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Cultural inclusion in the workplace: look at the data

Katie Nightingale Katie Nightingale

Developing a strategy for creating an inclusive company culture can be challenging. Katie Nightingale and Doyin Badewa explain the importance of diversity and inclusion data collection, and how it can be protected and managed effectively.

Collecting data about your employees is an important tool for thinking about how to create an inclusive culture. In addition to this, it is vital for fulfilling regulatory and legal requirements for diversity and inclusion in business, as well as measuring progress and benchmarking across peer sets. In April 2021 we organised a roundtable to ask diversity leads about how their organisations are using data to make progress on their inclusion journey.

Collecting and sharing

The challenges of collecting diversity and inclusion data are widely known, but the purpose of it for enhancing cultural inclusion in the workplace, and the problems that it can help solve, are not well understood.

One common frustration for diversity and inclusion leads is the frequency of ad hoc requests for data from different parts of their organisation. Gathering data to respond to these requests can be time consuming and delay progress in delivering other outcomes. 

Successfully minimising these ad-hoc requests comes from regularly tracking and reporting diversity and inclusion data, and making this readily available to stakeholders across an organisation, such as via a dashboard.


Managing and protecting

The principle data challenge for most organisations is knowing what to do with data, and ensuring that it is protected and managed in accordance with the law.  The  basic data protection principles for diversity and inclusion are understanding both what can be shared, and with whom it can be shared. Regularly monitoring the data, knowing the legal and policy requirements, and having the infrastructure in place to ensure the right governance is maintained, makes this much easier.

Global data is even more complex. This is especially true for international companies, because of the different data laws and policies around the world. Complying with these varied requirements can often slow down the process and prevent organisations from moving forward. Diversity and inclusion leads should work closely with legal, HR and policy staff to develop safeguards for data sharing and utilisation that prevent breaches in data security.

It is also important that organisations invest in the appropriate tools and skills to ensure that all data is secure.

Encouraging disclosure

Another key challenge leaders face is the difficulty in encouraging employees to disclose their identity characteristics on surveys and forms. This reticence may be because employees are worried about being ‘found-out’, feel unsafe, or are unsure why the data is being collected.

Having the right safeguards in place should help to alleviate employees’ concerns. The purpose for collecting the data should be clearly communicated to employees. Improving the processes for self- identification can also maximise responses.

It is important to include the right categories for self-identification. This does not only make it easier for the employee to self-identify, but showing that the organisation recognises them appropriately can also improve their sense of belonging.

The above actions, and other process modifications, have increased our own self-identification disclosure rate from 60% to 90%. We aim for 90% personal data disclosure (in line with some of our peers), but we also accept that there will always be a proportion of the workforce that do not want to disclose any personal data.


The poll results show that diversity and inclusion leads are interested in benchmarking data, but the roundtable discussions revealed more concern with getting it right first within their organisations, before comparing themselves against others.


Engaging and analysing

Measuring inclusion is central to making progress on creating a diverse workforce, but for many organisations it can be a challenging task.

Employee surveys

One way to measure inclusion is by listening to employees' own lived experiences. The tools for this can be very simple, such as surveys and focus or listening groups. This approach allows the identification of trends and issues among specific groups in the organisation: for example, wellbeing for care givers. Carrying out annual engagement surveys and using an inclusion index are good methods for tracking engagement progress (in score) by groups. This enables targeted changes, such as aligning recruitment strategies and updating relevant policies.

Employee value proposition

You can also look at data across the employee value proposition to help determine the culture of the organisation. This includes reviewing recruitment, attrition rates, level and types of grievances, rewards and pay gaps. This tool is often under-utilised by organisations, but can be very useful for developing strategies for diversity and inclusion.

These data points can help organisations track the gaps between different groups and help to tell the story of their organisational culture. The disparities that exist across these points will help identify how inclusive or non-inclusive the organisation actually is. Historically, most organisations tend not to investigate this data because of fear of what they might find. Many organisations, however, are realising that understanding the data can help them to achieve their diversity goals.

Data is important, however in the absence of sufficient data to make long term decisions, it should not prevent leadership teams from setting and committing to diversity and inclusion ambitions for organisations.

Getting leadership buy-in

Data is undoubtedly a very helpful tool for making decisions, but senior leaders can become too focused on using data to prove the business benefits of of more inclusive practices to drive diversity before approving them. Some diversity and inclusion leads struggled to get senior leaders on board with the inclusion journey at all without base level data. They need to get the balance right, so that they don't get trapped in endless conversations about data that distract from the real purpose of making these changes.

Diversity and inclusion leads feel that the focus needs to be less on the business case and more on doing the right thing. They would like to see senior leaders personally engaged with the importance of diversity and inclusion.

One method for encouraging leaders to support their organisation's commitment to inclusivity is coaching sessions with the diversity and inclusion lead. This would encourage senior leaders to ask appropriate questions and become more active in driving progress on diversity and inclusion, equipping them to speak with an authentic voice on perhaps uncomfortable topics in difficult situations.

For example, leaders could use their own stories to make speeches about inclusivity instead of relying on a script prepared by someone else because they're afraid of saying the wrong thing. This can help leaders to see diversity and inclusion as a personal and moral imperative, instead of just a business operation.

If diversity and inclusion leads are still struggling to get leaders to understand this, there are several other tools that they can tap into:

  • Reverse mentoring
  • Sharing people's stories
  • Inclusive leadership programs
  • External consulting

If leaders can get this right, there will be less need for justifying these decisions at all.



Achieving realistic targets

Most of the diversity and inclusion leads we talked to confirmed that their organisations have in-year targets (including global agenda targets for international companies) and commitments for key focal points of diversity and inclusion: race, gender, disability and LGBTQ+ in the coming years. Although targets are generally perceived as good thing, our leads shared concerns that they might actually be divisive. They might lead to more questions and data requests. Missed targets might also cause the workforce to lose trust in the business's commitment to cultural inclusiveness in the workplace and delay progress even more by creating widespread disengagement.

A solution is to ensure that targets are not only desirable, but realistic. Ensuring that your inclusivity targets are achievable can be a challenge, so it's always important to consider them carefully before actually implementing them.

For further information on how to create an inclusive culture in your workplace, contact Katie Nightingale.

People advisory
Diversity and inclusion A driving force for success

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