, may, until now, have experienced greater difficulty appealing to a broader talent pool," Pollak said via email.

"The post-COVID-19 shift to remote work is an opportunity to overcome geographic barriers to workforce diversity."

As well as D&I ratings, Glassdoor's update also allows job seekers and employees to anonymously share their own demographic data, such as race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation. Meanwhile, Diversity FAQs offer a list of the most popular questions employees ask about companies' D&I policies.

"It's critical to understand how important diversity and inclusion is to employees and job seekers today. Employers have to be transparent about their commitments to D&I, otherwise, they'll miss out on hiring quality and diverse talent," said Sutherland-Wong. 

"And it's not just about words, it's about taking action to drive meaningful change," she added.

Don't miss: Business leaders see increased hiring in these 3 areas following the coronavirus

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