Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said, “It’s not only that diversity and inclusion are good for our business. It’s more fundamental than that — it’s simply right.” DEI programs may be right, but it’s no secret that they are controversial in the workforce. Employees are often skeptical when a workplace diversity survey is introduced, which makes it difficult for DEI programs to flourish.

To solve this, here’s our guide to implementing a workplace diversity survey that will give you actionable results and lay the foundation for a successful DEI program.

But first, consider this truth: without scientific data, DEI programs are nearly guaranteed to flop.

Why? Because it takes empirical data to ensure your managers are truly on board with upcoming initiatives. Moreover, it takes sound data to craft DEI programs that meet employees’ preferences and needs.

illustration of people talking about dei definitions for the workplace diversity survey from Interaction Metrics

DEI: Definitions

Definitions matter. DEI stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, three connected goals that many companies value. These goals focus on upholding individuals of different races, sexual orientations, and backgrounds.

  • Diversity refers to who your employees are. Are men and women equally represented? Are nonbinary individuals represented? Are your employees mostly from one generation, or is there an even spread across generations? Do they come from homogenous ethnic and religious backgrounds, or is there a variety?
  • Equity considers employees’ diverse backgrounds and provides different levels of support so that their outcomes are equal.
  • Inclusion refers to how your employees experience their jobs and company culture. Do employees feel their voice is heard? Do they think their contributions matter? Do they feel like they are a part of meetings and events?

illustration of man thinking and questioning DEI initiatives

DEI: A Mixed, Complicated Bag

When DEI programs are first introduced at organizations, many employees express concerns about reverse discrimination, retaliation, tokenism, lowered standards, and political agendas.

In fact, Dobbin and Kalev pointed out in their excellent Harvard Business Review article that many diversity programs fail to increase diversity in the workforce. They write that “Laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out. As social scientists have found, people often rebel against rules to assert their autonomy. Try to coerce me to do X, Y, or Z, and I’ll do the opposite just to prove that I’m my own person.”

And yet while Dobbin and Kalev’s article finds grave downsides to diversity programs, other research finds that DEI efforts are quite popular. For instance, according to Pew Research Center, fully 56 percent of U.S. workers say that efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace are good. But the same study finds that only 32 percent of workers say it’s very important to work for a company with a diverse workforce.

In sum, DEI is a mixed, complicated bag. While most workers support DEI efforts, they are significantly less likely to see a need for them in their workplace.

Meanwhile there is often company-wide confusion regarding the basics of DEI values and how to roll out DEI initiatives. Forrester Research finds, “Whether it’s fear of alienating a portion of their customer base by taking a stand on the issues of the day or a lack of clarity around how to operationalize inclusion, we’ve seen many organizations make things worse, not better, in their initial attempts.”

Data-Driven DEI

Given the skepticism of, resistance to, and bad execution of DEI programs, establishing a foundation of objective facts is essential.

Implementing an impartial workplace diversity survey builds your foundation because employees are less likely to view DEI programs as part of management’s political agenda if they are invited to share their voices first. Plus, a baseline of employees’ opinions on DEI allows companies to gauge changes in employees’ perceptions over time.

illustration of a survey email invitation from Interaction Metrics

First Things First: Your Survey Email Invite

Achieving scientific (not subjective) data is a multi-faceted project that starts by setting the right tone in the email that asks employees to take your workplace diversity survey. Let staff know that their answers will improve the workplace for everyone. And be sure to:

  • Use disarming language, such as: “All opinions count, and your perspective matters.” Showing the importance of your survey in a neutral way encourages employees to respond and share their feelings.
  • Reassure employees upfront that their answers cannot and will not be used against them. And if you are using a third party to implement your survey, emphasize that to employees.
  • Use engaging, strong words in the links to your survey.
  • Offer an incentive like an Amazon gift card or raffle ticket giveaway. Employees are already burdened with the responsibilities of their jobs. Make the survey a fun and celebratory event for them, not another chore. (And as soon as the survey window closes, be sure to send out the gift cards, select a winner, etc.)
  • Underscore the survey’s anonymity, objectivity, or the fact that it’s administered by a third party in the email signature.
  • Always use a postscript under the signature – it’s a classic direct marketing method proven to boost response rates. Yielding a high response rate is essential because this helps ensure your data is statistically valid.

illustration of employees responding to a workplace diversity survey from Interaction Metrics

Workplace Diversity Survey: 11 Best Practices

Here are eleven tips on how to design your workplace diversity survey that will ensure objective data and that all employees’ voices are heard.

Tip 1: Guarantee anonymity, always. This one is non-negotiable.

Employees will not feel safe enough to voice their honest opinions unless you can guarantee that their answers cannot be linked back to them in any way.

Tip 2: Hire a third party to implement your survey. When it comes to a sensitive topic like DEI, employees are more likely to trust an impartial third party with no stakes in their company’s workplace culture and that can’t be accused of bias.

Tip 3: Only ask for the essentials, especially when it comes to demographics. Don’t unnecessarily drill down into the minutiae unless you plan to use that information.

Tip 4: Order your questions thoughtfully. Put open-ended questions in the middle of your survey instead of at the end to ensure employees have time to answer them. When mined properly, open-ended text offers a gold mine of insights.

Tip 5: Tell employees what to expect because they are less likely to start a task if they have no idea how long it will take or what they’ll be required to do.

Be upfront about how many questions your workplace diversity survey consists of.

You might even describe the content and flow of your survey in its opening screen. For example, if there are 11 rating questions, followed by two open-ended questions, and five yes/no questions at the end, let employees know.

Tip 6: Use a balanced rating scale that reflects how employees actually express themselves. For example, instead of asking employees if they “strongly disagree” or “neither agree nor disagree” with a statement, provide answer options that sound familiar.

Rating scales such as “Bad”, “Poor,” “OK,” “Good,” and “Great” tend to collect accurate data because they reflect the way your staff thinks.

As much as possible, use language in your surveys as though you’re talking in person.

Tip 7: Say thank you! Be sure to thank respondents for their feedback in the email invite and at the end of the survey.

Tip 8: Connect your survey to specific DEI goals. For instance, if your organization’s goal is to increase the number of women in the workforce, ask questions about how many women have applied for positions and how receptive your working environment is for women.

Tip 9: Test your workplace diversity survey for bias. Bias is the scourge of any survey, but it’s especially easy for it to sneak into a workplace diversity survey that touches on sensitive topics.

Have a diverse group of individuals (outside of your department) read through your survey questions to check for unintended biases in your wording.

Tip 10: When possible, make sure that your survey is accessible to employees with disabilities. Offer different visual, auditory, and text-based formats.

Tip 11: Include questions that let you benchmark your company’s diversity data against your standards and subsequent survey data. You want to be able to track and show your progress over time!

Your Workplace Diversity Survey: Six Areas to Consider

DEI goals will vary from company to company, and template surveys never deliver the precise insights your company needs to grow. But while your approach needs to be customized to your core mission, here are six question prompts to consider on your path toward scientific data.

Remember, the goal is to find out how your staff genuinely experiences the workplace you provide – and what their ideas are for how you could do better.
  • How many times have you witnessed harassment in the workplace? Why this question works: Having employees think critically about what they’ve witnessed is a great way to measure aggravations in the workplace objectively and prepares them to share more in the open-ended survey questions.
  • Do you feel comfortable talking about issues related to racial equity, harassment, and diversity with your manager? Why this question works: The relationship between employees and supervisors is critical. This question can help you determine whether leadership needs training.
  • Have you felt discriminated against for the following: gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or another reason? Why this question works: Discrimination may be ongoing in the workplace, and employees may not feel safe enough to report it. An anonymous, impartial survey may be the only place they can honestly report discrimination they’ve experienced.
  • Do you hide things about yourself to fit in at work? Why this question works: Inclusion means employees should feel comfortable being authentic in the workplace. If they aren’t, then it’s clear where to focus your DEI efforts.
  • Does your job inspire you to be your best self? Why this question works: Companies thrive when their employees thrive. This question helps you gauge how connected employees feel to your company’s mission.
  • Would you recommend this company as an inclusive workplace? Why this question works: Akin to the Net Promoter Question, this question asks whether your employees would encourage their peers to join your company.

illustration showing the process of a workplace diversity survey at Interaction Metrics

Your Survey is Just the Start

Too often, companies launch DEI programs without first conducting a workplace diversity survey and establishing how employees feel. The result is a misalignment between executives and the workforce.

By starting the process with solid data you’ll know what your employees are thinking and rather than sweeping employees’ skepticism under the rug, you’ll develop DEI initiatives based on evidence.

This data-driven approach produces benefits, including:

  • Ease in getting executives’ buy-in
  • Clear, targeted next steps
  • Ability to test and measure the impact of DEI programs

When employees are skeptical of a new program, that’s an opportunity to grow — but only when leaders address skepticism head-on.

While it’s comforting when everyone agrees with a new initiative, addressing criticism immediately ensures that programs remain realistic. Realism based on employees’ thoughts and opinions is the key ingredient to building positive values around DEI that last.

Interested in conducting a workplace diversity survey at your company? Get in touch.

Categories: Employee Engagement
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