Forbes "America's Best Employers for Diversity" Tells Us Nothing about Corporate DEI: The Case of Maximus

Tom Juravich
Erik Plowden

November 1, 2023

Executive Summary

In this report, we take a detailed look at the methods used to determine the Forbes list of “America’s Best Employers for Diversity.” Based on the principles of survey and social research, we examine the data used, how it was collected, and analyzed to determine the DEI rankings. We look specifically at Maximus as a case study for our assessment. As we will document, this research is deeply flawed on a number of dimensions, and in no way can it be considered a valid assessment of firms' actual efforts at diversity, equity, and inclusion, nor their outcomes.
  • The research to determine inclusion in the listing does not examine any actual data about diversity, equity, or inclusion in the companies evaluated.
  • Instead, the research relies on employees' attitudes and their individual assessments of DEI. Even in a very carefully conducted survey, the attitudes of individuals may say very little about actual corporate behavior.
    • Further compromising the survey data is that we do not know how many employees completed the survey or who they are. This casual inclusion of anyone who responded violates the basic principles of survey research that those included in the sample should mirror the entire firm.
    • Additionally, the data includes responses from people who work at other firms. The inclusion of these data cannot be considered a valid assessment of DEI of a firm where they do not work.
  • The DEI ratings also evaluate the diversity of the firm’s board of directors. Unfortunately, this score is incomplete in that it only includes gender and no other types of racial and ethnic diversity.
    • Data from the Morgan Stanley Group provide objective information on the board and corporate governance. Despite Maximus’s #13 rating on the Forbes list, MSG identifies issues with the board and rates it far lower than their peer group.
  • The Forbes listing also includes assessing the firm's releasing of data on DEI. This is a long way away from demonstrating that actual changes at the corporate level have been made. While this is an important first step, including these data indicates the very low floor Forbes is setting for commitments to DEI.
  • Also included in this listing is whether firms have diversity-based employee resource groups. Again, while this may be an important first stage, what needs to be assessed is not just the presence of a diversity committee but its actual activities in the workplace as related to promoting DEI.
  • A cursory review of the Forbes list of only ten hours of internet research on the top 50 on the list identified 12 firms with significant DEI violations that should have disqualified them, including Maximus.
  • The robustness of Forbes data is questionable, given its inclusion of casual survey data, a poor assessment of board diversity, and failing to disqualify DEI violators
    • For example, there is virtually no overlap (how much) with the Fortune list on diversity.
    • It is highly suspect that Maximus jumped up 207 spaces in a single year, indicating a high volatility in the data.
In conclusion, we cannot rely on the Forbes Diversity listing as an objective measure of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. It is little more than a public relations tool, for which high listers can pay Forbes to promote their firm.