Why Every Company Needs a Theory of Change for DEI Work: Lessons Learned from Our Journey Towards Abolishing Inequity

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Leading with the head and heart
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Abolishing inequity in the workplace is a complex and multifaceted issue and requires an intentional approach to creating meaningful change. We’ve developed a theory of change to address this need and encourage you to examine your approach. We hope that by sharing our evolution to this work, our current framework, and future plans, you’ll be inspired to develop or revisit your own!

First, what do we mean by “theory of change”? Simply put, a theory of change is a roadmap that guides organizations toward achieving their desired goals or outcomes. It allows organizations to identify specific actions they need to take to create meaningful change and measure their success. A carefully crafted theory of change is essential for any organization that wants to make a significant impact.

SGO history

Our initial intention for this work was to support women in tech and tech-adjacent roles by creating welcoming spaces for learning, networking, and, most importantly, feeling joy. As our awareness grew, we wanted to ensure that all marginalized gender identities would be welcome in this space, so we added the “+” to our name. We also wanted to be very clear about our intentions as a company, so we certified as a B Corporation, holding ourselves accountable and letting the world know that, while we’re a for-profit company, our allegiance isn’t to simply profit but also to people and the planet. As long as we live in a capitalist society, we recognize the need to pay the bills, and we can be equitable while doing so. We then began offering DEI training in 2017 in answer to companies’ requests and because we knew we wanted to provide more to our community. In 2020, after experiencing the profound impact of COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd, we recognized the need for more significant and purposeful change. We realized that we required a bolder and more deliberate mission to guide us in transforming the workplace and our communities through a social justice-oriented approach.

SGO today

Three years later, with a mission to abolish workplace inequities, we acknowledge the need to dive even deeper and more intentionally into our theory of change. Our impact has so far only been measured by post-event or post-workshop surveys and feedback from our points of contact. While we’ve provided DEI programming and organized events for thousands of people, we haven’t yet been able to fully capture all the ways we’ve impacted individuals and institutions. We understand that there’s much more to assess in terms of long-term change and recognize that there are many factors we can’t control. As an external partner, we don’t have the authority to influence how organizations allocate their DEI resources, for example. Despite these challenges, we’ve already seen how our programming has helped individuals and organizations, and we’re excited to expand our efforts to generate more substantial and meaningful results!

The future of SGO

Over the past several months, we’ve developed a well-defined theory of change and how it can help our organization focus our efforts, identify the most promising strategies, and measure progress toward our goals. Here’s a shortened version of our theory of change: 

  • We believe an ecological approach guided by social justice and DEI principles is needed for the workplace landscape to change.
  • Both knowledge and action are essential to shift behavior and organizational culture. 
  • Instead of addressing symptoms of workplace issues, we believe in recognizing and addressing the root causes of the problems, no matter how difficult, while developing communities of capacity, practice, healing, and resilience. 
  • Transformation can only happen using a multi-pronged and multi-level approach: providing education to raise awareness, creating opportunities to build skills and practice inclusive and equitable behavior; developing and practicing new ways of working and reducing harm through our coaching and strategy work; and using a community-based approach where our humanity, especially those who have been historically marginalized and oppressed, is centered and supported through our events.

We’re committed to measuring our impact across all levels: individual, interpersonal, organizational, and communal (smaller scale of societal). While we acknowledge that demographic or behavioral changes can’t be accurately measured in a short webinar or without long-term engagement, we can still assess knowledge, attitudes, and skills improvements through longer workshops and training opportunities.

For organizations that commit to a multi-year approach, we can effectively track progress and changes over time based on identified objectives and strategies in a proposal. This allows us to measure shifts in behavior and the impact of DEI work on employees, relationships, and overall organizational culture, even in the face of staffing and operational changes. By continually evaluating our impact, we can increase the likelihood that our efforts are creating a significant and lasting difference.

What this looks like in practice

We’ve developed criteria and processes for making decisions about our programming, developed internal strategies and action items to adjust our focus and efforts, and have begun developing learning journeys and the levels of measurement and impact we can attribute to different offerings. 

While we’ve seen a growing sense of diversity fatigue, we’re more passionate than ever about achieving our mission. We’re dedicated to driving real change. We want to see organizations achieve greater diversity at all levels, with a particular focus on marginalized identities being represented in leadership positions. We aspire to collaborate with more workplaces committed to integrating DEI strategies into their company objectives, KPIs, OKRs, and overall expectations. By conducting assessments and providing ongoing strategic support, we strive to create a positive transformation across all areas of organizations, including practices, policies, programs, power structures, and people. Our comprehensive approach to this work, including content, coaching, and consulting services for deeply invested leaders, can transform personal and professional approaches to DEI and create opportunities to lead more equitably and inclusively. Additionally, we continue to host events that inspire personal and communal commitments resulting in a shift in thinking and behavior with the utmost inclusivity and equity in mind.

We’re excited to share our journey toward equity with you and hope our experiences can inspire you to develop or reassess your own theories of change regarding DEI work. If you’re interested in learning more about who we are and our approach to abolishing inequity in the workplace, head over to our Theory of Change.