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Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) questions – what are they and should I add them to my survey?

Diversity, equity and inclusion research and initiatives in the workplace are in the spotlight as they take center-stage in current world news and social media.

Two diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) question “types”

There are basically two areas of investigation in DEI:

  1. DEI identification: how many employees are represented within particular DEI dimensions (gender, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, education, marital status, sexual orientation, (dis)ability, and socioeconomic status, etc.)
  2. DEI perceptions: how employees feel about DEI in your workplace. Some examples might be:
    • “This organization values diversity.”
    • “This organization builds diverse teams.”
    • “Employees are treated equitably here.”
    • “My manager/supervisor (the person I report to) takes action to make the workplace inclusive, safe and welcoming.”
    • I feel I can bring my whole self to work including all parts of my background “
    • “I believe my organization will take appropriate action in response to incidents of harassment or discrimination.”
    • “I feel comfortable voicing my opinion, even when it differs from the group opinion.”

If you want  to look into where you stand on these issues as an organization, and you are running an employee survey already, including this research area into your survey makes perfect sense. However …

This is sensitive stuff

There are several critical issues to consider when asking DEI-related questions:

  • Who is running the survey? Employee perceptions of privacy and confidentiality are important in any survey, but are absolutely critical when are asking questions in the area of DEI.  Because of this, if you are running your current employee surveys internally it might be best to split this section off and have it run by an external, third-party provider.
  • Communication around “purpose”: Are you communicating the purpose behind collection of this information? How are use going to use it? Are the results actionable? (As always if the results are not actionable, don’t ask the question.)
  • Communication around “privacy”: What steps can you say you are taking to protect the information?  Is the survey being run internally, and if so how are you ensuring confidentially and anonymity?
  • How long will this make your survey?  No one likes a 100-question survey – and if adding a number of DEI questions to your regular survey makes the survey arduously long, your response rates might suffer.  That said, if it means you would otherwise end up running two surveys back to back, then by all means combining them. It’s just that if you have other areas of investigation you’ve been looking at exploring, maybe it’s best to hold those off for a bit.

And finally, do not make DEI questions “required”. As was addressed back in “Should I make the survey questions required?” and “Demographic” or “Breakout” questions” – How do I ask them and where should I put them in the survey?, questions of a sensitive nature like these should either:

  • not be required (i.e. they can submit the survey without answering them)
  • or the respondent is given a “way out” re “Prefer not to answer” as a choice.

To recap

  1. 1. There are two types of questions around Diversity, equity and inclusion – those regarding the number of diverse employees and their categories, and those regarding perceptions about DEI in the work environment.
  2. When asking for feedback, what are you doing to ensure anonymity and confidentiality around these very sensitive topics?
  3. Are you communicating that AND the purpose behind gathering the information in the first place to employees?
  4. Regardless of actual confidentiality, do not make DEI questions “required“; (or really any questions of a sensitive or identifying nature).

Hope this was of help, but as always give me a shout if you would like to discuss!

Next up: Pro Tip Series 22 – Keeping in touch with employees during the Covid pandemic

Thanks for reading, and if you’re interested in discussing a survey for your organization call us at 1-604-219-7876, email us at [email protected], or just book a discovery call with our team.

We love to engage in curious conversation! Grab a time on my calendar if you’d like to elaborate more on this topic or anything else
Maureen Simons

Maureen Simons is a senior human resources and communication consultant with over 25 years of experience helping clients achieve their business and organizational objectives through their people. (Linkedin)

Picture of Adam Hunter

Adam Hunter has a Bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering, an MBA, and 35+ years of technical and programming experience, resulting in a broad mix of analytical, statistical, project-related and business skills. (Linkedin)