“Best in Diversity” Rankings May Be Meaningless, Georgetown University Research Finds

Companies that rank high in a growing number of “best in diversity” lists may be ranking more on style than substance, cautions Dr. Christopher Metzler, Senior Associate Dean of the Master of Professional Studies in Human Resources Management program at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies.

Dr. Metzler's conclusion is drawn from a recent study, "Diversity Rankings: A Critique of the Landscape," conducted by the university's Consortium of Chief Diversity Officers. The consortium's findings raise questions about the science behind published diversity ranking methodologies used by many top diversity magazines and others to rank diversity-management best practices.

"Many organizations proudly extol their rankings in their marketing and recruiting strategies," writes Dr. Metzler in a newly published Diversity Executive magazine article ("Are You Really No. 1?") on the consortium’s findings. "The challenge for organizations is to examine the dichotomous relationship between recognition for diversity and the lack of significant empirical support for those same rankings by external organizations."

The Georgetown University consortium – comprised of chief diversity officers from partner companies such as Nike, Marriott, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Abercrombie & Fitch, Johnson and Johnson and Xerox – analyzed the publically stated ranking methodologies used by DiversityInc, Diversity MBA Magazine, Black Enterprise magazine, Working Mother magazine, the Human Rights Campaign and Hispanic Business magazine. Further, researchers conducted interviews with more than 300 global diversity practitioners and business leaders about the rankings.

Study Reveals Fear of Retribution among Employers

"The study results revealed that diversity rankings are more often an exercise in reputation building than they are an illustration of diversity as a tool for organizational transformation," writes Dr. Metzler, a world-renowned expert on diversity and inclusion, in the July/August edition (page 42) of Diversity Executive. For example, some companies use the rankings to boost recruiting efforts and to bolster claims of legal compliance.

This creates the potential for employers to attempt to sway the rankings by spending more on advertising and other services offered by the rankers, a claim backed up by the study. Of the diversity professionals polled, 95 percent reported they found a correlation between the amount of money spent with some rankers and ranking score.

"However, these professionals are not ready to state this in any public forum for fear of backlash," Dr. Metzler writes.

More Transparency Needed

The Georgetown University report makes several suggestions for improvements, including the separation of editorial and advertising, for example, from the ranking functions, and transparency audits conducted by outside entities to assess the efficacy of ranking methodologies.
“There is no universally accepted definition of either diversity or inclusion,” Metzler writes.” There is also no universally accepted methodological approach for ranking diversity. Thus, rankers are subject to valid criticism based on the indicators they chose to employ and the weighting formula they apply.”

Additional Links and Information

For further information about the study, please e-mail: mpshrmgmt@georgetown.edu.

Download a copy of the study, "Diversity Rankings: A Critique of the Landscape."

Learn more about the Georgetown University Master of Professional Studies in Human Resources Management program.