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Avoiding the Pitfalls of Small Numbers in Diversity Efforts: A Data-Driven Approach

In today's business landscape, organizations are increasingly recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion in driving innovation, creativity, and growth. To address disparities and create a more inclusive workplace, many companies turn to people analytics to identify areas that require attention. However, a common challenge arises when organizations rely on data to inform their diversity initiatives: they often have a wealth of information about certain groups, but far less about others. This dearth of data can lead to a "one size fits all" approach to diversity, which can inadvertently perpetuate existing inequalities.

Today we will explore the pitfalls of relying on small numbers in diversity efforts and provide practical steps that organizations can take to ensure they don't fall victim to this faulty logic. We will also examine the importance of recognizing and addressing within-group differences to create a truly inclusive workplace.

The Dangers of Small Numbers

When organizations have limited data on specific groups within their workforce, they may resort to broad categorizations, such as "all women" or "people of color." While this approach may seem reasonable, it neglects the diversity that exists within these groups. For instance, the experiences of Asian women may vastly differ from those of Black women, and the struggles faced by Hispanic men may not be the same as those encountered by white men.

Research has shown that "one size fits all" diversity approaches often benefit only a subset of employees, typically those who are already in positions of power. This can result in the exclusion and marginalization of already underrepresented groups. For example, initiatives aimed at advancing women in the workplace often focus on white women, leaving women of color behind.

Furthermore, relying on small numbers can lead to inaccurate assumptions and stereotypes. By lumping together diverse groups, organizations may inadvertently perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce existing biases. For instance, assuming that all women face the same challenges in the workplace ignores the unique obstacles that women of color may face, such as discrimination, bias, and microaggressions.

Four Key Steps to Avoid the Pitfalls of Small Numbers

To avoid falling victim to the faulty logic of small numbers, organizations must take a more nuanced approach to diversity and inclusion. Here are four key steps that companies can take:

  1. Be willing to make claims based on small numbers: While it may be tempting to rely on broad generalizations, organizations must be willing to make claims based on small numbers. This requires a willingness to acknowledge and address the unique experiences and challenges faced by diverse groups, even when the data is limited. By doing so, organizations can identify specific areas where targeted interventions are needed, rather than relying on a "one size fits all" approach.

  2. Dig deeper: Organizations must dig deeper into their data to uncover within-group differences. This involves analyzing data by intersectional identities, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. By examining these intersections, organizations can identify unique challenges and opportunities for specific groups and develop targeted initiatives that address these issues.

  3. Engage managers as allies: Managers play a critical role in implementing diversity initiatives and creating a more inclusive workplace. Engaging managers as allies can help organizations overcome resistance to change and ensure that diversity efforts are successful. Managers can serve as champions for diversity and inclusion, providing support and resources to underrepresented groups and advocating for policies and practices that promote equity and fairness.

  4. Don't settle for small numbers: Finally, organizations must not settle for small numbers. Rather than accepting limited data, companies should strive to collect more comprehensive data that captures the diversity of their workforce. This may involve conducting surveys, focus groups, and other research methods to gather insights from diverse employees. By investing in this data, organizations can better understand the unique challenges faced by their employees and develop targeted initiatives that address these issues.

How Organizations Can Address Within-Group Differences in their Diversity Efforts

To effectively address within-group differences in diversity efforts, organizations must take a nuanced approach that considers the unique experiences and challenges faced by various subgroups within their workforce. This requires a willingness to gather and analyze more granular data, engage in active listening with diverse employees, and avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes or biases.

First, organizations must gather data that is disaggregated by intersectional identities, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status. This data should be used to identify specific challenges and opportunities facing different subgroups, and to develop targeted initiatives that address their unique needs.

Second, organizations must engage in active listening with diverse employees to better understand their experiences and perspectives. This involves creating a safe and inclusive environment where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns, and where their voices are valued and respected.

Finally, organizations must be mindful of their own biases and stereotypes, and take steps to avoid perpetuating harmful assumptions or behaviors. This requires ongoing self-reflection, diversity training, and a commitment to creating a culture of inclusivity and respect.

By taking these steps, organizations can create a more inclusive and equitable work environment that values and supports all employees, regardless of their background or identity.


It is clear that the pitfalls of small numbers in diversity efforts can have far-reaching consequences. By failing to recognize and address within-group differences, organizations may inadvertently perpetuate existing inequalities and create a false sense of progress. However, by taking a more nuanced approach and engaging managers as allies, companies can overcome these challenges and create a truly inclusive workplace. Remember, my dear reader, that diversity and inclusion are not buzzwords, but rather a way of life. By embracing this philosophy, we can create a brighter, more equitable future for all.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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