DEI metrics are vital for the success of utility programs

DEI metrics are vital for the success of utility programs
By Dany Kahumoku and Jack Morris
Dany Kahumoku
Senior Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Specialist
Jack Morris
Energy Solutions Analyst
Feb 15, 2024

As utilities and utility program implementers strive to embody values of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), leveraging quantifiable metrics is crucial to demonstrate that these values are translated into tangible actions.

Metrics are essential for achieving DEI goals as they provide a quantifiable framework to assess and track performance in areas such as sustainability, social responsibility, and ethical governance. By establishing measurable indicators, businesses can systematically evaluate their progress, identify areas for improvement, and demonstrate their commitment to incorporating DEI principles within their programs.

In the context of the utility sector, DEI encompasses several key meanings.

Diversity recognizes the breadth of identities that comprise the workforce as well as those impacted by utility offerings.
Equity speaks to the varying levels of burdens and benefits created by the sector, with attention to the actions needed to create equal outcomes based on historic need.
Inclusion highlights the processes afforded to stakeholders to be involved in program inputs, allowing for direct impact on the development and implementation of utility programs.

The focus on DEI is rooted in a demand for social responsibility within the utility sector that is more profound than ever before. Over the last several years in particular, driven in large part by social reform and accountability efforts such as the Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements, there has been a collective call for systemic transformations across all sectors of society.

Incorporating DEI metrics beyond human resources

DEI considerations within businesses often begin and end with HR. However, companies can incorporate DEI goals and activities into their programs and offerings as well. In the utility sector, a large factor in this call to action is the recognition that the advantages of the energy transition should extend to all individuals and that safeguards must be in place to protect communities from the impacts of climate change. In response, governments and communities are increasingly holding businesses accountable for these outcomes.

Indeed, many federal funding opportunities are prioritizing the flow of government funds into disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by the negative outcomes of various sectors, including the utility industry. For example, the Justice40 Initiative stipulates that 40% of benefits from select programs covered by the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are invested to advance environmental justice. This means billions of dollars are now available to address the imbalance of benefits and burdens across communities. This investment requires recipients to clearly demonstrate that their programs will meet the requirements set forth by the funding source, including identifying how and for whom programs will impact. Providing such evidence first requires an assessment of the current state in order to understand where internal resources have been and should be allocated.

While the imperative of fostering DEI within the utility sector is undeniable for financial reasons, policy alignment, and social good, navigating the landscape of metric tracking can be complex. As diversity, equity, and inclusion are rather broad and conceptual principles, they can be difficult to quantify into numbers. This article will therefore serve to shed light on fundamental best practices for collecting DEI metrics within the implementation of programs. The following recommendations focus on tangibly measuring DEI considerations so that utilities and utility program implementors can see their DEI values translated into actions. These recommendations are not written from the perspective of HR (i.e., collecting data on staff’s personal experiences), but rather are aimed at collecting insights about programs’ impact on communities.

Best practices for tracking DEI metrics

Tracking DEI metrics is a cornerstone in fostering accountability and transparency within organizations. These metrics translate DEI values into tangible actions and allow for a comprehensive evaluation of progress. By offering a clear and measurable framework, organizations can determine the extent to which they are meeting their DEI goals, thereby fostering transparency in reporting to stakeholders and clients.

Moreover, DEI metrics provide a vital baseline from which program activities can be meticulously analyzed. This analytical foundation not only identifies areas for improvement but also enables the formulation of targeted recommendations to enhance business practices. In essence, the strategic tracking of DEI metrics not only measures the commitment to diversity but propels organizations toward a more equitable and inclusive future, rooted in actionable insights and continuous improvement.

Objectives for DEI metrics tracking:

  • Align messaging and actions: Ensure program activities genuinely reflect utility and client values.
  • Evaluate: Identify opportunities for improvement and modify the approach.
  • Enhance program quality: Incorporate robust DEI metrics to bolster the quality and competitiveness of programs and respond effectively to stakeholder expectations.
  • Showcase leadership: Position the organization as DEI leaders and trailblazers in the industry, fostering a reputation for authenticity and impact.
  • Improve transparency across efforts: Provide a baseline for the goals of and activities performed within programs, improving the likelihood of collaboration across similar efforts.

The process recommended below is largely reliant on the use of an internal survey to collect vital program information. Frequency of reporting depends on stakeholder expectations; however, we recommend an annual survey administration complemented by sporadic discussion-based follow-ups for specific programs as needed. These follow-ups should be rooted in the key findings from the annual survey, which will vary by program. This approach not only enhances the initial data but also allows for updates and ongoing refinement to better reflect the dynamic landscape of DEI efforts within the organization.

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Here is our recommendation for a 4-stage process for DEI metrics design, implementation, and evaluation:

Four stage process for DEI metrics design, implementation, and evaluation

Assess client and staff feedback

The need for data tracking is rooted in both internal and external pressures. To initiate a comprehensive approach to DEI implementation within program work, here are the first crucial steps for organizations:

  • Inventory current stakeholders, active programs, and relevant staff associated with each program.
  • Define research goals and objectives.
  • Initiate discussions about DEI practices within the organization, informing staff of the survey and its intentions. Provide opportunities to create an open forum for employees of all levels to share their perspectives on DEI implementation. These inclusive dialogues serve as a valuable platform for collecting insights and suggestions. It may not be feasible to incorporate all feedback, which can later be addressed during the evaluation stage.

Design survey

When evaluating complex activities impacting both individual and program outcomes, comprehensive surveys are strengthened when they allow for both qualitative and quantitative data collection. To design an effective survey for collecting DEI metrics, several key considerations must be taken into account:

  • Leverage client and staff feedback to craft targeted survey questions that uncover what matters most to them and will most successfully capture impact.
  • A critical step is to track key areas in the survey including disadvantaged business subcontractors, diverse trade allies, DEI-related activities and formally listed program goals; prioritization of specific communities; unique benefits for priority communities; and explicit examples of DEI-related successes and shortcomings as identified by program implementation staff.
  • Prioritize brevity and numeric responses (yes/no, multiple choice, etc.) in questions to build rich datasets for quantitative analysis and trend tracking. Include a “not sure” or “don’t know” option where relevant. These responses can be settled through discussion at a later stage.
  • Reserve open-ended questions for situations where qualitative information is indispensable for capturing nuanced perspectives. Allow for an iterative process whereby responses uncover trends, to then transform open-ended questions to multiple choice questions where possible.

Administer survey and fill data gaps

To administer a survey that ensures accuracy and ongoing improvement, use a systematic and collaborative approach:

  • Identify relevant staff for each program, with an oversample of individual program/project managers given their proximity to day-to-day operations. To receive high-quality data collection, researchers should clearly communicate response deadline, accompanied by details regarding the survey's purpose and estimated time commitment.
  • Share preliminary results with leadership, initiating a discussion to identify potential inaccuracies and address any areas where respondents may have been unclear or uncertain. DEI activities are often not explicitly categorized as such. Therefore, some nuances may be more successfully captured through discussion.
  • Where needed, directly support the staff completing the survey on behalf of each program.

Evaluate results and develop new deliverables

Evaluate survey results and develop new or enhanced program deliverables based on analysis from relevant stakeholders. Use a cyclical process to ensure that the organization not only learns from past experiences but actively evolves its strategies to foster a more inclusive and equitable environment:

  • Uphold transparency and accountability by holding meetings with pertinent stakeholders (including clients, all-hands, and program-specific staff) to thoroughly review the results and confirm any survey improvements. These sessions provide an opportunity to collaboratively brainstorm future actions and formulate new deliverables aimed at enhancing DEI implementation within program solutioning.
  • Ideally, establish a comprehensive data repository with visualizations illustrating trends across geographies and program types, facilitating the identification of both successes and areas for improvement.
  • Identify gaps and synchronicities, introduce potential collaborations, and provide recommendations for next steps. Understand capacity to develop and move forward with new ideas to address insights captured.

Moving forward

The journey towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future within the utility sector is not only a moral imperative but a strategic necessity. Tracking DEI metrics can help align messaging with actions, enhance program quality, showcase leadership, and improve transparency across efforts—ultimately allowing organizations to not only meet DEI goals but also foster a reputation for authenticity and impact.

At ICF, we have initiated a DEI metrics tracking program by piloting strategies outlined in this article for our beneficial electrification line of business for utilities and other public services. Currently, we are replicating this initiative across additional lines of business, aiming to compile a comprehensive dataset that enables the extraction of statistically significant trends. This data-driven approach is integral to informing and shaping our business strategy in alignment with our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Moving forward, the recommendations provided focus on tangible measurements of DEI to enable utilities and utility program implementors to effectively navigate the complex landscape. By following these best practices, organizations can translate their commitment to DEI into actionable insights, fostering continuous improvement and propelling them toward a more equitable and inclusive future.

Meet the authors
  1. Dany Kahumoku, Senior Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Specialist
  2. Jack Morris, Energy Solutions Analyst
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