UMass Amherst Center for Employment Equity Launches Case Study Series Examining Diversity and Inclusion Policies and Practices Adopted by Innovative Companies

First study by economist and CEE co-director M.V. Lee Badgett explores IBM’s LGBT+ self-identification practice
M.V. Lee Badgett
M.V. Lee Badgett

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst Center for Employment Equity (CEE) has launched a new series of case studies designed to explore the business rationale and goals of companies when adopting inclusive policies and practices, to assess the impact of the policies and practices and to provide insight for employers who might learn from the experiences of innovators. The series will also serve learning goals for students and other relevant practitioners.

In the first study of the “What Works” series, economist and CEE co-director M.V. Lee Badgett presents an examination of IBM’s LGBT+ employee self-identification practice. The report, “Collecting LGBT+ Data for Diversity: Initiating Self-ID at IBM,” describes how IBM’s self-ID process works, why IBM decided to initiate the program, its implementation, how the company uses the data the program provides and the future of the self-ID practice.

“We need to learn how innovative companies do the work of diversity and inclusion,” says Badgett, professor of economics and public policy at UMass Amherst. “What do they do? How did they get there? Our collaboration with IBM, a global leader on LGBT+ issues, is giving us new insights into how change happens. Our new publication series on “What Works” will share those insights with employers, advocates, scholars, students and communities.”

The report describes how IBM makes it possible for employees in 40 countries, covering 87% of the IBM workforce, to voluntarily provide their own self-identified sexual orientation and gender identity on their IBM human resources record. Without revealing names outside of the handful of people authorized to see them, the company sends information to newly self-identified LGBT+ employees about various company resources, including their Pride Gateway, LGBT+ employee groups, Slack channels and benefits policies. The study notes that IBM also uses the data broadly to ensure representation of LGBT+ people in different contexts; for example, when IBM hosts events in different parts of the world, the company uses the self-ID data to ensure it is inviting a representative group of employees to participate, and the company can match results of its engagement surveys to self-identified LGBT+ employees to look for any differences across groups of employees that should be addressed.

“Over the years, IBM has achieved recognition from LGBT+ organizations for being an innovator and leader in inclusion of LGBT+ employees,” Badgett writes in the study, explaining the decision to focus on IBM in the series’ first entry. “IBM appeared on some of the earliest lists of ‘Best companies to work for’ for LGBT+ employees, and has received awards from many LGBT+ organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, PFLAG, Workplace Pride, DiversityComm, NGLCC and many others. IBM was one of the earliest companies to receive a perfect 100 score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, a feat IBM has achieved seventeen years in a row (through 2020). IBM was also one of the first companies to adopt voluntary ‘self-ID’ for its employees and now allows them to choose the pronouns they use, making it an interesting model for other firms to study.”

To create the inaugural report, Badgett was provided with access to several types of internal information sources at IBM. Kimberley Messer, IBM’s LGBT+ business development leader, North America, provided Badgett with background on the history and general approach to LGBT+ issues at IBM, and worked with Badgett to gather the necessary data, which primarily came from interviews with current and former IBM employees who were instrumental in creating or are currently implementing the self-ID program.

“IBM has been a committed leader in diversity and inclusion for LGBT+ people for decades,” Messer says. “Self-identification has been an integral part of that commitment, ensuring our LGBT+ employees are seen and heard. We are working with UMass Amherst’s Center for Employment Equity to share what we’ve learned and to inspire other companies and organizations around the world to make their workplaces more inclusive.”

The Center for Employment Equity is dedicated to documenting progress, and when necessary regress, toward shared national goals of equitable and diverse workplaces. The center’s 15-member team provides scientifically careful analyses and curated data to the community of citizens, employers and policy makers concerned with promoting equitable workplaces.

The full report, and all future case studies from the “What Works” series, can be found on the CEE website.