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DEIA Data Collection: Overcoming the Hurdles to Advance Our Missions

laptop with data on screen

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One of the questions organizations struggle with regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) is, “How do we measure our efforts to ensure we are making the impact we are striving for?” Data-driven decisions are a good way to eliminate bias in any situation, as long as they are initially set up free from bias. (But that’s a topic for another day.) There are research studies out there demonstrating the fact that successful DEIA efforts do lead to more innovative, productive, and higher earning organizations over their competitors. To share those types of results and narratives, we must have the data to support them. 

So why is this so hard?

It’s challenging for many reasons. The data we’re often asking to collect is personal. For someone to trust your organization enough to provide these details is difficult. There are many things we have to consider and avoid/overcome, including but not limited to:

  • Privacy laws are in place for individual protection.
  • We are not creating the tokenism of individuals by only utilizing one element of their identity (and to the extent possible, we should explore the intersectionality of our members).
  • Understanding why under-represented groups traditionally don’t complete demographic questions (e.g., retaliation, discrimination, or possible termination).
  • Ensuring we don’t have bias or microaggressions built into the questions themselves. 
  • The collected data is deeper than a surface-level collection that is perceived as doing something but not going far enough. 

Considering these points, alongside some of your own concerns, is enough to cause anyone’s head to spin. They are complex and require us to be mindful of our approach. It’s enough to force people to push this off. In reality, we must face it and focus on what it will take to navigate forward. 

So what do we do?

Like anything related to DEIA, data collection is a journey rather than something that can be set up once and let run itself. It’s essential to create a DEIA Data Culture. This culture requires us to incorporate Data Collection (how data is collected), Data Integrity (how data is verified), and Data Usage (how the data is used) as a routine practice. With these three elements of a DEIA Data Culture defined, you can work on your data collection approach. The five steps in the process are:

1. Establish Business Case and Get Buy-In - Before any effort begins, it’s critical to define why you’re doing this and what you hope to achieve through this effort. With that defined, you can work to gain consensus and buy-in from those necessary to support the effort. It’s vital to ensure all roles, responsibilities, and procedures are defined and documented before moving into DEI Collection.

2. Set Up Data Collection Methods – Determining what to collect and how to ask the questions are the most critical step in this process. We want to be mindful that we don’t perpetuate inequity, bias, or harmful stereotypes in what we ask. Instead, we want to promote inclusion and equity within our constituencies. We want to collect the necessary information needed to achieve the defined purpose and nothing further. There are many ways to ask questions and provide options. The key things to remember are:

a. Allow the respondent to self-identify/self-disclose.
b. Honor how each individual sees themselves. 
c. Don’t put someone in a box they haven’t agreed to be in.

3. Collect the Data – Before you ask about collecting information, you need to identify how you will collect it (on a member profile or in a survey), how those responses are stored, and who has access to the information. 

4. Analyze the Results – The most crucial part is looking at the data provided to understand what is there (and maybe even what is not there). It will be essential to note the data/sample size. Sometimes you may not have enough data yet to analyze and compare it thoroughly. That’s okay, as this takes time and trust to get there. Whatever steps you take, it’s important to tell the story that the data provides you, not the narrative you want to tell or force the data to fit your needs.

5. Follow-Up – One of the biggest challenges to DEIA data collection is answering the question, “What are you using this information for?” Ensuring you have a plan to follow up with that respondent about your results and the project you have put in place based on that data is critical. It will allow you to build trust and potentially grow the number of respondents in the future.  

Collecting DEIA data is critical to measure your efforts toward a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible organization. Your approach should be thoughtfully outlined and include various perspectives to ensure you are aware of the pitfalls. Engaging others in the process is the greatest asset to a well-developed DEI Data Culture. Be mindful that everyone has individual and unique experiences and backgrounds that make us who we are. It’s critical to remember to not ask a single person from a historically underrepresented group to speak on behalf of the entire population.    

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