In 2016 we launched a Diversity and Inclusion survey that was designed in partnership with Paradigm. It was designed to be the gold standard for measuring intersectional identities; surveying across 7 constructs of inclusion while capturing 13 demographic dimensions.
To date, over 18,000 employees from 63 companies have completed this survey. Technology companies were the first to sign up, but organizations from a wide-range of industries have participated, spanning real estate, healthcare, finance, advertising, and more. We're delighted to share some of our updated findings as our contribution to the diversity and inclusion movement.
In the process of creating this report we've confirmed some theories, debunked a few, and arrived at some findings we want to investigate further in subsequent reports.
The key findings we'll highlight in this report are:
- The employee experience is not equal - Our experience at work is influenced by demographic traits. In aggregate, those from underrepresented backgrounds experience company culture less positively than employees in a majority group.
- Belonging matters - Factors relating to belonging, communication and decision making are found to be the dominant drivers of employee engagement. Notably, as we previously found, a feeling of belonging at a company, (i.e. "I feel like I belong at my company") has the strongest relationship to engagement.
- Engagement is more about inclusion than diversity - Employee perceptions of diversity are not as important as their feeling of inclusion and belonging within the workplace. A simple numbers-driven approach to increase diversity won’t in itself drive engagement. Organizations should focus first on creating an inclusive workplace.
A snapshot of workplace diversity
With our updated data, we thought it would be interesting to provide a snapshot of the diversity of the workplaces we surveyed. We found there are some clearly dominant groups of people:
- 87% identify as heterosexual
- 80% speak English as a native language
- 74% have no children
- 67% identify as white
- 62% have a 4-year university degree
- 59% identify as male
- 48% are Millennials (18-34) and an additional 24% are between 35 and 45
These statistics probably confirm many people’s experiences of workplace composition (particularly in technology organizations). However, white heterosexual males only composed 22% of employees surveyed. When looking at the number of people who match all of the above categories, only 5% of individuals belong to majority groups across these demographics; most employees must navigate the workplace with at least one minority identity, whether that is age, language, education, socioeconomic background, family, or race and gender.
We can further highlight this impact of intersectionality by considering some categories which might be perceived as common within the workplace. For example,
- 18% of employees are heterosexual males with no children
- 11% of employees are white heterosexual males with no children
- 14% of employees are heterosexual women with no children
- 9% of employees are white heterosexual women with no children
- 6% of men are are white heterosexual and are Partnered Parent/Legal Guardian
- 3% of women are white heterosexual who are Partnered Parent/Legal Guardian
The way intersectionality creates multiple minorities should remind us that groups of people are made up of more complex individuals. The number of possible combinations can make this work complex, but we will explore some of the findings based on different intersectional groups in our subsequent reports.
Diversity’s relationship to Employee Engagement
The chart below displays the engagement scores for each demographic group. For context, an engagement score of 71 is our benchmark for New Technology companies - so the companies included in this dataset are quite engaged workplaces on average.
Chart 1: Overall Engagement scores by demographic groups.
So, do individuals in the minority groups experience engagement with their organization differently?
We looked at employee engagement levels across key demographic groups where we had robust data:
Notably, the demographic groups that many might assume would have the greatest variation in score (such as race and gender groups) had the smallest engagement score difference, with only an equal 4 points difference between their engagement levels.
The next lowest levels of engagement are seen in middle management, people who identify as gay or lesbian and women.
While not the foremost group people consider as part of diversity conversations, job level saw the largest difference in engagement scores with 9 points separating the engagement scores of directors and mid-level employees.
These are trends we see in other research and these differences provide important context for the size of other differences we see in our diversity and inclusion data.
- 8 points separating African American/Black and Asian and Caucasian employees
- 5 points separating Male and Female employees
- 4 points separating Asexual and Gay/Lesbian employees
It’s more about Inclusion than Diversity
So, what aspects of people’s experience (within diversity and inclusion related themes) have the largest impact on their engagement levels?
The top four things impacting employee engagement are:
- Feeling that they belonged at their company
- Feeling satisfied with how decisions are made at their company
- Feeling respected at their company
- Experiencing open and honest two-way communication
These feelings and perceptions are associated with factors we term Belonging, Communication and Decision Making. These are factors that are more closely aligned with the concept of inclusion, rather than diversity. They speak more to the way people feel they are treated as individuals versus how they directly perceive the diversity of their organization.
Interestingly, the specific Diversity factor we measure had the least overall impact on engagement. This is likely again explained by the finding that people seem to be most concerned with how they are treated as individuals.
To narrow in on how people perceive diversity in their organizations we next focused specifically on the question - ‘My company builds teams that are diverse.’
Agreement and disagreement levels to this question showed a wide range of perceptions. For example, people identifying as African-American/Black or Gay/Lesbian appeared quite sensitive to a perceived lack of diversity within the workplace. However, in line with the previous stated findings, these perceptions alone did not necessarily translate to poorer feelings of belonging and engagement.
Chart 2: Engagement, belonging and diversity measures by demographic groups.
Looking at Chart 2 above we can see engagement (Overall Engagement) and belonging (I feel like I belong at my company) are highly correlated and track very closely together for the most part. However, diversity (My company builds diverse teams) is lower overall and also moves somewhat independently of these other measures.
In particular we can see that there are stronger downward spikes (more negative perceptions) about diversity amongst Gay/Lesbian and African American/Black groups that are not matched by similarly large differences in their belonging and engagement perceptions.
It seems that people can feel valued and connected in their organizations even where diversity might be perceived as lacking. It is important to help people feel they belong if you want to retain a diverse workforce but just diversity alone may not be the answer.
Further research into diversity and inclusion
We’ll be diving further into questions like the ones below in a series of follow-up posts.
- Are there companies with high diversity but poor belonging and engagement?
- Do more diverse and/or inclusive companies have better outcomes in any sense? (Glassdoor scores, higher growth etc.)
- Are there some specific types or profiles of companies in terms of diversity and inclusion? Are there companies that do it all well? Are there companies that get certain things right but not others?
- Are there any specific intersectional groups we can identify as having unusual experiences or perceptions?
- What are some potential ways to help people feel they belong?
Have a question on your mind or thoughts about the report?
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Why it matters
A focus on Diversity and inclusion is increasingly seen as a humane and also a competitive response to changing workplaces. Every month we are seeing more written on the topic (HBR have published a recent collection here).
Our data suggests that the most successful approach to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce will be to focus on creating a workplace that makes people feel they belong. Without this, no matter how much diversity you might achieve by the numbers, you may quickly find people feeling disconnected, disengaged and prone to leaving your organization.