Visible support from the C-suite and better data practices can advance businesses’ diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Organizations are increasingly moving to address workplace disparity, although research indicates progress around this complex issue is largely inconsistent and insufficient. A new study from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, the Society for Human Resource Management, in association with software provider Trusaic, has found that two key factors are driving forward progress: commitment from the executive ranks and a commitment to better data.

The survey identifies respondents as “leaders,” “followers” or “laggards” based on how they rated their organizations’ DEI progress. While a majority of survey respondents (65 percent) say DEI is a high strategic priority, two-thirds (67 percent) admit their organization is, at best, only somewhat successful in creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. Even among leader organizations, almost half acknowledge they are behind where they should be in improving DEI. Most laggard organizations report DEI initiatives are more “style over substance.”

Suggesting that momentum for change must begin in the C-suite, the survey found that half of laggard organizations say they are frustrated by a lack of commitment from leadership, and 72 percent say they are held back by a lack of diversity at senior levels of the organization. Notably, 77 percent of leader organizations have visible executive support compared to just 34 percent of laggards. The study also found that when the CEO sets the strategy and frequently communicates progress, the company is 6.3 times more likely to have a diverse leadership team and to be a leader in its industry segment, and that DEI leaders are significantly more likely than followers or laggards to set goals for levels of diversity among senior executives and board members.

The study also emphasized how measuring and tracking DEI metrics are essential to accelerating DEI progress. Leader organizations regularly monitor DEI metrics, communicate progress to key stakeholders, and use data to identify interventions and course correct. The research illustrates how leaders (70 percent) are more than twice as likely as laggards (30 percent) to track all three aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Leaders also measure progress across a wider range of metrics. Recruiting and hiring are the most tracked diversity metrics, with leaders track both areas much more than laggards. Also, leaders work far harder to determine whether their staff are treated equitably and are significantly more likely to track equity in compensation, performance development and feedback, promotions and access to growth opportunities. And 95 percent of DEI leaders measure inclusion goal progress at least annually; 51 percent track inclusion goal progress at least quarterly—more than twice as often as laggards.

“Organizations that commit to correcting imbalances in the workplace are often met with significant challenges,” says Robert Sheen, CEO of Trusaic. “What’s missing is the critical connection point between monitoring DEI metrics and using that data to improve the effectiveness of DEI programs to create lasting, meaningful change. Data supports firms in holding themselves to account. Access to timely and reliable data is key to DEI success.”