Using OKRs to Make Your Organization More Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive

Colorful tiles representing diversity


Setting OKRs around diversity can benefit your organization in a number of ways – but these goals work best in concert with a focus on equity and inclusion. You also need to bring intention to how you set all your OKRs. We recommend an Equity Pause to ensure your process factors in many voices and truly advances your culture.

Diversity plays a key role in helping organizations thrive. According to the Harvard Business Review, diversifying your workforce can lead to “higher-quality work, better decision-making, greater team satisfaction, and more equality.” But it is not enough to increase diversity, you need to harness it to experience its benefits. Goals for increasing BIPOC talent, for example, are more effective when paired with goals for ensuring a constructive work environment for all, according to Yale School of Management leadership expert Heidi Brooks. In other words, it takes a focus on equity and inclusion as well as on diversity.

Use OKRs to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

First, let’s define terms:

  • Diversity: Successfully cultivating difference and representation in your organization
  • Equity: Providing each person with what they, as individuals, need to thrive, (not, as frequently thought, providing everyone with the same thing), according to Courtney Harge, nonprofit executive and artistic director
  • Inclusion: Ensuring that each member of your diverse team has meaningful agency, influence, and opportunities, say the Harvard researchers

It takes real effort to change a workplace. To make it happen, set concrete goals with measures that define what success would look like. To get started, ask:

  • Is anything broken about our culture? Our organization? How might we fix that?
  • What does a more equitable and inclusive workplace look like?
  • What changes can we make?
  • What can we do in the quarter ahead?
  • What could we improve if we were given a year or two?

The answers to these questions are the foundation for crafting great Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). Objectives establish the big changes you want to make; Key Results prove that the needle is moving in the right direction and speed. When you start to put measures behind diversity, equity, and inclusion, it triggers the right conversations – ones that reveal where you’re falling short and the actions that need to happen.

For some, a diversity Objective might be to build a team that is representative of the communities they serve. Does the current recruitment pool reflect that for all departments and levels? If not, craft a Key Result around enlarging the hiring pool. If addressing retention issues, you might create a KR to track employee satisfaction surveys and put in place initiatives to close any gaps.

Take a look at this sample OKR on diversity from Hustle, a peer-to-peer messaging platform who took a first step: to introduce more formal measurements while increasing transparency.

Move the needle on underrepresented groups in leadership.
Identify 3 professional organizations focused on advancing Black and Latinx Leaders to establish key partnerships.
As part of Zenefits launch, run EEOC survey to have diversity data by level & team. Publish Diversity Data across key leadership teams.
Increase our Diverse slate approach for our leadership searches of Chief Revenue Officer and other Director.

With this clear Objective and measurable Key Results, Hustle was able to commit to outreach, transparency, and candidate sourcing – and exceed its diversity goals.

Ensuring that everyone can thrive

Yale’s Heidi Brooks notes that goals for increasing the diversity of your workforce, especially the hiring of BIPOC talent, need also to address environmental factors that put BIPOC at a disadvantage. Companies should work to ensure that everyone is able to thrive – a process that often requires uncomfortable challenging of the status quo.

At the YMCA of the North in the Twin Cities, President Glen Gunderson focused his equity efforts on stakeholders and was particularly interested in growing the organization’s cultural competence; as the Y sought to end homelessness, it also needed to improve the ability to work with different cultures – not just on the part of Y staffers, but also among its numerous government, nonprofit, and corporate partners.

This became an OKR (or what the Y of the North calls an MOKR due to its inclusion of Mission) to advance equity. The Y decided to tackle cultural competence through education, but knew it could not educate the entire community. That’s why Gunderson chose to focus efforts where they could have the most impact – training municipal and corporate leaders.

Airbnb also found itself needing to focus on equity and inclusion. Discrimination wasn’t something the founders of the vacation rental platform ever considered in the initial design, and experiencing prejudice was outside of their personal experiences. A trending hashtag and high-profile criticism made Airbnb recognize that its platform was allowing the racist exclusion of people of color.

In an interview, CEO Brian Chesky said, “We could either put our heads in the sand or we could try to do more than is expected of us.” As part of their response, hosts and guests were asked to commit to Airbnb’s non-discriminatory practice. Anyone who failed to agree to the practice was kicked off the platform. Prioritizing anti-discrimination over short-term profit aligned the organization’s actions.

Be intentional: Take an equity pause

In addition to crafting specific OKRs for DEI, it is worth paying closer attention to how you craft all your OKRs. Diversity OKRs are a great start, but it’s entirely possible that other OKRs are unintentionally biased. Given that the cycle moves quickly, even Google and their 190,000 employees lock their OKRs within 3 weeks. But urgency can decrease the inclusion of diverse viewpoints – and that can lead to unintended consequences.

At What Matters, we encourage teams to embrace an Equity Pause. Slow down and ask yourself if you are making space for everyone’s voice. Or if your direction and goals are exclusionary, or perpetuate dominance or an unconscious bias of one group or towards another.

Before you lock in your OKRs for next quarter, consider these questions:

  • Have we heard from all stakeholders?
  • Did everyone get a chance to voice their opinion?
  • Was anyone missing from the conversation?
  • Do our OKRs reinforce an aspect of our culture that needs to change?
  • Are we doing the right thing? For our communities? For our planet?

Power also plays a role in inequality, so Heidi Brooks suggests leaders analyze how they use positional power and consider who has influence in the organization and whether that influence is used to create an inclusive and equitable environment. She suggests reflecting on the following:

  • As a leader, do you give yourself the chance to be heard and seen?
  • Do you confront or address issues when you hear something that goes against your values and your principles?
  • How does the way you give feedback either elevate or diminish people?
  • Do you create an environment where people have the ability to develop and uplift the capacity of others?
  • Do you do these things across demographics, or only with people who are most similar to you?

By identifying meaningful measures of diversity, equity and inclusion for your organization and bringing intention to all your OKRs, you challenge assumptions, give space and time to all voices, push your organization toward just and equitable practices – and gain better collaboration, decision-making, and higher quality work in the process.