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According to McKinsey, companies within the top quartile for diversity are 21% more likely to have good financial performance than companies in the bottom quartile—probably as a result of having a broader understanding of market needs. Diversity has also been correlated with higher rates of innovation. And companies are starting to pay attention.
Thirty-eight percent of the 12,543 working Americans we surveyed in 2018 said that it’s a high priority for their company, for business reasons and more importantly, for ethical ones. More and more companies have set diversity and inclusion related goals and committed to pursuing a more balanced workforce.
But unfortunately, these good intentions aren’t translating into employees’ real experiences. Many employees still feel that they don’t belong, and dozens of companies have made recent headlines for diversity and inclusion-related crises. In these workplaces, many female employees don’t feel respected (or sometimes even safe), minorities can be painfully underrepresented, people with disabilities often don’t have the resources they need to succeed, and so on.
No company wants to have a culture where not every employee feels like they can thrive, but it’s hard to address problems when you don’t know they exist. Without a way to measure inclusion, executives and HR teams have to rely on their own subjective perceptions of the culture at their organization—with varied level of accuracy.
But inclusion isn’t totally unquantifiable. If you want to know whether your employees’ experience aligns with your company’s ideals—at scale—you can just ask.
Surveys are the perfect tool for measuring the feelings and opinions of your workforce at scale. When used correctly, they can raise red flags about potential problems within your company that you didn’t know about (and would never have thought to check for), and they can uncover opportunities to empower employees through internal programs.
There’s a ton to consider when you’re building diversity and inclusion into a company-wide initiative. We’ve broken this guide into navigable pieces so that you can skip around and focus on the areas most relevant to your business.
From there, we’ll drill down into the specific areas where companies tend to struggle. You can read through all of them if you like, or skip to the areas that you think are the most relevant to your company, based on your results from the inclusion survey.
Then, we’ll cover different actions you can take to create change—including policies, programs, and strategies that promote diversity and inclusion. These strategies, which we’ve classified as either diversity-focused or inclusion-focused, are useful for every business.
Get a baseline read on your company’s diversity metrics and company culture
If you’re reading this guide, you already know that diversity is important, and you might be responsible for promoting it at your organization. As an HR professional (or passionate advocate) charged with improving D&I, collecting diversity metrics is important. Comparing yourself over time to benchmarks helps you set new goals and clearly track your progress against them.
Diversity numbers tell you the overall makeup of your population, and which groups are underrepresented. The first step toward building an inclusive culture is understanding more about the humans already behind your workforce.
Diversity tracking seems like it should be straightforward, but if you really want to support your employees work toward a more balanced workforce, you need to think beyond traditional demographics—which really comes down to asking more than the obvious questions.
True diversity means having people from all kinds of backgrounds and identities at every level of your organization. It means making a conscious effort to diversify teams and management, in addition to overall numbers. Diversity is especially important when it comes to hiring and advancing people from underrepresented groups.
The traditional concept of underrepresented groups includes women and people of color, but these are only a few of many internal communities with unique needs that require respect and support.
Does your organization include people with disabilities? People with different religious backgrounds? Members of the LGBTQ* community? Veterans? People over 60? True diversity is expansive, and the differences between people aren’t always visible.
That isn’t to say that hiring people of different ethnic backgrounds isn’t important. That’s still the area where businesses fall short. It just means that you need to be aware of those numbers in addition to some of the other areas that are typically overlooked.
When you have your results, you’ll know more about where to focus your hiring efforts and how to support the needs of the employees you already have in your workforce. You might also choose to publish some of your findings in an effort to be transparent and open about where your company is doing well or needs improvement. This is a great way to hold your org accountable for change.
We recently had the pleasure of working with Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian for our recent webinar, “Your toughest D&I questions answered.” Aubrey shared insights about how Atlassian—a famously inclusive company—thinks about diversity.
One mistake that companies often make when they first start thinking about D&I is that they don’t think intersectionally. Each of your employees has layers—lots of different identities. And when many companies start thinking about diversity they say, ‘diversity equals more women.’ And that’s a great intention, but sometimes that means you don’t think about different groups of women within that group. You only build programs that speak to straight white cisgender economically privileged women.
But when you start to think beyond “meeting diversity metrics” and start to think about building balanced teams, those are potentially your strongest opportunities for impact.
HBR research has proven that diverse teams perform better, but you only get those benefits if each team has a variety of different viewpoints represented. You can hit a certain number for gender goals, but if all your women and nonbinary people are in HR and marketing, you’re not actually getting the rewards.
At Atlassian, we’ve moved away from the language of “diversity” to actively acknowledge that people often have a multitude of identities—not all of which are obvious. Instead, we try to build teams that incorporate a wide variety of viewpoints so we can support a wide variety of customers and really thrive as a business. Our goal is always to give every unique viewpoint a voice, and make everyone feel like they are valued.
Asking about race, gender, and sexual orientation in your surveys can feel personal and invasive, but respondents are rarely put off by them. The Census Bureau recently found that people are no more likely to skip these types of questions than any other.
People are conditioned to expect these types of questions from a survey, and as long as your options are “standard” or inclusive, you’re unlikely to lose responses just for asking. This applies to every template in this guide, not just the diversity survey. Don’t be shy about asking for demographics—even in HR surveys that aren’t directly related to diversity and inclusion. If you’re going to track D&I at all, they’re important to know.
If you’re worried about excluding anyone, include an “other” option in your demographic questions so that survey takers can write in their own identities.
Where diversity is about variety, inclusion is about having a solid foundation for supporting employees and their different needs. Inclusion requires a culture where employees feel welcome, respected, and empowered to grow. Even the most diverse companies can’t be successful without inclusion.
“Inclusive” cultures don’t necessarily mean they are “fun.” In fact, companies that “work hard, play hard” can be decidedly non-inclusive. Instead, inclusive environments are nurturing and open-minded. Every employee feels that they belong and they have space to make mistakes and develop professionally.
Diversity is easy to break down into metrics—hiring numbers, promotion statistics, demographics. But many companies neglect the “I” part of “D&I” and risk alienating and disempowering their employees. Hiring people from underrepresented groups isn’t enough—those new hires need to feel safe and respected, and they need to genuinely believe they can have a successful career path at your company. According to SurveyMonkey research, many don’t.
In July of 2018, SurveyMonkey partnered with Paradigm, a consulting firm that specializes in diversity and inclusion. Together, we created a survey template designed to investigate the many different layers of inclusion in the workplace. We used the template to survey 843 working Americans, and the results were telling:
The business significance of these findings is profound. If employees are feeling stifled or disrespected, your retention will suffer and you may tarnish your chances to attract new hires. This type of environment will also affect your employees’ ability to perform—if people don’t feel empowered to voice contrary opinions, how can you trust that they’ll speak up about potential business mistakes? How many great ideas might never get raised? How many people may lose enthusiasm for their day-to-day work?
Many leaders have begun to argue that an inclusive culture is more impactful for retention than offering expensive perks. According to PR specialist Sarah Stoddard, of Glassdoor:
Employers need to work a little harder to find and retain talent. And when you boil it down to what employees are really looking for, it is traditional benefits with a strong company culture—one that really values employees.
The importance of inclusion is easy to understand, but the layers of company culture that make up “inclusion” aren’t. Unlike diversity, inclusion is heavily rooted in employees’ individual experiences—which aren’t easy to monitor or quantify. And perception of culture can differ dramatically from person to person. Leaders, for example, might see things differently than the people who work for them: Our research for Harvard Business Review found that 83% of executives think they encourage curiosity at work, but only 52% of employees agreed.
The only way to address inclusivity in your organization is to turn it into a company-wide conversation. Our Inclusion and Belonging survey template is a comprehensive evaluation that helps you understand the foundations of inclusion within your workplace.
Expansive but still relatively quick to take, it focuses on the three key aspects of inclusion, according to research by Stanford University researchers Carol Dweck, Greg Walton, and Geoffrey Cohen. Here’s what each means at the most basic level.
Together these three areas define your employee experience, and you need all three if you want employees to feel comfortable and empowered. Most of the common diversity and inclusion challenges occur when employees’ experiences of objectivity, growth mindset, or sense of belonging are compromised.
Diversity and inclusion-related questions can be sensitive, so there are a few ways that you can make your survey more comfortable for employees.
Once you’ve finished your initial Diversity and Belonging and Inclusion surveys, you’ll be able to dig deeper into the parts of your culture where being conscious about D&I might be especially important.
The Diversity survey gives you baseline demographics, and the Belonging and Inclusion survey includes dozens of different dimensions for evaluating inclusion. Slicing and dicing these results can help you understand where you need to focus your efforts first.
The Inclusion template includes questions about demographics like gender, race, and age, so you can filter your results to see whether there are different answers among different groups.
When you’ve gotten a read on your company culture as a whole, it’s time to go deeper into specific areas of focus.
In part 2 of this guide, we cover some areas where companies commonly struggle with D&I along with specialized survey templates, advice, and/or original research to help you understand and address them. You can read each section, or go straight to the sections that are most relevant to your business.
You can also use the results of your Diversity and Belonging & Inclusion surveys to show you where to focus.
If you have a high number of employees who identify as female, go to "Women in the workplace"Skip to this section >
If you have a high number of employees with a disability, go to "Disabilities at work" and "Mental health"Skip to this section >
If you have a high number of employees from a racial or ethnic minority, go to "Culture of genius" and "Belonging and underrepresented groups"Skip to this section >
If you have a high number of LGBTQ employees, go to "Belonging for underrepresented groups"Skip to this section >
If you have negative responses when you filter by gender, go to "Women in the workplace"Skip to this section >
If you have negative responses to questions about learning and growing (3, 9, 10, 17, 19), go to "Culture of genius"Skip to this section >
If you have negative responses when you filter by race, go to "Belonging and underrepresented groups"Skip to this section >
If you have negative responses when you filter by disability, go to "Disabilities at work" and "Mental health"Skip to this section >
If you have negative responses to questions about authenticity (11-13), go to "Mental health"Skip to this section >
Drill down into aspects of inclusion that are often problematic or confusing
Women are often underrepresented in their workplaces, and the struggle to achieve gender equality in pay, career opportunities, and overall treatment has been well-publicized.
There are many different sides to gender equality, and many companies fall short by focusing too closely on only the most glaring problems. But more insidious issues, like perceived disrespect and unconscious bias, can sometimes end up causing the biggest problems down the line.
The systemic repression of women at Nike was revealed to reporters at the New York Times in 2018 after an employee sent an internal survey asking women colleagues if they had been the victim of gender discrimination—though many leaders at the company claimed not to know about the situation. Since then, Nike has launched a major corporate overhaul, made changes to training and compensation programs, and committed to ensuring women equal opportunities. But if HR professionals had started asking questions earlier and taken the responses seriously, they would have been able to make proactive improvements instead of reactive amends.
To understand the experiences of women employees, raise nuanced questions. Don’t just ask “Do we have enough women here?” Instead, ask: Do women here feel safe, comfortable, and respected? Do they feel like they have equal career opportunities? Do they feel like they’re paid fairly?
Some answers are cut and dry (Are we hiring enough women?), but others are tougher to know unless you ask.
SurveyMonkey created a Gender in the Workplace survey template in partnership with Sheryl Sandberg's team at LeanIn.Org to help companies understand:
Asking questions about objectivity—whether people think your workplace is fair or not—can be scary. Will you provoke discontent by asking? But avoiding hard truths about employee perception won’t fix the problem. Instead, it gives you the fodder you need to make things right.
Sometimes culture problems are rooted in subjective perceptions—or misconceptions. For example, employees might believe that people from different genders are unequally compensated, even if that isn’t true at your organization. Even if it’s unfounded, that belief might create tension at the company and suggest that you need more transparent compensation policies.
Our Pay Gap template tells you, quickly and simply, exactly what employees think about compensation at your company. If you’re not willing to commit to the full Gender in the Workplace survey, the Pay Gap template can clue you in to sentiment around compensation at your organization.
Awareness about pay gaps vary. When we surveyed workers about the pay gap between white men and Latina women, 4 in 10 people did not believe that Latinas face racial discrimination. Unsurprisingly, Latinas were much more aware of the issue—51% said they’d experienced it personally. You need to understand the mindset that people have at your company so that you can address both those who feel wronged, and those who underestimate any disparity.
Sexual harassment is complex, and often deeply emotional, to communicate through a survey. We don’t recommend using surveys to ask about it, so we don’t have a template for it. Why? Because sexual harassment is best addressed directly with the person impacted—not studied as an aggregate of anonymized data. You’re legally obligated to take accusations of sexual assault and harassment seriously, and surveys simply aren’t appropriate.
At SurveyMonkey, we provide employees with an escalation toolkit that details the process for recognizing harassment and lodging a complaint, and explains how it will be dealt with. We also have an Integrity Hotline—an anonymous service through which employees who don’t want to go on record can anonymously report breaches of SurveyMonkey policies or values.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) published a public guide to help companies create, articulate, and enforce sexual harassment policies. Here’s a summary of their recommendations:
Many companies fall short by only paying attention to major violations like sexual harassment and assault, but the cultural problems that lead up to them are equally harmful, and much less obvious. Sexual harassment and incivility in the workplace more broadly is more likely to exist in environments where aggressive attitudes are normalized through shared humor or assumptions. Both the Gender in the Workplace, and Inclusion and Belonging templates can help you identify whether this type of culture exists at your company. If it does, it might be time to institute some workplace behavior training and/or clearer anti-harassment policies.
The term “culture of genius”, coined by Stanford researcher Carol Dweck, sounds deceptively positive. But a culture of genius is one where leaders assume (or employees believe that they assume) that workers’ value or skills are fixed—which means employees don’t grow, improve, or add more value in their employer’s eyes.
1 in 5 U.S. employees (21%) say their company believes that people have a certain amount of talent and they can’t do much to fix it. That culture of genius can prevent feelings of belonging and growth, especially for groups that are already in the minority: Nearly 3 in 10 Black and Latinx employees (28% versus 17% of white workers) believe that people in their company have a “culture of genius.”
A company’s culture can vary by department, team, or even role. “Culture of genius” isn’t something that most HR pros intuitively look for, even if they’re focused on diversity and inclusion. But it plays a major role in defining employee experience.
Some red flags indicating you have a culture of genius:
If you’re not sure whether or not you have a culture of genius, you can use this template to better understand how employees feel.
In spite of the damage that a culture of genius can do, it’s not necessarily an insurmountable problem to have. A few straightforward changes can make a big impact.
At SurveyMonkey, we’ve moved away from annual reviews and instead instituted a program that we call “GIG.” GIG stands for Growth, Impact, and Goals. We hold GIG conversations quarterly, and they aren’t tied to compensation. We also ask the employee being reviewed to lead some of the conversation rather than passively receiving feedback. By having these conversations more often and emphasizing growth, we’re trying to transform typically stressful performance reviews into clear, timely, useful conversations that inspire employees to continue their personal growth.
Belonging is one of the hardest parts of inclusion to influence. You can’t usually change how welcoming employees are to one another, and the same words or actions might be considered hostile, neutral, friendly, or too friendly, depending on who you ask.
Cultural sensitivities vary, and some of your employees might have backgrounds or ideologies that are directly at odds with one another. Your job as an HR person is to balance each group’s desire to “bring their authentic selves to work” with appropriate workplace behavior.
Your job as an HR person is to open a dialog and engage employees in creating the kind of workplace where everyone is treated fairly and respectfully, has equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization's success.
Because individual actions are ultimately up to each employee’s discretion, it’s important to identify and educate your employees about which ones promote inclusion and which don’t.
To explore this idea, we recently did some research about one of the more difficult elements of non-inclusive behavior to qualify: microaggressions.
Microaggressions are indirect, sometimes subconscious words or actions that make someone feel attacked or uncomfortable—often as a result of their identity.
Microaggressions are challenging because it’s not always clear what to do about them. A company called tEQuitable uses technology and expert guidance to help address this. TEQuitable provides a confidential platform for employees to get advice when they are made to feel uncomfortable in the workplace. They anonymize and aggregate these reports into trend data and create actionable recommendations for companies to prevent bias, discrimination, and harassment. TEQuitable helps companies address problematic behaviors before they escalate and become more severe.
We asked them to share their thoughts on how to identify and address microaggressions to create a culture of belonging.
What are the most common issues that come up?
Many of the stories reported on our platform could be considered microaggressions. They include stereotyping, tokenizing, or making assumptions about someone based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, or other aspects of a person’s identity. There are limitless ways for microaggressions to manifest. Here are just a few that have come up.
Microaggressions can affect people from every demographic, but they tend to affect employees from underrepresented groups the most. Microaggressions can also have a more painful impact if the recipient already feels “other”, because that person already senses that they don’t belong. The effect is incredibly disempowering.
How should companies think about microaggressions?
Microaggressions usually aren’t a conscious choice. Most people don’t wake up in the morning looking for ways to be a jerk. There are a few factors that come into play: ignorance and lack of education about the right way to behave and hesitation to ask questions. Even people with good intentions might not understand how their words and actions could be offensive or ask questions to increase their understanding.
Here’s what companies can do to educate and create a safe space.
Sometimes bias can seep into company systems and processes, which ends up perpetuating the problem. If you fix the system by establishing practices that prevent unconscious bias from creeping in, you can prevent the behavior from occurring.
You asked about disabilities in your diversity survey, and the number that you got back was higher than you expected. Or, the people who do have a disability are less happy than their able peers. You’re not alone.
A few numbers, for context:
When it comes to diversity, people with disabilities tend to be overlooked—but they are also an indispensable part of your company. We interviewed Natasha Walton, founder of Tech Disability Project—a publication featuring stories by disabled tech workers—to gain some perspective. Natasha talked about what companies do well, what they overlook, and how they should communicate about disabilities in the workplace.
SurveyMonkey: Should you ask employees about their disabilities, or wait for them to bring it up themselves?
Natasha: Companies should proactively advertise their commitment to providing reasonable accommodations to both employees and interviewees. It’s important to focus the conversation on what the individual needs, not why; ask questions to determine what the employee may need to do their best work rather than inquiring into their medical history.
Remember that 70% of disabilities are invisible and disabilities may develop or change over time. Your accommodation process should cater not only to candidates and new hires, but to existing employees as well.
Note: Have you met internal resistance when advocating for hiring people with disabilities? Or been hesitant to ask employees about accommodations they may need? Many companies worry that hiring people with disabilities will come at a high financial cost. Actually—the opposite is true. Half of requested accommodations don’t cost the employer anything, and the average cost of accommodations that do have a cost is only a few hundred dollars.
Disabled employees can offer rare perspective into what matters to disabled customers and other consumers. The discretionary income of working-aged disabled people is a 21 billion dollar market—a huge opportunity for companies to tap into.
SurveyMonkey: What do companies tend to overlook when it comes to supporting disabled employees?
Natasha: In general, companies tend to forget that every employee is a unique individual with differing access needs. When employers enact rigid policies that require all employees to work in a similar way, it fosters a non-inclusive, inaccessible environment. This type of culture can make disabled employees feel as though they need to hide their disabilities and access needs, putting increased stress and pressure on those individuals and preventing them from bringing their whole selves to work.
Many people with disabilities need flexibility when it comes to hours and location, allowing them to work from home if and when they need to, or to go to appointments during the workday. But that’s far from standard, even in roles where the majority of the work is digital. When companies require employees to dip into PTO for mental health days or appointments, it disproportionately affects people with disabilities.
Then, there’s the issue of privacy. Are employees expected to broadcast the reason why they are missing a meeting to their team? This norm unnecessarily burdens people who have a lot of appointments or need to take a mental health day. It’s understandable that coworkers would want to know whether their colleague is available, but there’s no reason that they should have to divulge the details of their medical life.
Another common thing that companies overlook are offsites. Even if the main office is accessible—is the offsite location? Are the bonding activities something that every member of the team can participate in?
All of these issues can be successfully addressed with more flexible policies and sensitivity training for management-level employees.
SurveyMonkey: What can companies do to support their disabled employees?
Natasha: Beyond offering an accommodations process and flexible work policies, offices can provide noise-free work areas and private resting rooms. Quiet can be really important for many people with disabilities (as well as non-disabled employees) and is a scarce commodity in open-plan offices. If an employee has a panic attack or a muscle spasm, needs to adjust a prosthesis or needs to lay down for a few minutes, a private resting room is an extremely valuable resource.
Normalizing self-care and educating employees about how to discuss disability are important as well. Encouraging mental health days will end up serving the entire employee base. People with disabilities are constantly asked inappropriate questions from coworkers about their bodies and mobility devices. We should be able to go to work and put forth our best effort without needing to explain our disabilities or accommodations to every curious colleague.
When companies prioritize mental health, it pays off. Accenture research found that employees from companies that prioritize mental health are twice as likely to love their job and more likely to stay longer. Healthier employees are better set up for success and more likely to infuse confidence and positivity into your culture. But everyone struggles with mental health sometimes, and consistent issues are more widespread than you might think.
In a recent survey of over 2,000 employees, almost 45% said anxiety or depression hurts their productivity in the office, and nearly 1 in 5 (18%), said that it happens often. Mental health challenges are relevant for employees of every company.
But as common as these issues are, they still aren’t talked about openly. Old taboos around mental illness still have legs in the workplace, where people seem to conflate emotional equilibrium with professional capability—or fear that others will. This becomes a problem when employees don’t feel they can talk about the situation or work toward a solution.
Our research also found that young people and racial minorities are more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression—which makes sense for groups that tend to face higher scrutiny.
People struggling with mental health issues tend to either feel like their challenges aren’t valid or that they’re too personal to talk about. Fewer than half the people in our survey said that they’d be willing to take a day off for mental health reasons, and among those who would, only 15% would give the honest reason.
For more context about the challenges—and opportunities—of mental health in the workplace, we talked to Mind Share Partners—a nonprofit changing the culture of workplace mental health so that both employees and organizations can thrive.
Mind Share partners with leading organizations to support employees with mental health conditions through workshops, education, and consultation. They’ve partnered with major companies like SAP and Pandora, as well as smaller companies, and have seen a gamut of different systems and company cultures. Here are some of their takeaways.
Why is mental health so important from a business perspective?
Studies show that untreated mental health conditions result in a wide variety of business costs, including more short-term disability, safety incidents, time out of work or absenteeism, underperformance and presenteeism, stress, overstaffing to cover absences, and hiring costs for burnout and attrition. U.S. businesses lose $17 billion and 217 million days are lost annually in workplace productivity due to mental health conditions.
Workplaces present both a challenge and an opportunity in mental health. They’re a challenge because workplace factors such as job strain, lack of control, and unsupportive managers can trigger or exacerbate mental health conditions. Coupled with pervasive stigma, this is a massive detriment to employees seeking help.
However, workplaces are also an opportunity. The time people spend at work is an unmatched chance for change that helps an employer’s culture and bottom line. Organizations that commit to supporting employee mental health see a 4:1 ROI in increased productivity and engagement, and become more desirable places to work.
Mental health is the next frontier for Diversity & Inclusion. The individuals facing mental health challenges are already at your company, but struggling in silence due to the prevailing stigma at work. To shift our country’s cultural dynamic, companies need to lead the way. Organizations that create a supportive mental health culture will do good by their employees and by their bottom line.
What can companies do to take the stigma out of mental health and promote wellness?
Leverage continuous, immersive, and action-oriented education. In our workshops, we teach companies to name, normalize, and navigate mental health at work. We debunk commonly-held myths, share stories, and offer concrete strategies to create a company-wide understanding of the prevalence and impact of mental health at work and ways to support it.
These types of workshops and follow-on discussions equip companies to create a psychologically safe team culture.
Provide the right resources. Mental health benefits, EAPs, and workplace perks (like free meals, meditation rooms, and ping pong tables) are increasingly common. But these resources are used at alarmingly low-rates and don’t directly address the culture of stigma in the workplace.
One really successful tactic we’ve seen is the creation of mental health employee resource groups at companies like Johnson & Johnson, Verizon Media, and Squarespace. We’ve also seen successful solutions like flexible working hours, time for therapy, and structured check-ins with managers.
Finally, internal trainings or meetups where employees can learn and talk safely about mental health at work lead to a more open culture around mental health challenges.
Another key piece is leadership buy-in. You need vocal support. Leaders are culture-setters at their organization. You can have programs and resources in place, but research shows that employees are reluctant to use company benefits unless they see that their supervisor and company as a whole support their use.
At a recent workshop, a senior executive shared a personal story about their experience with mental health. In just a 10-minute share, the executive signaled to the rest of the company that it was okay to have these experiences and opened the door for further conversations about mental health.
If you’re worried about how employees perceive mental health, or aren’t sure whether your company does enough to support employees’ mental health, ask yourself these questions:
If the answer to those questions is no, it might be time to reevaluate your company’s position on mental health, and consider one of the solutions Mind Share suggests.
Strategies to attract and empower underrepresented groups and help employees thrive
You have your diversity survey metrics, you see the gaps, and you’re worried. But your candidate pool hasn’t changed—so how do you create a more diverse workforce? If you’re not getting interest from qualified candidates from underrepresented groups, the first step might be to consider your pipeline.
If you want to be viewed as an inclusive employer, position yourself that way. You can use statistics or quotes from your diversity or inclusion surveys to make D&I part of your employer brand.
If that’s not an option for you, then simply changing the way that you present yourself as an employer can make a difference. SurveyMonkey has a page devoted to diversity and inclusion, expressing our company values and inclusive programs and policies. We want potential employees and customers to know what we value and why.
This is an area where you’ll want to be especially conscious of avoiding a culture of genius. Look at your public values and job descriptions—both on your website and job boards. Just changing a few words can radically change the way that both employees and candidates view your organization. In one study, men and women were each shown job descriptions that—otherwise equal—expressed either a culture of genius or a growth mindset. Women were significantly more likely to apply to the businesses that focused on growth.
If you’re not sure what makes you a desirable employer from a D&I perspective, think more holistically about the opportunities for growth at your organization—these may appeal to underrepresented groups, even if they’re not explicitly focused on empowering a certain identity.
You’ll also want to emphasize the importance of diversity among employees. Encourage your people to refer candidates from diverse backgrounds, and consider altering your referral bonus to promote diverse hiring. The more people you bring into the effort, the more opportunities you’ll have to diversify.
Recently, SurveyMonkey started an ambitious diversity-focused recruitment campaign. As part of it, we’re making an effort to ensure interviewing panels (the people candidates talk to as they go through the hiring process) reflect our diverse employee population.
The goal is to show potential candidates that there is a place here for people of a variety of different backgrounds, and that everyone can thrive. It’s a relatively simple thing to implement and keep in mind, but it might make a big difference for candidates who are on the fence.
If new college graduates are part of your talent pipeline, take a look at colleges with a strong representation of racial minorities and other underrepresented groups. Spelman College, Howard University, and Florida A&M are all historically Black colleges with strong academics. Colleges with high populations of LGBTQ students include Tufts, MIT, and UCLA. CSU Los Angeles, Florida International University, and St. Mary’s University of San Antonio all have high LatinX representation.
22% of Black college graduates chose a HBCU as their alma mater, and according to a Gallup poll of thousands of students, their education gave them the tools they need to thrive. Yet, most companies choose to recruit elsewhere, missing the opportunity to access a huge talent pool and add fresh energy and diversity to their workforce.
Last year, Google announced an expanded plan to recruit from HBCUs. Hopefully, other companies will follow suit.
There are also tangible actions you can make to show potential future employees that your company cares about giving them a comfortable place to work. Two changes that can make a major impact:
1. Create a physical space that appeals to a diverse community. The way that you structure your office space conveys your company priorities. Some planning decisions are more expensive than others, but each sends an important message. It can also just be a question of publicizing things that you already have.
2. Set hiring and leadership diversity quotas. Many leaders, including Lesbians Who Tech founder Leanne Pittsford, have called for the use of diversity quotas, arguing that relying on “good feelings alone” does not lead to change. Diversity quotas don’t solve the whole problem, but they’re a great place to start.
Underrepresented groups can’t really thrive if they don’t see a successful path forward reflected in management. Homogenous leadership hurts retention, recruitment, and the sense of belonging that keeps people from underrepresented groups engaged at their jobs. Yet, white men still fill nearly 70% of director positions on Fortune 500 boards—and in 2018 we hit the lowest concentration of Black executives since 2002.
There’s a lot of room for improvement here. The state of California now legally requires companies above a certain size to have at least one woman on their board of directors—a tiny step, right? But that law will affect over 100 companies. Even businesses with the best intentions drag their heels when it comes to making change.
At SurveyMonkey, we set a goal of having a 50/50 gender split on our board—a goal that we achieved in 2018. We’re still working toward our other Diversity and Inclusion goals, but using hard numbers to hold ourselves accountable has been a first step toward tangible change.
You yourself may not have the authority to weigh in on high-level hiring decisions, but if you can argue your case with executives or others who do, you could make a major positive difference. If your leadership right now doesn’t include diverse representation, that’s a red flag. It’s your job to point it out.
When you know more about who your employees are, you can also start to find communities with common identities and values. Then, you can set up Employee Resource Groups, or ERGs. Employee Resource Groups are voluntary groups led by employees, and their success heavily depends on how much power they’re given, the resources allotted to them, and the enthusiasm of their participants.
When should you start to think about ERGs?
Many ERGs are only established through grassroot efforts when employees proactively seek approval from management. To help, HR professionals can lay the foundations for successful ERGs by setting up a process for establishing them and being clear about what they can offer. If you don’t already have ERGs in place at your company, meet with leadership to understand how much funding you’ll be able to allot to these types of groups and what other resources (meeting spaces, etc.) you can offer.
When you know what you can offer, promote the opportunity across internal channels. Offer instructions for setting up an ERG on your company intranet or include a note in the company handbook.
The results from your diversity survey should give you some insight into the types of ERGs that would benefit your community. If there’s a significant number of people from a certain underrepresented group—or a notably small number of people from another—those could be good groups to start with. Ultimately, employee enthusiasm is the only way to know which groups you should move forward with.
A 2-question survey should tell you everything you need to know to decide whether there is employee interest in an ERG certain identity. 1) Are you interested in joining? 2) Are you interested in leading?
Ultimately ERGs are driven by employees, but it’s up to HR to give them the tools to get started.
What do you need in order to create an ERG?
Above all else, you need enthusiastic employees to lead the groups. ERGs are empowered by the fact that they’re self-driven, and you need passionate employees to take on leadership roles. If you aren’t sure about your employees, put out feelers to see if you have people who fit the bill.
You also need an accessible first step—SurveyMonkey has an internal page that explains what types of employee resource groups are supported and a portal for making requests.
When the group is established, you need space, meeting times, and a clear way to communicate. Email aliases or dedicated channels on your company messaging service are great places to start.
What to avoid when thinking about ERGs
Although HR leaders do need to give employees the tools they need to start an ERG, it’s not your place to start one without eager participants. If you force it and, for example, proactively start a group for the five Black employees at your 400 person company, you risk tokenizing those people and making them even more uncomfortable. Employee resource groups are, first and foremost, a platform.
Mentorship plays a key role in combating a culture of genius and helping people of underrepresented groups be consistently successful at your company. There are many documented examples of why mentorship is important:
The tricky part is uncovering and pairing those who would like to be mentored and those who want to mentor. You also need to help both parties understand what “mentorship” really means at your company. Mentorship programs that are allowed to grow stagnant don’t work. This is especially pressing if you’re building mentorship around a shared identities like gender or race.
If you don’t have a mentorship program in place at your company, certain employees or teams might still have organically created mentorship roles. At the same time, you might also have a program in place that no one is using. The first step to building a stronger mentorship program is understanding where mentorship at your company currently stands.
Mentorship is a huge professional advantage, and unequal access to quality mentors is a major problem when it comes to building a diverse and inclusive workforce. NextPlay.ai is a mentorship software and mobile app that pairs mentors and mentees within an organization based on goals and shared outlook, and walks them through the first stages of mentorship.
While mentorship can seem straightforward on the surface, there are advantages to thinking outside the box, and common challenges that savvy companies can work to avoid. NextPlay.ai’s Co-founder and CEO Charu Sharma shared some best practices for both, and explains how her company has created a program to help both individuals and their employers thrive.
Companies should facilitate mentorship programs—not rely on individuals to find help themselves.
There are a whole host of reasons that companies should think about creating mentoring programs. First the obvious: they give mentees the opportunity to grow and evolve—which makes them both happier and more valuable employees. Mentors learn valuable teaching and leadership skills.
Expecting employees to find their own mentors is problematic for both the individual and their employer. People who don’t feel like they can access a mentor within their organization are more likely to look elsewhere, which might ultimately lead to loss of talent if those employees decide to follow their mentors elsewhere.
Relying on personal networks also inherently disadvantages people from underrepresented groups. People who didn’t go to a certain school or look a certain way are less likely to have access to advisors who can help them. Mentorship shouldn’t be a matter of privilege—it should be something that anyone who wants to grow should be able to pursue.
When pairing mentors, resist the urge to think about hierarchy. Instead, focus on goals.
When mentorship programs start out, the temptation is typically to pair junior members of a certain team or department with more senior leaders in the same space. But we’ve found that asking people about their goals is a better way to do it.
Why? Because sometimes the most rewarding combinations can come from peers, or through “reverse mentorship.” Maybe a CMO wants to learn more about how content marketing works, or a director wants to get a better grasp on social media. Mentoring can also be a good way to hone leadership skills.
Some of the most valuable relationships we’ve created have been through cross-functional pairings. One salesperson that Nextplay.ai matched with a leader on the product team helped the company identify a million dollar market opportunity. Getting different viewpoints is the best way to create innovative solutions.
The CEO of JP Morgan, Jamie Diamond, famously advocates for talking to younger people. The benefits of having a diverse company also apply to diverse mentorships.
Provide guidance and easy pathways to connection—at least early on.
We’ve found that the best meeting cadence for most professionals’ schedules is once a month. When people using our platform meet up for the first time, we offer some recommended prompts (What is your background? Where did you grow up? What are your long-term and immediate goals?) Those prompts evolve as time goes on.
When mentees don’t have a structure to draw from, we found that they would avoid scheduling meetings out of fear of not knowing what to talk about and/or wasting their mentor’s time.
We also send mentors notifications when their mentees tick off an accomplishment that the two of them talked about. Mentorship programs need to establish a sense of continuity. That might be a standing check in email reminder, internal events for mentors and mentees, or anything that keeps them feeling connected.
One of the mentees in our program went on to become the first woman to be promoted while on maternity leave. The impact that mentorship has is powerful—and lasting. It can establish confidence that lasts throughout the mentees career—which is especially critical for people from underrepresented groups.
An easy way to promote inclusion and nip hostile attitudes in the bud is to require employees to take implicit bias training once a year.
Unlike explicit bias, implicit bias can be largely subconscious and unspoken. It includes nonverbal interactions and is usually based in people’s automatic associations. A now famous study from Georgia Tech found that job applicants with traditionally “Black-sounding” names received 50% fewer callbacks than equally qualified applicants with “white-sounding” ones.
Implicit bias can affect employees of any rank, education, and background, but awareness can help mitigate the damage and make employees more generally considerate.
Starbucks recently temporarily closed 8,000 stores for a training that they developed with the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Equal Justice Initiative. You can develop your own training with expert input, hire a firm, or use an online course like this one from Catalyst.
A less common but uniquely empowering way to bring your employees together around inclusive principles is to let them weigh in on policy and corporate giving. Few companies think to ask about things like which charities to support or whether to offer yoga instead of happy hours.
SurveyMonkey has made extensive changes based on employee feedback, including changing our benefits programs to better support our employees’ values. This tells employees they are the ones who define our company culture. We use the phrase “You happen to SurveyMonkey” to encourage employees to make an impact.
A study by Tiny Pulse found that transparency is the factor most strongly correlated with employee happiness. Employees need to feel like they’re in the loop on major company changes, but they also need to feel like the conversation goes both ways. Show employees that you’re listening by surveying them about benefits or corporate social responsibility programs.
Our CSR survey template gives detailed options from which employees can choose the areas they’re most passionate about. The survey also helps you understand what type of giving makes the most sense to your people (donations, volunteer activities, etc.) The template covers areas ranging from diversity and inclusion to environmental concerns to humanitarian aid. You can tailor it to reflect your company’s core values or mission statement.
The causes that a company chooses to support unite its workforce. Patagonia’s environmental work, for example, has become a big selling point for the company among prospective employees—and rightly so. Prospects know that they’ll be working with people who with similar passions and priorities. The right cause can make a major positive impact on company culture.
Use surveys to establish an ongoing conversation with your employees
This guide includes a lot of survey templates—because diversity and inclusion is layered and multifaceted. As an HR professional invested in building a diverse and inclusive culture, you should be thinking about all of these areas, but you probably shouldn’t survey for all of them (at least, not at once).
We recommend sending diversity and inclusion surveys somewhere between quarterly and twice a year. You don’t want to exhaust your employees, but you also shouldn’t allow too much time to pass between surveys. Culture can change as quickly as new hires join a company or energy shifts.
You can also prevent survey fatigue by:
If you’re using surveys for research or general policy changes instead of individual support, you can sample only a portion of your population and still get fairly reliable results.
Our sample size calculator will tell you how many people you need to ask in order to get a statistically significant read on your population. Make sure that respondents from each major demographic are represented, and err on the side of including more people.
Using this method can help you keep from giving employees survey exhaustion, but it does risk overlooking subgroups of your workforce, so be conscious of that as you plan your feedback program. Sampling is a good strategy for quick insights and general indications about your company culture, not a comprehensive understanding.
Screening questions—questions that you ask at the beginning of your survey to weed out irrelevant survey takers—give you more accurate results and spare your employees’ time if the survey doesn’t apply to them.
If you’re only interested in the experience of women in your workplace, for example, you can start with the screening question, “Do you identify as a female?” and eliminate anyone who doesn’t answer “yes.”
Asking employees to take time out of their work day to answer questions about your company culture doesn’t always result in fantastic response rates, but catching them just as they’re starting or leaving can give you rare insights.
Entry: Whereas exit interviews are common practice, entry interviews (or in this case, surveys) are much less common. But they’re the best source of insight into the humans who will soon make up your company culture.
Having these conversations can help uncover employees’ priorities and strengths, understand their learning styles, and address uncertainties. It prompts a frank conversation between managers and their reports about expectations and what new hires need in order to be successful and happy.
Exit: Exit interviews are your best chance to get brutally honest feedback about your company culture. They take place at a time when employees are least likely to self-filter and most likely to be prepared to give this type of feedback. Take advantage of the opportunity by asking key questions about your company overall.
SurveyMonkey has a general Exit Interview template that you can use (which encompasses many aspects of employment and not just diversity and inclusion-related issues). Our template isn’t free, but you can also structure your own survey or use employee exits as an opportunity to survey about a specific D&I related topic using one of the other templates from this guide.
Even if you decide not to use any of the free templates provided in this guide, you should still regularly survey employees about diversity and inclusion issues relevant to your company. If you’re interested in seeing how your company culture has changed over time, you can set up a recurring survey and benchmark your responses against your past results. This will help you validate the impact of the new programs and trace the effects of company changes on inclusion.
According to SHRM, 22% of corporate diversity officers cite a lack of senior leadership support as their greatest challenge.
It’s hard to really make an impact on diversity and inclusion without leadership buy in. You need the authority to write new policies, adopt new strategies, and fund new initiatives. If your current executives are passionate about D&I, that’s great. If not, there are 2 major arguments that you can make with hard numbers to back you up.
Companies that don’t pay attention to their diversity are (provably) the ones who end up with the kinds of “culture crises” described at the beginning of this guide. Problems that start small spiral and eventually become major problems.
Diversity and inclusion start influencing employees before they’re even hired. In July, SurveyMonkey asked 19,860 people to rank the top 75 Fortune 500 companies by how much positive impact they had on the country and how desirable they would be as an employer. The majority of the people who took the survey said that they prioritize working for an employer that values diversity.
Diversity also helps with engagement: Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland found that a higher number of women in senior management, not including the CEO, was associated with better employee performance across the board.
Your survey data can also help you get leadership’s attention. If your employees’ answers are troubling, it will create a sense of urgency around addressing them. If they reflect enthusiasm, you have a clear opportunity to boost engagement.
Later in your feedback program, try combining your inclusion data with employee engagement numbers see if you can find a correlation.
People who come from different backgrounds have different needs. Planning a new office? Having parents in the room might remind you to include breastfeeding rooms. Launching a food product? People from different cultures will be able to weigh in on how it might sit with their palates.
Employees with customer empathy are more likely to find their jobs meaningful and more likely to put their whole selves into finding solutions that make their customers happy—especially if those customers are in an underserved market.
A three year study of U.S. venture capital firms released in the Harvard Business Review found that diverse firms had IPO/acquisition success rates that were 26.4% to 32.2% higher than those of ethnically homogenous firms. Another study of 1,700 companies across the world found that diverse companies consistently deliver higher innovation that non-diverse companies.
People from different backgrounds are better at recognizing a broader range of market opportunity—which is why diverse businesses do better as a whole.
The Mckinsey research mentioned at the beginning of this guide also offers some hard financial numbers to back you up: Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have better financial returns than the industry medians. Companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above the medians.
Surveying your employees about diversity and inclusion tells your employees that they are company values. It keeps both HR and leadership from being blindsided by employee loss or public outcry, and gives you the fodder you need to make better decisions.
Track your diversity statistics over time. If those numbers happen to align with better business performance, it might not be a coincidence.
The people who oversee diversity and inclusion or company culture at their organizations have the ability to meaningfully change the way the company operates. They enrich the lives of their employees, add value to the business, and create a workplace where people can thrive.
HR workers can be every bit as scientific and data-driven as their colleagues in finance and marketing, if they have the survey data to make key strategic choices. There’s no excuse not to.
*This guide will refer to LGBTQQIAAP individuals under the broader (though less accurate) umbrella of “LGBTQ.” This is strictly in the interest of brevity and clarity, since “LGBTQ” is the more widely-known term. However, our intent is for it to be read as inclusive of all sexual and gender identities.
Our templates were developed by expert survey researchers and industry experts.