The need for, and success of, diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives can only truly be assessed by analysis of robust and reliable data. However, employees are not always willing to disclose demographic information about themselves. This has been a barrier to the ability of some businesses to understand their D&I picture, and so to take effective steps to address any issues. To improve this situation in their sector, the Financial Services Culture Board (FSCB) has launched its Sharing Diversity Data research programme. This has highlighted some common themes behind the non-disclosure.
The research has found three main behavioural factors that influence individuals in deciding whether to disclose or not disclose demographic information. These factors are: “frictions”, the messenger effect and incentives.
The FSCB defines friction, in this context, as anything in a process that makes something awkward or simply too difficult. It suggests that HR systems are too clunky and recommends simplification of processes to make disclosure of demographic information easier by doing the following:
- sending staff members links to enable them to provide information quickly and directly, rather than asking them to take the time to find reporting mechanisms themselves;
- ensuring sensitive questions are asked in accordance with best practice guidance so that people can submit an answer that is right for them; and
- providing guidance for demographic questions by referring employees to:
- Scope – for disability;
- Stonewall – for sexual orientation;
- Social Mobility Commission – for socio-economic status; and
- ONS – for ethnicity.
The messenger effect
The FSCB found that people are more likely to disclose personal information if the person asking for it has similarities to them, or is in a senior role. People are reluctant to disclose such information to someone they perceive as simply “a messenger”. Thus, businesses may get better demographic disclosure if they deploy a senior leader from a minority background to request it. Alternatively, the study found that the sharing of socio-economic backgrounds increased by around 50% when requests were made by the Chief People Officer, or someone of equivalent seniority.
Finally, the FSBC study recognises that employees may feel that sharing demographic information about characteristics, which have caused them to experience discrimination in the past, is a risk rather than a benefit. It suggests two options to overcome this problem: reduce the risk or increase the benefit.
- Reducing the risk:
- demonstrate a culture of diversity, inclusion and acceptance of differences to reduce fear of discrimination;
- demonstrate that data has been kept safe in the past; and
- collect surveys anonymously when possible, by using external providers to gather demographic data to increase trust in anonymity.
- Increasing the benefit:
- make it clear what the data is being collected for and what will be done with it; and
- demonstrate that the data has been used for beneficial purposes in the past and how it will be used for such beneficial purposes in the future.
The FSCB recognises that the impact of behavioural factors are highly context-specific and vary between individuals. It is useful, though, for businesses that are having challenges with the collection of D&I data to have some structured ideas about what they might be able to do to address these problems. Future research will be needed to understand the effect that implementation of these measures actually has in practice.