Giving people a voice on your diversity agenda – conducting a diversity survey

By Linda Peach and Heidi Sundin

Understanding your organisation’s current state in relation to diversity and inclusion is foundational to any efforts to improve diversity and inclusion. Most organisations undertake a comprehensive consultation programme to determine where they could best direct efforts to improve diversity and inclusion.  Conducting a diversity survey is often a part of that consultation programme.

Diversity surveys come in various shapes and sizes and deciding what works best for your organisation will depend on a number of things.  Some questions that you should address before beginning the development process are detailed below.

What are you trying to achieve?

Diversity surveys usually seek to investigate three primary modalities – composition, attitudes and behaviours, and experiences.  Some surveys will cover all of these modalities and some will investigate only one or two of them. Determining which of them is most important for your organisation comes down to understanding what it is you want to achieve with your diversity survey.

Do you primarily need to know the proportions of your workforce who identify on a diversity dimension?  Do you want to know more about how people think, believe and behave in relation to diversity?  Do you want to understand more about what it is like for people who identify on a diversity dimension to work in your organisation?  Understanding which of these is of primary importance for your organisation is the key to developing a diversity survey that will be meaningful and useful.

What is the diversity composition of your workforce?

If composition is your primary concern, you will need to ask people to tell you about themselves in relation to the following diversity dimensions:

  • Age
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Heritage
  • Gender (including Gender X)
  • Religion
  • Cultural background
  • Disability

What attitudes and experiences do people have of diversity in your organisation?

Once you understand the broad diversity landscape of your organisation, attention can turn to understanding how people think about and experience diversity in your organisation.  This can be a very broad field of questioning, so focus in on the things that matter most to developing your action plans and initiatives. If you want to understand the unconscious biases of your employees, then you will be getting into the realms of validated survey research that will need specific expertise to develop, run and interpret the findings.

If you are more interested in experiences, then including questions that give people an opportunity to talk about how they experience work as a member of a diversity group in your organisation is also very important.  For example, you may want to know if the lived experience of work is consistent with the organisation’s stated diversity objectives – how often people report feeling diminished or belittled at work because of their diversity status would be important in this context.  On the other side of this coin is how people who work in diverse teams experience work – what challenges do they face and how do they overcome those challenges?

Key considerations

One of the key considerations in any survey of this type is whether data will be collected anonymously or will be linked to employee records.  There are pros and cons to both methods.

Anonymous responding

When people are asked to volunteer information anonymously, they are more likely to respond honestly because they feel confident they won’t be identified. Being mindful of the potential consequences of breaching someone’s privacy around their diversity status is of paramount importance when collecting this information.

On the downside, anonymous responses may be less accurate and anonymity limits what you can do with the data.  For example, you may want to know whether last year’s salary increases are related to diversity status.  Asking people to volunteer diversity information anonymously negates the potential to do this kind of work with the data.

Volunteering information that is linked to employee records

If diversity data can be linked to employee data, it provides the opportunity to look at how diversity is facilitated or hampered in your organisation, from recruitment through the entire employee lifecycle.  This is important data to have if you really want to understand your organisation’s diversity landscape.

The downside of collecting diversity information that is linked to an employee record is that people who do identify with a diversity dimension may find it too confronting to disclose and this may limit the numbers of honest responders.


Engaging potential respondents through a carefully structured communications plan is essential to maximise response rates.  An effective communications plan will usually follow a pattern like this:

  • Three weeks before survey launch: Email and agenda item for senior leadership team asking for their support in encouraging employees to complete the survey.
  • One to two weeks before survey launch:  Initial email to all staff from senior leadership advising of the forthcoming survey, its purpose and the motivation behind it.  Usually accompanied by a piece in a company news bulletin, on the intranet etc.
  • In the week before survey launch:  Reminder email to all staff and to senior leaders
  • Survey launch day:  depending on the collection method adopted, either send an email to all staff with a link to the survey or send emails with personalised links.
  • One, two and three weeks after survey launch:  Reminder emails giving an update on progress.  Target to particular areas if able to identify where limited responses are happening.
  • Final week of survey data collection:  reminder – one week to go
  • Three, two and one day before survey closes:  reminders to complete the survey
  • After survey closes:  Thank you and broad overview of where responses came from.

You can also add creative elements to your communications roll out to create a buzz around the diversity survey.

Communications need to reassure employees that their data will be treated in the strictest confidence and that information about them will not be disclosed to anyone they work with or any third party is vital when using this method.

Taking action on the survey

Once you have the results of the survey it is important that the insights obtained be incorporated into your diversity strategy – and you take real action. The more your people see action resulting from the diversity survey the more engagement you will see over time – because not only are people being asked for their voice – they are genuinely being heard!

How can we help

If you are considering conducting a diversity survey, we’d love to help. Check out

Original post published by The Agenda Agency:

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