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DEI Data in the workplace

When it comes to inclusion, equity and culture, numbers do not tell the whole story. And great data is not going to solve inequities in and of itself. But meaningful and thoughtful analysis of diversity data is not only an incredibly powerful tool in identifying disparities in opportunities and outcomes, it’s crucial in developing an approach to DEI that is harnessed in long term sustainable change. But first things first. Being aware of and alive to local legal and data protection considerations when working with diversity data is a crucial place to start. It’s important to involve the relevant stakeholders and seek the right guidance (for instance from legal or compliance specialists) before you develop a strategy and dive into the data. Likewise, doing this well requires having the right systems and processes in place. There are a wealth of valuable resources and insights to draw on, including: - In our Inclusion Unlocked podcast, Asif Sadiq discusses how Warner Brothers Discovery developed a global approach to diversity monitoring, taking into account local legal requirements and norms. - The InterLaw Diversity Forum’s Best Practice Guide to Diversity Monitoring provides an overview of the provisions that need to be in place to satisfy data protection requirements in the UK and valuable insights on how to develop a data monitoring strategy. - Following the Supreme Court’s June 2023 ruling on affirmative action policies in the US, Lily Zheng’s article How to Effectively — and Legally — Use Racial Data for DEI ( focuses on important considerations for working with diversity data in the US.

Once the foundations are in place, how can employers use diversity data to support meaningful change? Here are our three top tips:

  1. Place trust at the heart of your approach to collecting diversity data Low declaration rates will considerably limit the value of any insights you can gain from analysing diversity data. Complying with data protection requirements and having the right systems in place is critical. But hand in hand with this, the key to encouraging staff to provide their data is trust. This starts with being clear and open with staff around why you are collecting diversity data, how data will be used and who will have access to the information. It’s important that staff understand that any diversity data will be anonymised and aggregated, and even more importantly, that they believe in what your DEI strategy is setting out to achieve. Diversity data is a personal topic, so where possible reach beyond email and written communications to share your approach. Engaging staff in a more personal way can help to create reassurance for those who may feel apprehensive about sharing their data.

  2. Dig deeper: Rather than ask “Where are we now?” ask “How did we get here?” From our experience the most meaningful and informative diversity analysis does not just ask “where are we today?”, it also asks “how did we get here?”. In other words, rather than considering headcount and pay gap statistics in isolation, consider the factors that contributed to any disparities. Why not weave these questions into your analysis?: Is there a disparity in the diversity of job applicants, and those we hire into our organisation? What does our attrition data tell us? Do we have higher turnover of employees in particular demographic groups? When we review performance ratings through a diversity lens, are there trends or disparities? What does our employee sentiment data tell us when we review it through a diversity lens? The insights gained from data alone will not give you all the answers. But looking for disparities and trends in diversity data can help to identify risk or concern areas that warrant further exploration. And digging deeper can pinpoint specific issues relating to processes, individual biases / behaviours or norms. Addressing these issues can lead to real change.

  3. Look for the biases lurking in workplace systems, processes and norms Organisations talk a lot about bias, and rightly so. Our unconscious or implicit biases skew our judgement and can impact who we interact with, who we give opportunities to and how we assess performance. Systemic bias is the tendency of a system to support a particular outcome, usually benefiting the dominant group in an organisation. As well as mitigating and reducing the impact of bias in our people, it’s important to identify whether bias has become baked into our systems and processes. Careful and thoughtful analysis of diversity data at each stage in our employee lifecycle can be the first step towards doing just that. What could this look like in practice? Here are a couple of examples: ◾ Iris Bohnet, co-director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School highlighted the risk that social influence via our anchoring bias could lead to disparities in performance ratings. We are influenced by numbers. Picture an evaluation process where staff are required to write a self-evaluation and rate their own performance. The manager reviews the self-evaluation before writing their own assessment. They see a low rating from a female team member who has downplayed her own performance, and the manager’s anchoring bias leads them to downgrade their rating in-turn. Numerous studies tell us that women have a greater tendency to downplay their achievements. Therefore, adapting the process by requiring managers to submit their ratings before reviewing self-evaluations of their reports may contribute to fairer outcomes. ◾ A growing number of US states have banned employers from asking about salary history. But why? This large-scale shift came about because the practice of asking about salary history exacerbates historic pay disparities: Employers will often base salary offers, in part, on current or previous earnings of the candidate. Early studies found that the move away from asking about salary history has led to pay increases for women and people of colour securing new jobs.

In short, careful analysis can help you to identify where processes or systems may exacerbate inequality. Taking steps to fix workplace systems can lead to better outcomes. Diversity data is a complex area. Putting in place a strategy that will alert you to disparities or inequities at each stage in your employee lifecycle will require resources, time and careful planning. But for any organisation seeking to adopt an approach to DEI that is transformative, rather than performative, this is a worthwhile investment!

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