As more and more organizations are looking to understand their diversity trends and identify possible areas of inequity, the need for data collection around demographics is growing.
If we don't collect data, we can't understand trends. We won't know if there are barriers for some groups, or advantages for others. But how we ask for this information is complicated.
Why demographics matter
In the United States, it’s illegal to discriminate based on several demographic characteristics, including race, color, age, disability, religion, genetic information, sexual orientation, or national origin. To help ensure that we are not discriminating, particularly in unintentional or implicit ways, we need to understand our workforce better.
What to Collect
Questions to Ask
Demographic questions are always evolving, as the language we use to identify ourselves changes. At minimum looking at the protected categories listed above can provide a baseline of questions, however you may want to look into other categories such as caretaker status that could significantly impact the experiences and needs of your employees.
Regardless its crucial that you offer options for people to opt out of a response and allow for them to self identify in order to provide inclusive language and build trust.
*For identities required by EEO compliance (race, gender, veteran status), you can require a response, though the purpose of this should be explained to your team.
How to Use Data
Making meaning from numbers
Demographic data is not about any one individual. People are not diverse; teams are. Demographics are only valuable when we see a whole picture.
We can use demographics to ensure there are no wide differences in employee experience that could indicate more systemic adverse impact or discrimination. This is particularly important regarding hiring, promotion, engagement, and retention.
This data also helps organizations offer better support, accessibility, and resources for employees and set internal goals to improve.
How to Store Data
Protecting Individuals from Discrimination
Systems that hold demographic information need to be kept separate from other HR data. Linking this data with employee ID numbers allows more accurate understanding of trends, but it also requires heavy confidentiality and protection in order to ensure that this same data being collected is not used against an individual.
No managers or hiring personnel should ever see an individual’s demographic responses. This information is kept strictly private and only aggregated data is shared with the leadership team in order to help inform larger trends and identify new strategies and goals. This data should never be used to inform hires, promotions, performance reviews, or employee benefits.