How Much Do We Really Need to Know?









Blog by Richard Chapman-Harris, Diversity Advisor, Opportunity Now and Race for Opportunity

We all want to know a bit about the people we work for and also the people who work for us. But how much do we really want to know? When is information too much information? How does data capture become just that, or how can we use it to understand, and know our people, without reducing them to a list of figures and trends? These are the questions being asked in the Human Resources field as everyone emerges from the cocoon of summer holidays.

In October this year Business in the Community will be releasing the report from its Race for Opportunity and Opportunity Now Diversity Benchmark. This report will help members to identify best practice and also outline areas for improvement, whilst offering a unique comparison on gender and race equality. Part 1 of this index is all about the statistics organizations capture, specifically on diversity. But, numbers do not tell the whole story and so Part 2 allows organisations to discuss and share actions as well. If we simply looked at the data it might appear that a member’s female representation at board level is below the 17.5% average for FTSE 100 companies but combined with Part 2 we can see that they are making progress and carrying out several actions to tackle this.

September’s People Management article ‘We Love Data’ also highlights the value of statistics and trends but warns against the “correlation equals causation” assumption. Although ‘Big Data’ can highlight why people choose to work for or leave a company it may not show the journey or decision-influencing-experiences or wider integral factors. Exit interviews are employed by some organizations as a tick in the box whilst others can use these one to one’s to mine deep, qualitative information and even to persuade the employee to stay (if they have put into place actions from the last leaver). Similarly, the Diversity Benchmark data can clearly show ‘drop offs’ or ‘tipping points’ for gender and race equality. With 50% females and 10% Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME) in talent feeder pools, we can easily see where things go wrong if this representation dips to 25% female and 5% BAME at the next grade up. Similarly something is not working for the women in the organization when middle to senior management representation dips to 10%. But the stats do not tell us what is going wrong specifically. This requires more than data, and trends, it requires understanding and change management.

Opportunity Now Champion, Friends Life, understands the utility of data but also the importance of further engagement and analysis. Looking at their gender statistics it was clear that female representation could be better at the most senior levels. This trend is mirrored across most organisations. Initial analysis highlighted similar trends of work-life balance, career progression and opportunities – most employees will tell you that! So what do organizations do? They should ask their people. Talk to them. And this is what Friends Life is doing. By reaching out to all staff and engaging in a series of open focus groups the conversations can be had. By sharing the big data as part of the pre-read - and during these sessions - transparency allows discussion to add meat to the numerical bones.

So if your organisation does carry out diversity monitoring/data capture, make sure you fill it out honestly. If you do not feel comfortable sharing this data, tell someone you don’t,and if your employer wants you to engage, or you want your staff to engage with you – tell them why and what for. Although in risk-averse times, the numbers are a fall-back, there needs to be people there to catch us too.