It’s impossible to address problems that you don’t know exist within your organization. While diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) aren’t always tangible or visible aspects of the employee experience, many organizations have found a solution for quantifying and measuring these elusive workplace concepts: surveys.
Surveys help take the burden off employees to self-report unequal practices by giving them a safe, anonymous channel to voice concerns, issues, and experiences with organizational diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Surveys help Human Resources teams collect this feedback at scale; measure change; and make informed, data-driven decisions on how to build a workplace where every employee feels heard, seen, and valued.
Whether you’re launching a DE&I survey for the first time or looking for tips to improve your existing survey strategy, here are seven ways to help ensure your next DE&I survey creates meaningful change at your company.
To get the most out of your survey, you need to ask the right questions. Give employees an opportunity to share their experiences and observations with a mix of questions using the Likert scale, a survey scale that asks respondents to choose from a list of answers ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree in order to measure satisfaction and opinion, and free-response questions.
Here are a few example DE&I survey questions to get you started:
Every question on your survey should have a clear, specific purpose, according to Ashley Schwedt, Leadership Trainer & DEI Lead at LifeLabs Learning, a New York-based consultancy firm specializing in leadership training for managers and executives. “Only ask questions you can do something about. When designing your survey, for each question, ask [yourself], ‘What will I do with this information?’” advised Schwedt. “If the answer is ‘Nothing,’ it isn't a good question to ask. The responses should drive business strategy by highlighting current gaps and helping the leadership team determine where to focus resources.”
If you’re still not sure what to ask, consider looking internally for inspiration. “Open a portal where folks can anonymously contribute questions that they'd like to see on the survey,” recommended Kristen Liesch, PhD, cofounder and co-CEO of Tidal Equality, a strategy firm helping businesses fight internal inequality. “Chances are, there are things people want to bring to the attention of the organization, and they know what kinds of questions need to be asked to get at the insights necessary to make an equitable and inclusive change.
“A big mistake we see when it comes to surveys is when the questions asked just touch the surface, and don't really get under the hood of equity, diversity, and inclusion challenges,” Liesch continued. “That’s a surefire recipe for reduced participation and increased resistance down the road.”
Building the survey is only half the battle — now, you need to convince your employees to take the time to share their thoughts and experiences.
The secret to boosting participation? Reminding employees why these surveys matter. “Transparency is key when creating and communicating surveys,” said Rachel Pierce-Burnside, a founding partner at Diversified, a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in diversity, equity, and inclusion. “HR teams should clearly present what the survey is for, why it is important, how the results will be used, and how the findings will be presented prior to asking employees to complete them. Communicating clearly will assist with engagement, interest, and trust.”
When your survey is ready to launch, send out an email from your HR team, CEO, or another C-level executive to communicate the following points:
Follow-up on survey participation rates and encourage employees to take the survey in company all-hands meetings and via email or your company’s internal messaging system. You should also partner with managers to have them remind their direct reports in team meetings and one-on-ones.
Armed with your data and survey analysis, now you need to build an action plan to incorporate your learnings into your DE&I strategy. This is one of the most crucial steps of running a survey because it’s your “so what” factor — and how you drive change within your organization and take steps today to build a better workplace tomorrow.
Unfortunately, this is the part where many businesses fail. They administer the survey, amass findings, and then fail to create a meaningful, forward-thinking action plan to act on opportunities revealed in the survey. “The biggest and most egregious mistake I see companies make is doing nothing with survey results,” said Cenina Saxton, EdD, PHR, an HR talent and development expert with over 20 years of experience. “This leaves employees feeling as if DE&I is not important to the organization and the survey was simply an item on the HR checklist.”
An action plan shows employees you’re listening to their needs, acting on their feedback, and truly investing in diversity and inclusion at your organization.
Change starts from the top down, so once your survey closes, take the time to analyze your results and pull meaningful insights for your executive team. Walk them through a detailed overview of your findings, complete with the added context of benchmark or past survey data for comparison. Then, present your proposed action plan to obtain their buy-in.
“Surveys provide tangible data that can support what the needs, feelings, and ideas of team members truly are,” noted Pierce-Burnside. “Instead of relying on HR teams to create programs, policies, and initiatives from their own perspectives, executives can lean on survey results to present true evidence for where the organization should start and how.”
Next, you’ll need to share your analysis and action plan with your employees. Oftentimes, Human Resources teams or a CEO will present survey results during an all-company meeting, so they can walk employees through the findings and add context. These presentations should include an overview of participation rates, survey scores, organizational strengths, opportunities for growth, key findings, and historical or benchmark comparisons. You should end the meeting by reviewing your detailed action plan, showing employees exactly what your business will be doing to address any issues raised by the survey.
Too often, companies take action in the wake of their survey’s completion but fail to maintain that momentum or keep employees updated on progress. “Failing to follow through with needed actions that the survey results present will set your organization back and send a very loud message to employees,” cautioned Pierce-Burnside. “Actions are what determine whether a business is performative or not and, ultimately, tell a story to your employees on the value and importance of their voice.”
Regularly updating your workforce on the steps you’ve taken or are taking to improve DE&I can demonstrate your lasting commitment to improving the employee experience at your company. This can inspire trust and help ensure employees are more forthcoming on future surveys.
Surveys should not be approached as a one-time solution; they need to be part of your ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion program. Continue to administer DE&I surveys every six months, or as needed by your organization, while being mindful of survey fatigue.
“Anytime your employee base changes, it is important to re-measure. Anytime a change happens, it is important to re-measure,” stressed Schwedt. “Twice a year is usually a good cadence for any kind of employee survey. But again, make sure to remind folks why you're surveying them and why you've chosen the cadence you have.”
This can help you measure the effectiveness of new initiatives, get closer to your DE&I goals, and prove diversity, equity, and inclusion is top of mind for your HR team and organization — but only when done right. Regularly follow-up on progress and ensure your team is taking action to build trust with employees and make data-driven decisions about DE&I at your organization.
Surveys are an essential piece of an organization’s overall DE&I strategy. While they help reveal unfairness and representation gaps within your business, it’s crucial to remember that administering a survey doesn’t automatically bring about change. Identifying issues is meaningless until you take action to fix them.
Looking to use DE&I surveys for your organization? Lattice makes survey creation, administration, and analysis simple, letting you focus on taking meaningful, measured action to improve life at your company. Click here to learn more about Lattice and start creating a workplace environment and culture where every voice is heard and valued.