Encouraging Self-Identification at Your Workplace

As organisations set targets for the coming year, there is little doubt that diversity must be high on the list. With ongoing calls for genuine social change, organisations cannot afford to ignore the topic of race in the workplace. Employees, shareholders and consumers alike will expect businesses to declare their intentions, by setting meaningful goals and putting in place plans to achieve them. For many organisations, the question is where to start.

In the second edition of our report The Middle: Progressing Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Talent in the Workplace Through Collaborative Action, we interviewed stakeholders, leaders and specialists from around the UK to understand how businesses can improve diversity and representation in their organisations, particularly at the upper levels. Using insights from the lived experiences of four key stakeholder groups (D&I Practitioners, HR Directors, Employee Network leaders and Executive Sponsors), we have gathered case studies from organisations and created a set of frameworks for action. From this, we can offer advice on how organisations can get off on the right foot this year when it comes to increasing diversity.

Inherently, most organisations know that they need more diversity. Yet, aiming to “do better” without an understanding of the how, the why and the where, does nothing more than set a plan destined for failure. A baseline needs to be established before any action can be taken. And to do this, it is essential to get an accurate understanding of the makeup of your workforce.

Setting a baseline through self-identification

Unsurprisingly, sending around an email asking employees to declare their ethnic background is not the most effective way forward. Instead of feeling encouraged to reply, employees will be reluctant to reply, possibly wondering how the data will be used. Due to their experience of both conscious and unconscious bias, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic employees will need to feel certain that their suspicion is unjustified before they will be willing to self-identify.

Fortunately, there are success stories we can review to discover better ways to approach the challenge. In The Middle 2nd Edition, we examined the case of Nationwide Building Society, in which they explained how they made significant improvements to their diversity declaration rate.

Their secret? A well-run outreach campaign focusing on three key messages:

  • Tell people why the company wants the data. The campaign explained the benefits for employees personally as well as to their employer.
  • Remind people that declarations are confidential. They clarified how the data would be protected.
  • Reassure people that they do not have to declare a personal characteristic if they do not wish to, by including a ‘prefer not to say’ option. This way, employees can be required to complete the whole online declaration one way or another.

Rather than sending a single email, Nationwide took a medium-term view to gathering employee responses. They began by launching a major and broad-reaching communication campaign to all employees via numerous channels, including Employee Network Groups, stating the three key messages.

Response rate results were sent to all Group and (then) Divisional Directors via HR Business Partners on a weekly basis, to encourage further efforts locally where numbers were not shifting or, conversely, to communicate positive results where increases were apparent. This brought the response rate up to 50-60%.

Once the response rate began to plateau, the communications campaign switched from group comms to individual messages. The team sent personalised emails to the individual employees who had not yet responded. The personalised emails again listed the three key messages and provided the link to complete the declaration. This stage in the process delivered another 10% of responses.

As the Nationwide team examined the remaining non-responders, they identified a group of people who had begun updating their records, but had failed to submit them. The team sent a new targeted email specifically to this group, delivering another 6-7% of responses.

In a final push to close the gap and achieve the stated campaign target of 90% completion rate, the team arranged for weekly reminder emails to go to any employee who had failed to complete the update to their personal records.

Over the five months of the outreach campaign, the response rate rose from 26% to 90%. To ensure similar results moving forward, Nationwide added the declaration to the new employee onboarding programme and continued to send weekly reminders to any stragglers.

Key Takeaways

The Nationwide case study is a great example of the importance of clear communications and stated intent. Having a checkbox on a personnel record generated remarkably low response rates for the organisation. Their employees didn’t understand why the company needed to know their race, nor could they see any benefit to themselves to self-identify.

Companies see much greater success when they focus on the why – both for themselves and their employees. Do not present it as gathering data for the sake of having it. Instead, position it as the first step in a journey: understanding diversity at all levels and in all departments will allow you to identify opportunities for improvement, and put a plan (and team) in place to drive the needed changes.

Have you had good results with a self-identification campaign at your business? If so, please get in touch on Twitter or LinkedIn. We’re always looking for new case studies to share with our community.


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