Aniline Blog

An Employee Perception Analysis of DE&I in the Fortune 100

6 Minute Read

Whoever was the first to say “perception is reality” might have been an HR professional. In our work to make the workplace engaging by bringing out the best in people, we operate in a world where “reality” depends on how different people perceive the  same set of facts.

In no area is this more true than in DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion). Whether it’s a matter of unconscious bias or blatant favoritism, perception is key: you can tick all the boxes, but your program’s success comes down to whether people actually feel like they belong, that they are treated with respect and with equal access to the opportunities offered by the organization. 

As the saying goes, “what gets measured gets managed” — so we set out to measure the effectiveness of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) programs. We did this by measuring employee perception using unprompted online commentary. This approach uses AI-based employee sentiment analysis to overcome the lack of candor prevalent in company surveys.

We looked to the Fortune 100 as a source of large, well-known companies with ample use of social media by their employees. Then we used our scoring methodology to rank them from highest to lowest. This resulted in a set of DE&I scores ranging from a low of 42 to a high of 95. For more about our methodology, please see our FAQ page and a separate blog piece.

From that, we selected 10 high scoring companies, whose DE&I scores range from 80 to 95, and another 10 low scoring companies, whose scores range from 42 to 49. Then we analyzed the characteristics of the high scorers as a group versus the low scorer group, using areas of both positive and negative sentiment, during calendar year 2021.

In other words, we used a trained computer to identify what “good” looks like, as well as “bad,” at the company level. We think this will give those responsible for DE&I efforts a way to reflect on their own organizations and identify areas of particular resonance.

Primary Results. We identified eight common themes used by employees to express sentiment relevant to DE&I and are outlined in the next section. With reference to these eight common themes, three findings stand out that indicate broad characteristics of DE&I program effectiveness:

  1. Values matter most - our most significant finding is that expressions about Values are like a canary in the coal mine, in that high scoring companies have a high proportion of positive expressions about Values while low performing companies have a high proportion of negative expressions about Values. The same is true when the topics are Equity and Identity, though these are much less frequently observed.
  2. Forces for good - at both high and low scoring companies, employee expressions of Diversity and Inclusion specifically are, on balance, positive. Both groups have more positive statements than negative, it's just that high scoring companies have a higher proportion of positive expressions compared to negative expressions.
  3. Always negative - at both high and low scoring companies, employee expressions of Behavior, Gender, and Origin specifically are, on balance, negative. Both groups have more negative statements than positive, again it's a question of degree for high versus low scorers.

Simply put, you should expect to hear more good than bad about diversity programs and inclusion concepts, and vice versa for behavior, gender and origin. What we recommend you listen for most closely relates to how people express their values, since a balance toward either positive or negative is indicative of overall program success.

Common themes. Across these 20 Fortune 100 companies, we found eight common themes within the thousands of narratives. The table below presents these themes together with samples of the terms used by employees in narrative reviews about DE&I:


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Theme prevalence: Employee narratives use these themes to express their feelings in both groups, but in different proportions as illustrated in these pie charts:

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  • While the topic of Diversity is always the most used, it is used much more often among companies with high overall DE&I scores (44% compared to 25%). 
  • Inclusion is ranked #2 among the high scorers (at 20%), but #5 (at 6%) among the low scorers behind four other contributors: Values, Behavior, Gender, and Origin.
  • Other topics that exhibit high levels of change across the two groups are Gender (from 5% to 12%, a 2.4x change), Behavior (from 8% to 18%, or 2.25x), and Origin (from 5% to 10%, or 2x).

Positive versus Negative Sentiment by Theme. To illustrate the degree to which employee sentiment is positive or negative, each of the eight themes was measured separately within the high scoring and low scoring groups. Each of the values below represents a measure of positive to negative sentiment, where overall positive sentiment is in black typeface and overall negative is shown in red:

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Here’s how to read this table: Starting with the row for Diversity, both high and low scoring groups are shown in black, which depicts the level of positivity. The value 5.6 for High Scorers indicates that for every 10 negative comments about the Diversity theme, there are 56 positive comments, while there are 19 positive comments for every 10 negative among the Low Scorers.

Looking at the row for Origin, both High and Low Scorers are shown in red, indicating overall negative sentiment. This compares the way that Origin is used negatively among high scorers (23 negative comments for every 10 positive) to low scorers (84 negative comments for every 10 positive).

The values for each theme allowed us to group them by the "Characteristics" as shown above:

  • Inclusion and Diversity are always “forces for good” in that results are always favorable, it just depends on how much. 
  • On the opposite side, the topics of Origin, Behavior, and Gender always net out to negative sentiment.
  • Topics that change their impact from favorable to unfavorable are Values, Identity, and Equity. It strikes us that these may be key indicators of DE&I program success, though Values is so much more prevalent (as depicted in the pie charts) that we believe it may be more practical to focus on as a single broad indicator of success.

Putting this all together, we recommend paying close attention to values. Our research indicates that whether sentiment is positive or negative on such areas as dignity, faith, hate, respect, human rights, and society could be a bellwether for overall DE&I efforts.

James Marple

James Marple

The driver behind Aniline’s provider catalogue and Quick Quote feature, Jim is a human capital consultant and innovator. His knowledge of the HR services market is embedded in Aniline’s Market Research capability, and works hands-on with our service provider partners to continually enhance the Aniline user experience. A career actuary, Jim held senior roles at Mercer, Marsh & McLennan Companies, and Willis Towers Watson, and is currently a senior advisor to Market Innovations, a boutique behavioral economics consulting firm.