Diversity data: the first step to a more inclusive workplace

Change the Race Ratio’s panel a few weeks ago on diversity data had one central pitch: if you aren’t already collecting diversity data, you need to be, and you need to be doing something with it.

According to the PRCA, only 12% of current PR and communications professionals are from ethnically diverse backgrounds. The overall number is growing, but increasing diversity at lower levels is not making its way into senior positions. Nearly 9 out of 10 managing directors identify as White British while only half of account executives describe themselves the same way, with in-house PR following a similar trend.

So, how do we move these numbers to look more like the real British population, and stop overrepresenting white populations?

There are a lot of answers to that question, but we cannot possibly close the gap without addressing hiring practices. In our search for the best person to fill a corporate affairs position, we might be collectively defining ‘best’ under parameters so narrow they indulge our cultural biases without us realising it.

This is where data comes in. Step one of fixing any problem is figuring out exactly what that problem is; we can’t fix low diversity without knowing exactly how low it is. Candidate diversity monitoring is absolutely vital in identifying where recruitment processes are excelling in inclusion and where they are falling short. Is something about the recruitment process filtering out diverse candidates, or are you not convincing them to apply in the first place? Do you need to overrecruit at earlier stages and reevaluate interview criteria to ensure a diverse shortlist, or do you need to be changing your job descriptions from the get-go? These different problems will need different strategies to tackle them, and you can’t know which applies to you without the data to back it up.

Diversity leads may struggle with prioritising which categories are meaningful enough to include in your data collection to list and which are not. Benchmarking can be a huge help in making these decisions, against the numbers in whatever populations your workforce should look like — whether national, local, or even multiple locations across the globe each with their own unique benchmarks. This gives you a clearer idea of how your organisation is performing and where they need to be, as well as help give meaning to category decisions by creating a tool for comparison. Many UK-based businesses use ONS statistics for diversity category and data benchmarking, but you should be sure you select your benchmark pool based on what you ultimately want your team to look like.

Capturing diversity data can be difficult at an early stage of a hiring process. Not everybody wants to share personal information with potential employers, especially on forms that may struggle to accurately represent how they would choose to identify themselves. Anonymously capturing this data and reporting on the overall population for your company or department can solve some of this, but it is still possible for personal identities to become clear from the information captured. That said, the best way to convince people to engage with diversity monitoring is to show them you are going to do something with it. Make clear internally what the goals of capturing this data are, where you want to get to, what it will be benchmarked against, and who can access the data. Make clear externally that you collect this data to ensure your hiring process is the best it can be.

Most importantly, remember that when potential employees place their trust in you with such personal and sensitive information, in making the request you also make an unspoken promise to use it to build a recruiting process that is more inclusive, fairer and stronger.

Emilia Billett is a Researcher at Birchwood Knight and supporting our work on diversity and inclusion. We are increasingly running processes that are designed around driving diversity and we plan to share examples of these over the coming months. If you’d like any advice in the meantime, please feel free to get in touch.

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2nd March 2021

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