Most of our employees opt-out of giving diversity data. How can we build trust on this?

Does anyone have advice on the best ways to collect diversity data on current employees and within your hiring pipeline?


Sounds like a great question for Sven, which makes me want a tagging function for Huddle :slight_smile:

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Building trust is convincing people that there is little risk in participating in a process or behavior. So if you want to build trust for anything, you need to show people that bad things don’t happen when they take a risk.

In the short-run, you will want to create limits on your ability to abuse the information and provide reasons why the data serves the employees’ interests.

LIMITS Anonymous surveys that cannot be connected to external data is one option that can help people feel the potential fallout of a breach of trust is minimal since you can’t connect their responses to them. You might also limit the number of demographics you collect (e.g. gender or race) and conduct separate small pulses looking at each. That will limit your ability to look at intersectional identities in the short run but some demographic data is better than none. Make sure you use a third party who has strong integrity reputations and would themselves be harmed by violating employee trust (e.g. orgs like Culture Amp or even academic researchers).

REASONS Provide a clear research question that requires demographic information helps people understand that you have legitimate reasons for asking demographic information. For example, noting that you need gender information to see if women and men are getting equally demanding and developmental assignments could enhance response rates to gender identity questions. Note that this knowledge will then influence how resources are allocated to ensure fair opportunity for both men and women.

In the long-run building trust is requires time and you should see this as an ongoing process not just in terms of a single D&I focused survey. Focus on building a general confidence first that increases people’s willingness to participate and be candid in general. Then start examining how certain demographics are having varied experiences once you have had some general impact. Getting people to share lots of sensitive information without first confronting a history of good reasons to withhold trust never works.

To build on what KenM says, it is very important to explain why you want the data and how you will use it. This goes beyond the “legalese” (that you also must provide) around data security and company policy. People need to understand the purpose and how having the data can benefit them and the company people strategy and effectiveness. You need to “get real” in your communications and keep the communications going. It is a constant campaign of communications around the need and benefits - not just a launch message. You need to communicate the WIIFM. Stonewall (UK) gives some very good guidance on this.


These are great ideas on getting folks to share info. Two additional thoughts to consider…

  1. Be careful about what you are asking. If you ask about practices related to gender, and then are not also transparent about what is found from their feedback, this can be off-putting as well. It can create a sense of … “they asked & don’t care”.
    If you aren’t able to provide transparency at a group or basic demographic level on something, think twice about asking it.
  2. In addition to transparency about what you find… is what ARE you going to do about it. Communicating some type of action or follow up is also important, especially on sensitive issues. Even if the first response is…
    “We hear you, and need to dig deeper to see what we can do to help with XXX” will help more than not acknowledging the issue was discovered.

Clearly link the request for data to what you’re trying to achieve. For example, if the business talks about building a diverse workforce it should be super clearly linked; ‘Our aim to better reflect our customer base within our workforce — and one way we’re able to measure this is by asking you some simple questions on Diversity. They’re entirely optional but go a long way in helping us ensure we’re on the right track’.