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Why do you want to know that? How is that relevant?: Capturing diversity metrics in the workplace

12 May 2015


Why do you want to know that? How is that relevant?: Capturing diversity metrics in the workplace

Jia Ali, Graduate Associate

Many organisations aspire to recruit and manage staff so as to create a culture that utilises the contributions of people with different backgrounds, abilities, genders, ages, responsibilities, experiences and perspectives. A diverse workforce is an admirable goal for any organisation, but bringing this about and substantiating claims to achieving such diversity can be difficult.

Capturing diversity information can present some challenges for an organisation, but a clear communication strategy can convey the positive benefits of knowing this information and help to manage expectations and perceptions. While some current or prospective employee may take the data collection positively and consider it an integral part of promoting diversity, others may perceive it as likely to affect their employment prospects. Therefore it is critical for employers to understand how best to convey the diversity message to their employees.

What does the law say?

There are federal and state anti-discrimination laws that protect workers against employment discrimination. Discrimination refers to treating a person with an identified attribute or personal characteristic less favourably than a person who does not have the attribute, or creating conditions which indirectly discriminate against those who have the particular attribute. Discrimination in employment can generally occur in three areas: pre-employment; during employment and termination. There are specific provisions in place at federal and state level which prohibit discriminatory questions being asked in the recruitment and selection process. The employment terms and conditions that they may offer to an applicant should also be free of discrimination.

While there are clear obligations regarding compliance with non discrimination obligations in Australia, there are few positive obligations on employers to review and report on the composition of their workforce.

A notable exception is the requirement to report on the gender composition of the workforce under section 13 of the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 (Cth) (“WGE Act”). The WGE Act aims to promote equality for both men and women in the workplace and requires non- public sector employees with 100 or more staff (relevant employers) to submit a report to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency between 1 April and 31 may each year for the preceding 12 month period (1 April- 31 March reporting period).

How do you capture data in the recruitment and selection process?

A risk in the recruitment and selection process is that data or information requested by the employer will be perceived as influencing selection in ways that might be discriminatory or exclusionary. This could potentially expose an organisation to adverse action claims under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (“FW Act”) or discrimination claims under federal state or territory anti-discrimination laws.

In 2013 it was reported in the media that, Chevron, the oil and gas giant was being challenged for recruiting information from potential employees on how many still births or abortions they had. Chevron reportedly withdrew the application forms and stated that many of the questions were not relevant to the local Australian employment situation and that they were amending the form to ask only medical information relevant to the position to ensure people are safe and fit for duty.

The goal of recruitment is to identify and attract talent from a diverse pool and to ensure that each candidate is treated fairly throughout the hiring process. The application and screening processes should be bias- free and hiring managers should not let their own biases or conscious cultural references negatively impact the hiring process. Below are ways in which employers can seek to address such issues:

1. Job description

A barrier free job description can help reduce bias in the selection process. One way to do this is by specifying the need in the job description, rather than how it is achieved e.g. instead of a valid driver’s license being a requirement, ask for the “ability to travel and provide own transportation”

2. Application forms

Organisations should review and where necessary re-design application forms so that they exclude potentially discriminatory questions, for example, about marital status, number and ages of children, nationality, age and disability from the main part of the form.

Organisations should try to distinguish between information that is needed for the purpose of monitoring, and information required for the recruitment and selection process when requesting information regarding candidates’ gender, age, race and whether they have a disability.

3. Interviews

In order to ensure fairness during the interview process, it is important for an organisation to ask only questions that relate to the requirements of the job and not to stray over into personal or intrusive questions that may indicate a biased view on the interview’s part.

How do you capture reportable data of staff during their employment?

Monitoring diversity with existing employees in the workplace is equally as important as capturing data in the recruitment and selection process. Top companies make assessing and evaluating their diversity process an integral part of their management system. Below are methods by which an organisation can try to capture the data of staff as well as encouraging diversity:

1. Diversity policies

Adopting diversity policies offer clear benefits for organisations and their workforce, such as resolving labour shortages and a better image for the organisation. Such policies may boost employee morale and as a result improve communication processes and managerial styles as well as reduce staff turnover and absenteeism. Businesses that commit to and implement diversity policies are more likely to retain a committed and satisfied workforce resulting in greater profitability.

2. Employee satisfaction survey

A customised employee satisfaction survey is a means of assessing how the organisation is faring on diversity in a practical sense. This approach can help the management team determine what challenges and obstacles to diversity are present in their organisation and how to address them. Ideally such a survey would reveal what is and isn’t working well within their organisation.

3. Promotion

Processes used by an employer to determine internal promotions must be non-discriminatory. The process should be transparent and readily available to all employees in order to minimise the perception of discrimination.

4. Lead by example

Leaders and managers within organisations need to imbed respect for diversity into every aspect of the organisation’s operations. Attitudes towards diversity are influenced by the behaviour and practices of those at the top and can filter downwards. Management commitment and participation is required to create a culture favourable to the success of an organisation’s plan.

5. Employee engagement and creating a culture of openness to diversity

Organisations should involve employees in formulating and executing diversity initiatives in the workplace so they are not afraid to express their ideas and opinions in relation to diversity. Organisations should actively seek information from people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures to create a robust team culture and should look to develop an atmosphere that makes it safe for all employees to ask for help, and to give help in return.

6. Training

Effective training programs and workshops by the organisation can encourage a culture of diversity and allow employees to be more open to such areas.

7. Review and reassess

This can be done in ways such as:

  • conducting exit interviews;
  • using staff surveys or a diversity audit to identify areas of weakness;
  • gathering new information on demographics of the organisation when new opportunities arises;
  • considering casual and part-time participation rates; recruitment, promotion, retention and separation rates for equity groups;
  • assessing the rate of promotion for these groups;
  • monitoring absenteeism more closely;
  • monitoring more closely returns from maternity leave or leave without pay for family or carer reasons; and
  • conducting regular surveys on behaviour and attitude and analysing the results from a range of perspectives (e.g. satisfaction of employees at different levels or in different locations).

Key Takeaways

  1. Be aware of your legal obligations not to ask questions that could be construed as discriminatory or exclusionary in job applications and interviews.
  2. Develop a culture where employees are open to diversity.
  3. Review and assess any actions taken to promote diversity in the workplace.
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