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  • 22nd Mar 2023

Good data is critical to employment equity

3 questions to help encourage employee self-identification

Good data is essential to achieving workplace equity goals

Imagine as an employer that you’re trying to increase equity in your team or organisation but aren’t sure what your current staff demographics are. To establish an accurate baseline and inform targets, you’ll need data. Specifically, employee self-identification information. This is data that employees provide voluntarily, disclosing their gender, race, and more.

How can behavioural science help employers collect more—and better quality—data? In 2021, we worked with Arup to increase employee disclosure from 55% to 85%, which exceeded Arup’s original target. This provided Arup with enough data to begin to measure and track their inclusion goals with a much greater degree of confidence.

More recently, we partnered with the Student Work Placement Program (SWPP), powered by Magnet, to increase self-identification rates of job seekers. 

Why don’t employees self-identify?

By researching existing evidence on self-disclosure and interviewing SWPP employers, we identified key barriers demotivating people from sharing their demographic information. Some include:

  • No perceived benefits: They may not find a compelling reason to disclose their race, ethnicity, gender, or other characteristics.
  • A sense of risk: People can feel that self-identifying is a risk and believe they could experience backlash for doing so, such as discrimination. This fear may heighten when a stigmatized facet of identity is less visible.
  • Privacy concerns: If someone doesn’t think that their data will be protected, they will be less likely to provide it.
  • Identity mismatch: Employees may not identify themselves as part of the demographic groups listed, especially if the specific terms used don’t align with their self-perceptions.
  • Lack of capability or opportunity: Common roadblocks to taking any action, such as limited attention and forgetfulness can affect self-disclosure. If the data collection comes with friction costs (eg being overly complex, entailing extra clicks), employees may put it off altogether.

Here are three questions employers can ask themselves to address the barriers outlined above. We also include actionable insights from our research with Magnet to guide future data gathering strategies.

1. How should we collect self-identification data?

The easier something is to do, the more likely people will do it. Using a digital form and writing in plain, modern language can help make the process easier while increasing data quality. Once you’ve drafted the form, ask a few staff members to test it out and provide quick feedback (eg How long did it take? Was it easy to understand? Did they fill out all of the questions you expected?). 

You can clarify the process further by making the self-identification question mandatory. However, to be responsive to employees hesitant about self-identification, employers should also include a “Prefer not to say” option.

2. Why should our employees choose to disclose their demographics?

Show people why it’s worthwhile to self-identify. Communicate the benefits accurately and truthfully, without pressuring employees to do something they’re uncomfortable with. For example, sharing how the data will be used to inform and improve the organization’s larger diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts—being as specific as possible—may help people see why it’s beneficial.

3. Why might our employees decide not to self-identify?

Every workplace is unique. Asking employees about concerns they have around self-identification can help shape your tactics. For example, if privacy is a perceived issue, ensure procedures are in place to protect employees’ data and think about having a trusted human resources representative, rather than a manager, communicate about the effort. If employees report that their identities are not represented in the questionnaire, consider using more inclusive and comprehensive language to refer to underrepresented groups, and include a response option for custom answers.

More actions for workplace equity

Many different factors feed into advancing workplace equity. Good data is just one of them—and getting it relies on both employers and employees. We hope these insights support employers in collecting high-quality self-identification data by ensuring employees are motivated to disclose it.

For more evidence-based ideas to improve equity in the workplace, check out our new guide that organizes practical actions employers can take by their effectiveness for specific demographic groups.

Access the “How to improve workplace equity” guide here