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Transparency in the Workplace: Why is it Important?

It is easy to feel nervous or out of your depth when presenting questions regarding identity. However, there is a great deal to gain from these difficult conversations, particularly when it comes to the process of representational analysis.

A prerequisite to making changes in your organisation is to collect the data you need to analyse the representation and pay of your diverse talent. However, you are unlikely to hold all of the data you require in your HR system, so you will need to collect the ethnicity data that enables you to prepare the analysis. It is critical to plan this process carefully and conduct it in a transparent and inclusive way for two reasons:

1. To build trust with your workforce by communicating transparently about why you are collecting this data and what you intend to do with it. 

2. To ensure that you are following GDPR guidelines on the collection of this sensitive data.

From our experience, one of the main reasons that organisations are struggling to get an accurate picture of representation across payscales is because of gaps in data formed by the ‘prefer not to say’ category. This category can make a big difference to the analysis of pay gap data. 

Imagine 30% of your employees pick the ‘prefer not to say’ category. Now you cannot accurately state the overall balance of diversity in your organisation and, more critically, you need to look at where these 30% are distributed within your pay range. Are they all near the top or the bottom? If so, what risk do you carry if they are all predominantly one ethnicity? 

Why might people be ticking ‘prefer not to say’?

There are a number of reasons why employees may be selecting the prefer not to say option on data surveys. Some of these are:

  • They don’t find themselves reflected in the categories of choice. 

This is an important issue that can only be mitigated by listening to your talent. Imagine the effect of not seeing yourself on a list of options apart from the very bottom one: other. This can be an uncomfortable and isolating experience.

However, a free text field for data collection may not work either because you may fail to gather the data you need for what you are trying to analyse. Before analysing you may have to communicate with your talent and tell them how you plan to group some categories (or even omit certain data if the legal requirement fails to account for it).

  • They may be afraid of discrimination.

Unless you communicate your purpose and process you may find your talent doesn’t trust you enough to tell you. There may be apocryphal stories about the use of this data for dismissal or discrimination and this may be enough for them to withhold it.

Even in an inclusive environment, some of your talent may not possess the self-assurance to let you know who they are. By putting effort into the processes described above, this may change in the future and it may in part, be because of the inclusion they see and feel at work. 

  • They may be withholding information so as to not reflect badly on the company. 

Some employees, particularly those near the top of your organisation (who may have the characteristics of your dominant population), may choose to withhold their data for fear of their workplace being viewed in a negative light. 

Having transparent and honest conversations about pay gaps and workplace inequity at all levels is critical if you wish to evolve., You must be transparent about goals and how you are going to tackle the issues within your organisation. This sets the tone of your culture and gives everyone a very clear signal of who you are and what you want and expect.

What can we do to increase transparency?

Some good places to start include making sure that your workforce is aware of why you are collecting data, and familiar with your commitment to diversity and the steps you are taking to promote it. Not only will this improve your chances of collecting accurate data without substantial gaps, but it also helps to foster positive relationships and trust between you and your employees, and spread the good word about the hard work you are putting into improving your workplace.

Ensure that, when collecting data, there is an opportunity for people to recognise themselves fully: their race, sexuality and gender.

Finally, discussing this unknown group transparently may encourage your talent to help you fill in the gaps… “We’re getting a good sense of who we are, but we need your help in filling these gaps – until we have the information, we can’t really tell you what it means for everyone…”. 

This is more than data reporting – this is about not minimising the people in your workplace and their identities. 

When employees know that they have been seen, understood and accepted, they are more likely to give you the information you need to analyse them and their progress. This will allow you to make positive progress by increasing diversity and inclusion as well as removing the various barriers that may exist for fair progression.

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