DEI Data Management in the Workplace

Posted by

Ian Hare

on 23 Sep 2022


Measuring and collecting diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) data while ensuring this highly-sensitive information is secure can be a delicate balancing act. Find out how to get it right.

DEI Data Management in the Workplace

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's (CIPD) 2019 'Diversity Management That Works' survey, UK businesses still have a lot of work to do when collecting data on workforce diversity.

Data is essential to the creation and ongoing success of any diversity equality and inclusion (DEI) strategy. However, the survey revealed that many companies don't even collect basic data on whom they employ, while those that do are unsure how to access or use it.

We look at the barriers – real and imagined – to collecting data, what data companies should collect, how best to get it, and how to use it effectively to create positive outcomes.

Defining the data – what should you measure?

To improve DEI (also known as EDI), businesses need an effective DEI strategy that sets clear, achievable goals. However, data is key to assessing your current state of play and driving your strategy's outcomes.

What data you collect will depend on your resources and what you want to find out. Smaller businesses can lack time or expertise, so they may need to focus on narrower areas.

Typically, DEI includes gender, sexual orientation, race, disabilities and age, but data could dive deeper into salaries and career development.

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How to measure DEI?

While 71% of employers reported gender, only 21% reported their black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) demographic. And although 83% of respondents acknowledged they needed better data to improve progress, collecting it can be challenging. For example, many employers were unsure what questions they were allowed to ask.

Legally, UK businesses can collect data on employees' gender and age but need the employee's permission to collect data which can identify, or help identify, a person – such as race or ethnic origin, religion, or physical and mental health. This sensitive data also requires greater consent and protection.

How to collect DEI data?

According to ACAS, employers can ask for protected information as long as the employee (or applicant) understands:

  • Providing the information is voluntary.
  • The information is anonymous.
  • The process is entirely separate and confidential from anyone involved in hiring the person.

Summarising the UK Government's ICO Employment Practices Code, CIPD adds:

  • The data collected must be relevant and not excessive.
  • The questions must allow employees or applicants to identify themselves accurately.
  • The data is only used to monitor equal opportunities.
  • The data is anonymised unless there's a genuine need for disclosure.
  • There are safeguards in place to protect data storage.
  • People must give their informed consent– tell them how you will use the data and that they can decline without repercussions.

    Unfortunately, prejudice, whether overt or subconscious, still exists. As a result, employees or applicants can be understandably reluctant to disclose sensitive information like gender identity, disability or sexual orientation for fear of discrimination.

Trust in the company and managers, plus a safe and supportive environment are key. Being upfront about why you need the information and how it will drive DEI is a good starting point. Ensure you share the findings and how you are using them in practice. Gathering vital information should become simpler when people understand and see the positive outcomes – driving constant progression.

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Delivering meaningful & effective DEI

Make sure you have a workable plan. CIPD's nine-step approach suggests:

  1. Develop the goals and purpose. Map the respondent's requirements and plan the questions to be answered by the analytics process.
  2. Define what measures will show if the project has succeeded, such as delivery to schedule, overall impact or user feedback.
  3. Check the data that's currently available and its quality. Identify any gaps that need to be covered.
  4. Define people's roles and objectives. Identify resourcing needs and other stakeholders.
  5. Design the data collection and processing strategy.
  6. Collect the data from established data sets and/or new data collection processes.
  7. Analyse the data, and develop insights, recommendations and guidance for users.
  8. Report the data clearly, highlighting answers to problems or further areas for investigation.
  9. Review the process and evaluate its impact. DEI data analysis is never done once. Your workforce demographic and employees' needs are constantly evolving, so repeat the exercise periodically.

Of course, asking the right questions is critical for any plan to succeed.
CIPD suggests working closely with employee groups or bodies, e.g. LGBTQ+ or BAME, to create inclusive, relevant questions and decide how best to describe ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Employee groups can also help explain why you are collecting the data and build confidence and buy-in. Ensure it's easy for employees to give the information, such as through an anonymised, online survey or via a dedicated place on your intranet.

Your questions will depend on your DEI strategy's goal, but your touchpoints should cover enrolment to leaving, providing a start-to-finish overview. Diversity Management That Works suggests collecting:

  • Recruitment data at each part of the application process – applicants, shortlists and appointments.
  • Pay and progression data, including performance feedback and appraisals, promotions, secondments and internal mobility.
  • Leave and working patterns, including parental leave, returners, take up of flexible working and sickness absence.
  • Complaints, grievances and disciplinary data.
  • Employee feedback, such as staff engagement surveys, broken down by demographic.
  • Exit data, such as retention/turnover and exit interview data.
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Understanding DEI data protection

Remember, under the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), you must ensure people’s data is secure. Understanding whether UK GDPR applies to your data is essential.

Essentially, UK GDPR applies to personal data – information that relates to an identified or identifiable individual. According to ICO, if it’s possible to identify an individual directly from your information – from a name to an IP address – or how you intend to use it, it’s likely to be personal data.

However, data is not considered ‘personal’ if it doesn’t relate to the individual, even if they’re directly or indirectly identifiable. Deciding if the information is relatable will depend on a number of factors, such as its content, use and the potential impact on the person.

Anonymised information also falls outside UK GDPR, though ‘pseudonymised’ data (where identifiers are changed) or inaccurate data is still subject.

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Using your DEI data to improve your business

Once you've collected the data, how do you use it to make positive changes?
First, decide whether you have the time, technology and expertise in-house to correlate and verify the information.

A 2018 global study found that only a touch over half (53%) of HR professionals thought their HR team had demonstrable numerical and statistical skills, falling to 36% for financial companies. If needed, bring in external skills to ensure you get accurate answers to your questions.

Act upon the findings to make sustainable change. These may include improving or widening your recruitment processes, removing any barriers LGTBQ+ or BAME people may face, diversity training for line managers, or giving employees more say in company processes or activities.

The results will be unique to your business, as will any steps needed to improve your DEI. However, Workday's 2021 study into DEI suggests time, investment, power, and evidence are all factors in driving sustainable change.
In short, businesses should ensure they have:

  • Dedicated resources are in place to fund and sustain initiatives.,
  • An organisational structure that ensures implementation and accountability.
  • Data to drive continuous improvement.

A diverse and inclusive workforce that reflects your clients and community can have huge business benefits. As well as making work happier for everyone, DEI can help to reduce staff turnover, attract and retain key talent, and drive innovation – ultimately improving business performance.

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