As an HR leader, you already know how important diversity, equality and inclusion is within your organisation, and how it is so much more than paying lip service and ticking boxes. Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace boosts innovation and engagement, attracts top talent, and simply makes good business sense.
“By including people from different backgrounds, it is evident that creativity and breadth of ideas will be greater, and this is an often-undervalued asset of diverse organisations,” comments Anthony Sutton, managing director of Cream HR. “Furthermore, employees increasingly want to work in organisations where all people are respected and valued.”
According to a recent survey by Glassdoor, 76% of job seekers agreed that workplace diversity was a crucial factor when considering employment opportunities, while research by McKinsey found there is a strong business case for diversity and inclusion (D&I), with figures showing that the most diverse companies outperformed their less diverse counterparts by 36% on profitability.
“Diversity and inclusion in the workplace can lead to a more innovative and effective workforce,” remarks Teresa Boughey, CEO of Jungle HR and founder of Inclusion 247. “A diverse team, who feel like they are included and belong, bring different perspectives and ideas, which can lead to new solutions and approaches to problems. Inclusion ensures that all employees feel valued and respected for their unique differences, which can improve morale and productivity.”
An important element of diversity management in your organisation is conducting a D&I survey, as this will help you to better understand how your employees feel about your workplace culture, as well as enable you to analyse data by demographic, measure results and take decisive action.
We know that it is, however, a complex and sensitive issue, so it can be difficult to know where to start with a D&I survey to ensure you gain meaningful and accurate feedback, which you can use to inform strategy. Here, we outline what a D&I survey involves and, crucially, what are the key questions to include.
What is a D&I survey?
A D&I survey enables organisations to gather actionable data and feedback on how your employees view issues such as diversity, inclusion, equity, and fairness within the workplace.
“A D&I survey will measure the level and type of diversity in a business,” explains Rachel Youngman, D&I expert and deputy CEO at the Institute of Physics. “This will normally include responses to questions on, for example, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or belief. The survey can help to benchmark and then understand trends. It acts as a powerful contribution to creating the right solutions.”
Surveys typically include questions around employees’ perceptions of an organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, including leadership engagement and accountability, says Teresa Boughey. “Surveys might also seek to understand an individual’s personal experience and observations. This could include an employee’s perception of fairness and respect in the workplace, their ability to be safe to speak up, or the way in which their manager is approachable. A survey may also try to understand inclusion and equity in areas such as recruitment, promotion, and development, as well as the effectiveness of current equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) initiatives and programmes.”
Anthony Sutton adds that employers should ensure they take the time to promote the benefits of participation, as well as survey all employees to ensure meaningful representation. “Some organisations use this feedback to inform their ongoing strategy, others may send surveys out to get feedback on early-stage proposals. The most fundamental aspect of these surveys is the follow up – genuinely listening to the feedback and sharing your action plan with participants, in light of the results.”
Why should organisations conduct a D&I survey?
Surveys enable organisations to identify areas to improve D&I, as well as ensure everyone is heard and represented, including those who have protected characteristics under the Equality Act. It also demonstrates to your people that you are committed to prioritising D&I.
“Young people increasingly choose who they want to work for based on a company’s values,” comments Rachel Youngman. “To show you are committed to diversity is the first step towards attracting and retaining a diverse workforce.
“Also, from a business point of view, we need to understand who is working for us and to build trends to see progress as well as challenges over time. The survey is one way to give people a voice who might not otherwise contribute. It is what you do with the data and what else you put around it. This is particularly important for underrepresented groups where data sets can be small and therefore identifiable. You need to also think about qualitative sources of information and think about the context of wider society where we are all influenced.”
What are the key questions to include?
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the best questions to include in your D&I survey, however there are some general areas that should be incorporated.
“There are expected questions such as age and ethnicity, and you should find out if employees identify with a disability,” says Rachel Youngman. “It is particularly important to understand neurodiversity, often overlooked yet incredibly valuable as part of a diverse team. Gender identification and sexual orientation are often asked in surveys. It is also useful to understand an individual’s socioeconomic status.”
When it comes to precisely what questions to include, Teresa Boughey stresses the importance of tailoring the survey to the specific needs and context of the organisation, however she gives some example questions to help get you started:
- “To what extent do you feel that opportunities for growth, development and advancement are provided equitably to all employees?
- Have you ever experienced or witnessed discrimination, bias, or harassment at the company?
- How often do you hear leaders within the company discuss and prioritise ED&I?
- How well do you feel the leadership team understands and addresses the unique experiences and perspectives of diverse employees?
- Are there any employee resource groups or affinity groups dedicated to promoting ED&I within the company?
- How well do you believe the company’s culture supports and encourages the retention and advancement of diverse employees?
- How comfortable do you feel raising concerns or issues related to ED&I with your supervisor or leadership team?
- Are there any barriers or challenges that prevent you from speaking up about ED&I issues in the workplace?”
She adds: “It’s also important to consider the language used and the sensitivity of the topics being explored, to ensure those completing the survey feel comfortable responding truthfully and openly. Psychological safety is a critical aspect of ED&I. Creating a culture where employees feel safe to speak up and raise concerns is crucial for fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace.”
What key steps can organisations take to successfully improve D&I?
A vital step is to ensure your leaders and managers are fully engaged and committed to making D&I a priority.
“It is not enough to put in place a D&I team,” remarks Rachel Youngman. “Leadership commitment is essential to show that it is valued and a key part of work to make a business successful. Surveys are a great starting point as you collect quantitative data and can measure progress. But I would also encourage business leaders to listen to employees through focus groups. I have often found that the best solutions are those that are co-created with diverse voices.”