As an HR leader, you’ve taken steps to bring diversity and inclusion to the top of your company’s agenda.
But despite your efforts, you feel like it hasn’t had a meaningful impact, and your employee surveys say something similar.
You’re not alone. Despite increased talk around diversity and inclusion, the numbers show that companies, particularly in lucrative fields like tech, are still struggling to turn words into results.
How do you turn your good intentions as a leader into meaningful results?
The first step is to gather actionable data about diversity. As the saying goes, “What gets measured gets managed.” The same idea applies to diversity and inclusion.
In fact, data can help companies avoid some of the pitfalls of diversity and inclusion initiatives such as:
- only engaging with diversity and inclusion through general statements about doing better or listening more without developing actionable plans
- developing paralysis analysis where anxiety about doing or saying the wrong things prevents companies from taking bold and decisive steps towards diversity and inclusion
- focusing on vanity metrics that make for easy PR wins, such as diverse hiring statistics, without looking deeper to understand whether employees feel engaged or have opportunities for advancement
When you approach diversity and inclusion from a data point of view, you can gather more granular questions about the employee experience across different demographics. Better data can help organizations answer questions about whether people from underrepresented groups are:
- invited to social events
- included in important meetings
- mentored by senior employees
- suffering from microaggressions
- feeling unsupported
Data also helps employers understand the difference between diversity and inclusion. Diversity refers to an organization’s makeup. A company with a highly diverse workforce may have a large percentage of women or minorities, but it may not be inclusive.
For instance, do those women and minorities feel included? Do they feel like they have an equal shot at advancement based on their merits?
Do they feel like they have to hide elements of their lives (e.g. their responsibilities as a parent, their cultural holidays) in order to be respected at work? Data can help answer these questions.
One helpful way to begin taking a data-driven approach to diversity and inclusion is to distribute diversity and inclusion survey questions.
Your organization may already distribute an annual survey or a pulse survey related to employee engagement, but a diversity and inclusion-specific survey is different. This kind of survey allows you to:
- understand how your employees feel about their experience at work when it comes to diversity and inclusion
- identify high priority areas of improvement (e.g. lack of mentorship opportunities, frequent microaggressions) so you can focus your organization’s resources on meaningful initiatives
- establish benchmarks so you can measure the impact of your chosen policies and initiatives
If you’re looking for a starting point, here are essential diversity and inclusion “questions” to include in your next D&I survey.
Keep in mind that these “questions” are statements that you will ask your employees to rank their level of agreement with, so that you have quantitative data.
Here are 10 questions you must include in your diversity and inclusion surveys.
Survey questions about employees’ personal experiences
- I am comfortable sharing my personal background and experiences at this organization.
- My manager handles diversity matters appropriately and demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Survey questions about career progression
- My personal characteristics (e.g. gender, age, sexual orientation, color of skin, heritage) are not a barrier to career progression at this organization
- I feel valued for the unique contribution I can make to our organization.
- I feel safe to take risks at this organization
Survey questions about policies and procedures
- The procedures for reporting discrimination are adequate.
- I believe that our organization will take appropriate action in response to discrimination.
Overall survey questions about diversity and inclusion
Survey questions about employees’ personal experiences
I am comfortable sharing my personal background and experiences at this organization.
Should you keep the personal away from the professional?
In theory, it may seem like a good idea, but in practice, personal tidbits and opening up about your life outside of work are key to building the relationships that lead to professional advancement.
Consider this anecdote reported in Harvard Business Review about a black executive’s experience at a birthday party thrown by her colleagues. When a colleague asked her what she did for her birthday, she said she went to a concert. When they asked who she saw, she quickly replied that they wouldn’t know the artist and changed the subject. Why? Because the artist was a gospel artist that was popular among her black friends.
To her colleagues, this may have seemed like an innocent piece of information to share. But to this executive, this information felt like what’s known as a “status-confirming disclosure”.
A status-confirming disclosure is a piece of personal information that a person worries will highlight their difference and reinforce prejudices people may have about them based on their race.
For this executive, sharing this tidbit risked highlighting her difference within her colleagues’ minds and impacting her ability to advance further.
When people and culture experts discuss making employees feel comfortable to bring their “whole selves to work” this is what they are talking about. Not sharing overly personal tidbits, but instead feeling comfortable enough to engage in chitchat, speak about their lived experiences, and be honest about their interests.
When employees experience microaggressions or hear inappropriate remarks or jokes that are viewed as “not a big deal” within the culture, they’re less likely to share anything that will give these individuals further ammunition.
The problem is that these kinds of non-work-related connections (e.g. discussing what you did over the weekend, connecting over children and family, bonding over shared interests) is what allows employees to build interpersonal connections.
These interpersonal connections allow them to develop the social capital to advance in their career and work well with their colleagues on different projects.
So while a company with people from different backgrounds may be diverse, it isn’t inclusive if people don’t feel comfortable among colleagues.
My manager handles diversity matters appropriately and demonstrates a commitment to diversity and inclusion.
One of the most insidious causes of turnover is microaggressions.
According to psychology professor Kevin Nadal, microaggressions are “the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups.”
These comments can erode an employee’s sense of inclusion within an organization and their sense that they’re being evaluated purely on the merits of their work.
Over 25% of employees say they’ve experienced a microaggression while 36% say they’ve witnessed a microaggression.
Often, these microaggressions are delivered as a joke or even a compliment. Examples of common microaggressions (that professionals may not even know are microaggressions) include:
- A white colleague telling a black colleague that “they’re so articulate” with surprise, implying that they assumed they weren’t expecting them to be or that they generally believe black professionals to be less competent. A suggested alternative is to praise people for their specific ideas or insights rather than their general speaking style.
- Telling a transgender person that “they don’t look transgender at all”, which implies that there’s an issue with being transgender and it’s something that needs to be disguised. An alternative to this is to simply say nothing and refrain from commenting on a colleague’s appearance.
- Assuming someone from an underrepresented group will instantly befriend or be interested in meeting your friend. For example, avoid assuming an LGBT colleague would be interested in meeting your LGBT friend if they haven’t expressly asked for help meeting a romantic partner.
- Calling a female colleague or superior “crazy” or “hysterical” because they’ve made a request, provided feedback, or critiqued a piece of work.
These comments often happen quickly and unintentionally and employees notice how their managers respond to them.
If their manager laughs along, echos the comments, or dismisses an employee’s concerns about the comments, this further reinforces the belief that employees should refrain from sharing anything that will cause colleagues to double down on these stereotypes.
On the other hand, if managers address these microaggressions by educating their teams on these topics or calling out microaggressions when they hear them, they can create an environment where employees feel supported.
Survey questions about career progression
My personal characteristics (e.g. gender, age, sexual orientation, color of skin, heritage) are not a barrier to career progression at this organization
When you successfully recruit employees, your work doesn’t end. Your attention as a people and culture leader turns towards retaining those employees.
The same idea applies to your D&I initiatives. Once you’ve built a diverse workforce, your work doesn’t end. Instead, your attention should turn to ensuring those employees feel included in that workplace.
Inclusion can be a difficult concept for people and culture leaders to understand. Workplace culture coach Matt Bush says inclusion is about “how well the contributions, presence and perspectives of different groups of people are valued and integrated into an environment.”
In other words, do you spend time recruiting diverse professionals only to make it difficult for them to advance by:
- tolerating microaggressions and making it difficult for them to feel comfortable connecting with colleagues in a toxic work environment, preventing them from building the relationships that lead to advancement?
- failing to identify systemic barriers (e.g. pre-existing networks, unconscious biases, referral-based hires) that prevent them from gaining the mentorship or informal advice needed to access high-visibility projects?
- scheduling important meetings or deadlines on non-Christian religious holidays that make professionals choose between observing important holidays with their families and appearing “committed” to their work?
On the surface, it may seem like your organization is inclusive, but a high-level view of your company isn’t an accurate way to assess whether your employees feel included.
Employees who feel excluded or disrespected through microaggressions are not likely to speak up; they’re more likely to look for another job.
Instead of assuming, ask your employees whether they feel like their personal characteristics make them feel like they can’t progress.
If they do, you can stop debating whether there is a problem – the data shows there is – and refocus your attention on solving that problem.
I feel valued for the unique contribution I can make to our organization.
People feel the need to be valued and accepted, and this human desire doesn’t disappear when they tap a keycard at the office door.
As a result, employers should recognize that this need for recognition must be met at work as well, particularly when it comes to engaging groups that have been historically underrepresented in the workplace.
Your diversity and inclusion survey helps identify whether this need is met within your organization and if not, whether employees feel like their personal characteristics, from gender to race to sexual orientation, impact whether they’re valued at work.
This can help you drill down during future surveys with more granular questions that identify why employees feel undervalued.
A common microaggression is being made to feel unheard or as if one’s input isn’t as valuable as another colleague’s input.
Plus, people from specific groups, such as women or minorities, may worry that asserting themselves will perpetuate negative stereotypes about being hysterical or aggressive.
If you realize employees feel undervalued, and they identify microaggressions as proof of this, you can apply systemic methods for creating a culture of mutual respect for colleagues’ ideas.
For example, when it comes to addressing frequent interruptions in meetings, companies can train managers on specific techniques for combatting this.
One technique is the “positive future focus” technique developed by Carnegie Mellon’s Joanna Wolfe. This method reframes the solution to interruptions.
Rather than making it more acceptable for certain groups to be assertive or interrupt, this method makes it more unacceptable for dominant groups to interrupt. It also encourages leaders to address interruptions positively.
Wolfe advises that “a person should begin by saying something positive — perhaps by acknowledging the merits of the interrupter’s position...they should then note shared goals that aren’t being met and offer a solution. For instance, the person could say ‘we could be having a better discussion. Let’s take care not to interrupt or share more thoughts until everyone has had a chance to speak.’”
I feel safe to take risks at this organization
People tend to view risk takers as “go-getters” who have “what it takes to lead effectively” especially in white collar workplaces.
As Steven Rice, former CHRO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation put it, “Fear drives mediocrity. It’s necessary to take risks to move forward.”
Successful professionals who take career risks understand that:
- they have to go beyond what’s easy and set stretch goals that can’t be accomplished through incremental improvements
- a healthy relationship with failure is important for taking risks which is an important part of growth
- they need to build a strong support system that they can turn to for advice while making big career moves and decisions
- they need connection both in positions of power (people who can open doors) and information connections (people who provide knowledge and expertise to help solve problems or explore innovative solutions)
If an employee works in an environment where they experience frequent microaggressions and inappropriate comments, their attempts at risk-taking may be viewed differently than another employee’s attempts at risk taking.
The earlier issues we discussed – the inability to be authentic at work and build connections with others – would impact a person’s ability to build the foundation for future risk taking.
If you can’t build connections or you can’t access existing networks, it’s challenging to get the mentorship or leadership connections needed to get advice about your ideas.
Survey questions about policies and procedures
The procedures for reporting discrimination are adequate.
Stating your organization’s commitment to complying with anti-discrimination laws and actually making employees feel like you have a zero-tolerance policy towards discriminaton are two different things.
Your diversity survey can help you understand whether employees feel like there are adequate policies in place for reporting and addressing discrimination.
If your employees disagree with this statement, it may be because:
- senior leaders are responsible for the discrimination and microaggressions
- there’s a lax attitude towards issues of discrimination and people are worried they will damage their relationships within the organization by speaking up about mistreatment
- employees who previously reported discrimination either left the organization or remained but their advancement opportunities suffered
- there is no transparent, documented process for investigating discrimination complaints
A diversity and inclusion survey with direct questions helps you determine whether there’s a problem and start to take steps to address them.
I believe that our organization will take appropriate action in response to discrimination.
Do your employees feel like you will take appropriate action in response to proven discrimination? If there are no consequences, future employees won’t feel comfortable speaking up for themselves.
Similarly, the employee who reported the discrimination is now in a vulnerable and exposed position if the accused individual shares what happened with their colleagues.
Document what action will be taken in response to proven instances of discrimination and ensure they’re available to others within your organization.
Overall survey questions about diversity and inclusion
People from all backgrounds are treated fairly in my organization.
People rarely intend to be unfair. Instead, they fall victim to unconscious biases, which are shortcuts we use to evaluate people. Common unconscious biases include:
- Affinity bias: The tendency to get along better with people who are similar to us in terms of background, education, interests, etc.
- Attribution bias: When we make a judgement about someone based on a particular event. An example would be assuming that one error makes an employee sloppy or unprofessional.
- Halo bias: When our overall impression of a person impacts how we evaluate them. For instance, if you like someone – maybe due to affinity bias – you give them the benefit of the doubt beyond what they deserve.
Training managers to recognize their own unconscious biases is one way to improve the work environment.
This way, managers can understand that everyone has unconscious biases and that the best thing to do is address them and take steps to combat them.
Another way that managers can strive for fairness is to develop objective evaluation criteria for their employees.
While this won’t overcome all diversity and inclusion challenges (such as a lack of mentorship opportunities) it’s one step towards more standardized performance evaluations and promotions.
Diversity & inclusion is one of our organization’s priority areas.
Employees can see through PR fluff when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Is D&I something that your organization is deeply committed to, or is it a vanity exercise?
It’s easy to confuse talk with action, so while it may seem like your organization is spending a lot of time thinking about diversity and inclusion, your diversity survey will show whether that’s what your employees experience. It’ll allow you to ask questions like:
- are we making assumptions about how diverse and included our employees feel, or are we actively listening to their experiences and taking action?
- are we sending emails with empty words about the importance of diversity and inclusion, or are we investing in programs and initiatives that give underrepresented groups access to opportunities?
- are we denouncing racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, while allowing a culture of microaggressions?
Employees at this organization demonstrate a commitment to creating an inclusive environment.
Similarly, you want to know whether your culture is an inclusive culture. A company’s culture is the sum of all its behaviours, norms, and values. If people often make inappropriate remarks and they are routinely shrugged off by managers and colleagues, then this contributes to a toxic company culture where people don’t feel included or able to fully participate with their teams.
Using the right survey software for your diversity and inclusion surveys
Diversity and inclusion surveys help you understand your company’s D&I success or areas of improvement at a granular level and set benchmarks to evaluate your future performance. It also gives your employees an opportunity to express their thoughts on their work environment.
To make employees feel comfortable sharing their opinions – and in some cases comply with local regulations – you want a strong survey tool that allows you to anonymize your employees’ responses, and segment the data by age, gender, and any other identifying details you’re allowed to collect.
These features will make your employees more comfortable answering questions while also giving you the power to analyze and interpret your data.