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Significance of data to deliver an efficacious Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) strategy

Arjun Paleri, Jaya Ramachandra and Anshu Singh

This article is the third in the series of our articles on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I). The first article gave an overview of DE&I and why it matters; while the second article talked about implementation of DE&I and the legal position in India.

While most people think that DE&I practices have gathered significance around the globe in the last decade or two, it is a misconception.

DE&I has been a much-debated topic for decades; however, like everything else, DE&I focus areas and initiatives also have evolved over the years. Therefore, diversity initiatives four decades ago would look very different from those we have now. For example, the US civil rights movement and the introduction of affirmative action and employment laws in the 1960s offered more cultural and ethnic diversity. In India, the 1980s and 90s saw women entering the workforce previously dominated by men in larger numbers. Since then, many large organisations have gone on to become “multi-national” organisations, and now in the 2020s, evolving labour markets along with technological advancements have led to breaking all physical and cultural barriers. This has, in-turn, led to organisations focusing on and implementing DE&I initiatives across different territories where they have a presence, subsequently paving the way for sanctioning DE&I initiatives at an accelerated rate.

Having a DE&I policy is easy. But having a DE&I policy on paper, and having an effectively implemented DE&I policy which leads to meaningful change, are two different things. Several organisations are finding that those good intentions alone are not sufficient and are not leading to much change.

Where do you start?

It is an accepted fact that you need information (i.e., data) to identify existing trends, areas of development, make a cultural shift, or for that matter, to even set up organisation goals. Therefore, the collection of data is a good starting point to identify existing lacunae and required areas of development as it provides the organisation with a clear evidence-based picture of the current situation and practices. Without data which would provide us an evidence-based picture of the outcome of the existing practices, organisations are left to make decisions based on guesswork and on what they believe is a probable solution, the consequences of which could be an ineffective DE&I strategy which leads nowhere.

But what is DE&I data?

Diversity data includes gathering demographic information on several parameters such as gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, caste and ethnicity, disability, socio-economic background, religious, cultural and linguistic background, place of origin etc. Diversity data usually provides visibility of the tangible differences and hence is a good starting point as it provides a clear picture of who is representing the company.

While diversity data is easy to identify, equity and inclusion data will require more prodding. This will cover employee experience and include information about the participation and treatment of people from diverse backgrounds in the organisational activity and the level of equal and fair treatment they get. Also, collecting information about job type or level, career advancement trends, etc., can shed light on any problem areas.

Baseline data collected by an organisation can be used as a benchmark to see future changes and the success rate of various initiatives that are undertaken. Further, data collection and tracking on who is staying and who is leaving, feedback on training and development programmes conducted and tracking employee grievances, etc., can help organisations understand if they are moving in the right direction and help create a flourishing workplace.

How to collect DE&I data?

While organisations may put their best foot forward to collect data for the purposes of DE&I, employees may not be forthcoming to share such data and may opt to choose ‘prefer not to say’ in a data collection survey. Therefore, for an effective DE&I strategy, it is equally important for organisations to encourage employees to provide complete information being sought by the organisations. Moreover, it may also be relevant to analyse as to what type of data is relevant in a particular organisation and thus should be collected. The process of the collecting DE&I data is complex, and thus knowing what set of information is needed can be valuable. For instance, data on race or, to an extent, ethnicity may not be relevant for an entity working in India, while caste and place of origin may be relevant.

We have mentioned below a few pointers to be kept in mind on collecting data for the purposes of DE&I.

  1. Local data collection laws: DE&I may be driven at a global level by most organisations, however, understanding the local legal nuances in the collection of DE&I data is critical. Before an organisation begins the process of collecting data for the purposes of DE&I, laws and regulations in place at the local level, need to be understood and complied with. Additionally, organisations also need to be aware if there are any cultural sensitivities around certain diversity questions in certain jurisdictions and be mindful when requesting information about such questions.

  2. Communicate clearly: The purpose for which such data is being requested needs to be communicated clearly, failing which employees may find it intrusive that the organisation wants information that is personal and sensitive in nature.

  3. Anonymized data: It is also important to explain how this data will be used. Ensure and clarify that such data will be anonymized and not be used to identify individual data subjects.

  4. Providing data is optional: While highlighting the benefits of providing such data, it is equally important to emphasize that provision of such data is optional and that they may not disclose any information which they do not want to.

Data collection is the starting point for any DE&I initiative. Once all the data is collated (which is an ongoing process) and analysed, organisations can put in place processes and tangible action points to enable diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.


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