8 Opportunities for Making Your Diversity Survey a Success

Find the complexities of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives, from skepticism to execution, and learn how a well-designed diversity survey can pave the way for success.


Diversity Survey: Challenges and Opportunities for Building Lasting DEI Change

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said, “A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.” But employees often respond with reluctance when diversity initiatives are first introduced at a company. And in a divided political climate, a diversity survey based on sound data can help establish facts everyone can agree on.

Even with increased attention on issues of racial equity, launching a DEI program comes with many challenges. The good news is that those challenges can also present opportunities for growth — if executives address them directly.

After last summer’s United States Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, there’s enormous confusion around DEI initiatives. While some companies embrace DEI, others denounce it. In this fraught climate, objective data is crucial.

Here’s the truth about DEI programs: without objective, actionable data, they are almost always a failure. That’s because getting staff and employees to agree on a sensitive subject like DEI requires hard data. A diversity initiative needs to address your workforce’s specific needs, and a diversity survey lays the groundwork to achieve success.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Three Connected Values

DEI refers to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: three interrelated values that many companies and organizations have committed to upholding.

  •       Diversity: who are your employees? Are people of different genders, sexual orientations, generations, and abilities represented? Are your employees mostly from homogenous religious or ethnic backgrounds, or is there a variety?
  •       Equity: takes into consideration the different backgrounds and life experiences of your employees and offers commensurate levels of support to achieve equal outcomes across the board.
  •       Inclusion: how do your employees experience their jobs? How do they fit in at the company? Do they feel like their contributions are important and that their voice matters?

DEI: Frequent Challenges

It’s no secret that DEI programs often face challenges when they’re introduced.   Some of the most common issues include:

  •       Employee skepticism: many employees fear DEI programs will lower standards in the workplace, introduce political agendas, or promote reverse discrimination.
  •       Increased bias: When DEI programs are implemented incorrectly, they can backfire and fail to increase workplace diversity. Researchers found that many of the most common tools used to increase diversity, like diversity trainings, hiring tests, performance ratings, and grievance systems, actually decrease the number of women and minorities. “The problem is that we can’t motivate people by forcing them to get with the program and punishing them if they don’t,” write Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in Harvard Business Review.
  •       NIMBYism: According to Pew Research Center, 56 percent of U.S. workers agree that efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace are good. But the same study found that only 32 percent of workers believe it’s important for them to work at a company with diverse employees. So, while most employees agree with DEI efforts in general, they are substantially less likely to support them at their own companies.
    ·       Poor Execution: Forrester Research finds, “Many companies are still struggling with the basics of understanding and executing on inclusion and diversity initiatives.” Despite good intentions, many companies exacerbate diversity problems instead of fixing them.

In theory, DEI initiatives are great. In practice, they’re a complicated, mixed bag.

Gather the Facts with a Diversity Survey

Given the number of ways DEI programs can go wrong, it’s critical to lay the groundwork with objective facts. Start by designing an objective diversity survey that captures employees’ thoughts and opinions.

If employees are invited to voice their opinions first, they are less likely to view DEI programs with skepticism. And establishing a benchmark of employees’ perceptions helps companies measure shifts over time.

Diversity Survey Email Invite: Set the Right Tone

The email you send to employees inviting them to take your diversity survey is the first step to gathering scientific data. It matters just as much as the survey itself, and it sets employees’ expectations. The email invite is an opportunity to address employees’ concerns and reassure them that their answers will help to make the workplace better for everyone.

  •       Let employees know right away that their survey responses cannot be tied back to them in any way. If you hire a third party to administer your survey, be sure to let employees know.
  •       Use neutral, disarming language like, “Everyone’s thoughts matter, and your opinion counts.” This encourages employees to take the survey and share their thoughts.
  •       Include incentives like a gift card or a raffle. Employees already have a lot on their plates. Make the survey a fun break from their responsibilities, not another burden. (And make sure you close the loop: as soon as the survey concludes, make sure you select a winner and send them their prize.)
  •       Add a P.S. below your email signature. It’s a direct marketing method that has been shown to increase response rates. Why does that matter? High response rates are critical to making sure your data is statistically valid.

8 Opportunities for Making Your Diversity Survey a Success

DEI initiatives don’t always have to be complicated. Here are eight pointers on how to build a diversity survey that will deliver actionable data and make employees feel heard.

  1. Always guarantee anonymity. This is essential. Employees will not feel comfortable sharing their unvarnished thoughts unless they know that their responses cannot be tied to them.
  2. Engage an outside company to execute your survey. When it comes to an emotionally fraught subject like DEI, workers are more trusting of outside companies that don’t have a vested interest in the survey’s outcome.
  3. Let employees know upfront what they should expect. Employees are reluctant to start a task if they don’t know how much time they will spend on it or what they’ll be required to do. Tell them right away how many questions are on the diversity survey and even describe the types of questions they’ll answer (for example, four rating questions, followed by three text-based questions, and concluding with five yes/no questions at the end.)
  4. Use words that reflect the way people talk in person. Who says they “somewhat agree” or “neither agree nor disagree” with a statement? Nobody! Instead, use rating scales like, “Bad”, “Poor,” “OK,” “Good,” and “Great.” These scales tend to be more accurate because they mimic the way your employees already think.
  5. Always say thanks. Tell respondents, “Thank you” for their responses both in the body of the email invitation and at the end of the survey.
  6. Tie your survey questions to your organization’s DEI goals. If your company wants to increase the number of minorities you hire, ask about how many minorities have applied for jobs and how hospitable employees think your workplace is toward minorities.
  7. Double-check your diversity survey to eliminate bias. Bias is the biggest problem for any survey, but it’s even easier for it to show up in diversity surveys that deal with controversial topics. Ask a group of diverse individuals (who aren’t in your department) to read through the survey and let you know if the questions reflect any unintentional biases.
  8. Lastly, ask questions that allow your company to benchmark its diversity data against your company’s own goals and future survey data. With surveys that address deep workplace culture issues, you want data that you can track over time.

Five Ways to Get to the Heart of the Matter with a Diversity Survey

There is no one-size-fits-all template for employee diversity surveys; your DEI goals will be as unique as your company and employees.
The goal is not to get everyone to agree or to smooth ruffled feathers. The goal is to learn exactly what your employees think about their workplace experiences and what they think you should be doing to improve.
While you should customize your questions to match your company’s mission, here are five questions that will help you arrive at actionable insights.

  1. Would you feel at ease discussing racial equity, harassment, or diversity issues with your boss? This question works because the relationship between bosses and their direct reports is critical to the health of a company. If leadership needs sensitivity training, you need to know.
  2. Have you ever experienced discrimination because of your ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, age, religion, or for any other reason? This question works because your employees may be experiencing discrimination but don’t feel comfortable reporting it. An anonymous, objective survey might be the only way they can reveal the discrimination they’ve faced.
  3. Would you recommend this workplace as diverse and inclusive to your friends? This question works because it takes a cue from the Net Promoter Question and asks your employees whether they would recommend it to their peers.
  4. How often have you personally observed harassment or abuse at work? This question works because having employees think seriously about what they’ve observed is a useful way to gauge your workplace climate. And it prepares employees to share more deeply in the text-based survey questions.
  5. Do you need to cover up your authentic self to fit in at work? Employees should be able to be authentic at work. If they can’t, then your DEI efforts should focus on inclusion.

The Diversity Survey is the Starting Gate, Not the Finish Line
When companies start DEI initiatives without first establishing facts with a diversity survey, they end up with a disconnect between leadership and the workforce.
But when you launch with objective data, you understand what your employees want. Instead of dismissing their skepticism, you can implement DEI programs that are based on solid evidence.
It may feel reassuring when everyone in the room agrees, but focusing on skepticism and naysayers first keeps DEI programs pragmatic and reasonable. That’s the key to building lasting, positive support for DEI initiatives.
Want to design a diversity survey for your company? Get in touch.   

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Lauren Patton

Martha Brooke ,

Director & Chief Customer Experience Analyst at Interaction Metrics

Martha Brooke, Director & Chief Customer Experience Analyst at Interaction Metrics is certified in Customer Experience (CCXP) and holds a Blackbelt in Six Sigma. She founded Interaction Metrics, a customer experience agency known for its scientific approach to surveys and other methods.