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  • Writer's pictureAbbey Salvas

6 Best Practices for Collecting Demographic Data

Originally posted on the Mattingly Solutions Blog.


Collecting demographic data (e.g., gender, race, sexual orientation) is one of the simplest yet most important ways that one can assess the diversity of their organization’s workforce. That data can then be used to take action to strategically diversify, create targeted resources for marginalized groups within the workforce, and evaluate other policies and practices for equity based on who is in your organization.


Unfortunately, while this step may seem simple, there are a lot of ways that it can go wrong. For example, not including inclusive demographic question options (e.g., non-binary options for gender) can make your employees feel like they do not belong or their voice will not be heard.


In light of these challenges, we have put together a list of best practices for you and your organization as you seek to collect demographic info

  1. Consider the purpose of the data collection

  2. Consider your population and their values

  3. Make demographic items optional (whenever possible)

  4. Avoid “othering” language

  5. Research examples of common demographic items

  6. Be open to changing these items over time


1. Consider the purpose of the data collection

Organizations may collect demographic data for a variety of reasons. For example, if you are collecting data for reporting purposes for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, there are specific items that need to be assessed. If you are looking to evaluate your own diversity for internal initiatives, however, you may choose to use other items.


2. Consider your population and their values

The best way to be sure that employees feel that their voice is heard is to ask for their feedback. If your organization utilizes employee resource groups (ERGs), this is a great opportunity to request their guidance on what options should be included for relevant demographic questions. For example, a LGBTQIA+ ERG may be best equipped to provide up-to-date inclusive demographic response options for sexual orientation and gender identity.



It is important to note here, however, that you should be careful to avoid tokenizing your marginalized employees. Doing your own research beforehand and providing options to these employees is one way to avoid this. Using ERGs is a further way to avoid asking an employee from a marginalized background to speak for everyone from that background.

 

3. Make demographic items optional (whenever possible).

While the collection of this data can be instrumental to organizational initiatives, it is also crucial to remember that not every employee will be comfortable sharing some or all of this information for a variety of reasons. Therefore, it is best to make sure these items are optional, or including a response option such as “Prefer not to say”. Further, you should provide your employees with the reasons the data is being collected and what it will be used for.


4. Avoid “othering” language

When listing options for demographic questions, it can be tempting to include an all-encompassing “Other: _______” option in order to be sure that everyone’s identities can be represented. While this may appear as inclusive, the use of the word of “other” is inherently exclusive, or othering.


Options to add the option for individuals to fill-in unlisted identities include “An option not listed here: _______” or “Prefer to self-describe: _______”.


5. Research examples of common demographic items

When determining how best to generate inclusive demographic items, the first thing you may notice is how many different approaches there are. It can be daunting so we’ve gathered a couple inclusive examples, along with definitions, to get you started:


Race/ethnicity: Definitions and examples 

  • Race refers to “a group sharing some outward physical characteristics and some commonalities of culture and history”. Ethnicity refers to “markers acquired from the group with which one shares cultural, traditional, and familial bonds” (Merriam-Webster).

  • An important note here is to allow individuals to “check all that apply”

An example race and ethnicity item is below: Which of the following best defines your race or ethnicity? Select all that apply: 


American Indian or Alaska Native

Provide details (e.g., Navajo Nation, Blackfeet Tribe, Mayan) _____________

Asian or Asian American

Chinese Japanese Korean Vietnamese Filipino Asian Indian Another (e.g., Laotian, Cambodian, Hmong) ____________

Black or African American

Hispanic, Latino/a/é, or Spanish

Middle Eastern or North African

Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander

White

Other


Another option is below: Which of the following best defines your race or ethnicity? Select all that apply: 

  • American Indian or Alaska Native

  • Asian

  • Black or African American

  • Hispanic, Latino/a/é, or Spanish

  • Middle Eastern or North African

  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander

  • White

  • Prefer to self-describe _________________

  • Prefer not to respond


Gender identity vs. Sex assigned at birth (plus pronouns!) 

  • Gender identity is “a deeply felt psychological sense a person has regarding their gender. Such a sense may or may not align with a person’s sex assigned at birth.” Sex assigned at birth refers to “the label a medical professional gives to a baby when it is born.” This label may be female, male, or intersex.

  • As employers, what is likely most important to know about employees is their gender identity (if they are comfortable sharing) and their pronouns.

  • Pronouns are “words used to refer to an individual; identified pronouns are pronouns an individual has chosen for themselves based on their gender identity”


Example gender identity questions are below:

Which of the following best defines your current gender identity? Select all that apply 

  • Genderqueer, nonbinary, or genderfluid

  • Man

  • Woman

  • Prefer to self-describe ____________

  • Prefer not to respond

Do you identify as trans or transgender? 

  • Yes

  • No

  • Prefer not to respond

What are your pronouns?  

  • She/her

  • He/him

  • They/them

  • An option not listed here: __________

 

6. Be open to changing these items over time

And finally, the last strategy for success in collecting demographic information is to remember that our understanding of these complex phenomena is still changing. Using language to attempt to understand the intricacies of those identities most central to us is a challenge that is continuous.


Looking to advance DEI through data-driven insights in your organization? Contact us at Plan to Action today to drive meaningful change, together.

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