Getting it right: using data to deliver great equality, diversity and inclusion practices

Jan Gale, 12 April 2021

We don’t give out awards for best diversity data programme or best data analysis. It rarely features on diversity conference agendas, apart from brief flurries when legislative change occurs such as the introduction of gender pay reporting. But like most things in work and life, it’s the unseen hard work that underpin the strongest performance when it comes to improve equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

There is a wealth of information out there on how to do this well, from managing responsibilities under GDPR to how to phrase questions about disability, ethnicity, gender and sexuality. So, I’m not going to replicate that here. Instead, I’m going to talk about a few of the things that form the broader backdrop to getting this right.  

The first question we need to answer is ‘so what?’

The individuals you’re asking to share sensitive information, the HR or data professionals you’ll need to manage and maintain it, and your organisation’s leaders listening to presentations of your analysis will all want to know one thing – why this is important.

The ‘so what?’ for me is at the very heart of good EDI practice. We wouldn’t build a block of flats, set a rent policy or design a repairs service without understanding the facts and figures, so why would we develop EDI interventions without understanding where we are now and where we want to be? Whether we’re talking about improving board representation or improving satisfaction with our services for different groups of residents, we need to have access to accurate, up to date information so we can make the right decisions to support equity and inclusion.

We need people to trust us with their data

Trust that you’re going to use this information appropriately, trust that the aim is not to ‘target’ certain groups of people, trust that the information will be held securely. There’s a large number of variables on organisational trust and everything from confidence in leaders to decent IT systems will play a part here. I know people who are comfortable in sharing their mental health condition with colleagues and line management at work, but won’t share this information on HR systems for fear this will ‘count against them’ during deployment decisions, including promotion.

Being clear about what the data will be used for, and sometimes more importantly is not used for, is really important when asking people for this information.

We need to remind people that diversity (and inclusion for that matter) is about all of us

We also need to think about how engaged people are with the D&I agenda and whether they view sharing their personal data as a contribution to it. There’s a common misconception that we’re only interested in responses from minority groups.’ Perhaps this strikes at a broader misconception that ‘diversity’ is only about minority groups. We need to remind people that diversity (and inclusion for that matter) is about all of us.

We need data to be the beginning, not the end point

And finally, we’re not just a list of different boxes to be ticked, we’re human beings. Quantitative data can only go so far and needs to be supplemented with qualitative information: storytelling, focus groups, questionnaires. But we know all this from our day jobs. That repairs service doesn’t get designed without listening to residents’ stories either.

Ultimately, the more data we have, the more we know and the closer we are to understanding not only where we and where we’d like to be, but also the best decisions to take us there too.