Beyond diversity: Embracing unique experiences for true inclusion

3 minute read

True inclusion goes beyond diversity metrics. While it’s essential to know how many people from various demographics are represented in our organisations, it’s even more crucial to understand the unique experiences of these individuals, says inclusion expert Paul Anderson-Walsh

 Illustration of a diverse and inclusive workplace with employees from various demographic backgrounds, including different ages, ethnicities, genders

An article in The Guardian on April 3, 2024, titled HR is not your friend: why frustrated workers are hiring reps of their own sheds light on the growing trend of employees seeking representation amid workplace dissatisfaction. While it's well-known that HR serves the company's interests, the piece underscores the need for HR to focus on creating a conducive work environment by leveraging reliable data. However, many employees hesitate to disclose information due to fears of stigma or reprisal, posing a barrier to understanding true sentiments and improving the employee experience.

Self-identification poses challenges due to employees' reluctance to disclose information, fearing potential repercussions such as stigma or threats to job security. Concerns also arise regarding the confidentiality of disclosed information and the possibility of its being used against them. This fear creates a significant barrier to self-disclosure. Considering that HR primarily serves the company's interests rather than being a confidant to employees, individuals may question the wisdom of revealing deeper sentiments. Without an understanding of employees' true feelings, enhancing the overall employee experience becomes challenging.

This brings forth a crucial question: if HR's mandate is to be the strategic ally fostering an optimal work environment, it must navigate through the intricacies of employee experiences. Yet achieving these demands reliable data, raising concerns about data privacy and trustworthiness within organisations.

From metrics to meaning: Understanding the individual stories behind workforce diversity

The reluctance of employees to fully disclose their identities or express genuine sentiments stems from fears of stigma or repercussions. This creates a significant barrier to understanding true employee sentiment, hindering efforts to improve the overall employee experience.

Henry Stewart, founder of Happy, emphasised the correlation between employee wellbeing and productivity, asserting that management's role is to foster a positive work environment. However, achieving this requires a paradigm shift – from viewing employees merely as resources to adopting a human-centric approach that prioritises understanding and addressing individual motivations.

In the area that we specialise in, human inclusion, many companies have confused diversity metrics with inclusion data. These measurements, while helpful, only tell us how many people in a particular demographic work within an organisation, but it is something else entirely to understand what it feels like to self-identify outside of the tribe’s norms.

It is inevitable that, for example, individuals over 50 will have distinct life experiences compared to those under 50 who belong to underrepresented ethnic communities. Likewise, the experiences of different gender identities, as well as individuals with physical or mental health conditions, vary significantly. These differences exist independently of considerations regarding intersectionality.

Developing a human experience score

The Achilles heel of inclusion initiatives lies in the challenge of measuring true sentiment. Peter Drucker's famous adage, "you can't manage what you can't measure," underscores the importance of reliable data in crafting effective strategies to enhance employee experiences.

Data gathered for a purpose on topics such as job satisfaction, workplace stress, engagement, psychological safety, work environment, team dynamics, leadership and management, professional growth and development, skill development, organisational culture and values and benefits are just some of the types of human experiences that can be measured in the workplace.

Organisations aiming to collect human experience data minimising bias should prioritise confidentiality and integrity in their data collection methods. Utilising anonymous surveys, focus groups and implicit response time tests can help capture honest feedback and subconscious biases, ensuring data accuracy without fear of repercussion. 

Measuring human experience data systematically involves a combination of explicit methods like surveys and focus groups, along with implicit methods such as response time tests, providing a comprehensive understanding of workplace culture. Analysing this data allows organisations to establish a 'human experience score' that serves as a baseline for assessing the workplace environment. Finally, taking meaningful action based on this data not only enhances HR's brand reputation but also fosters trust with employees, encouraging their continued participation in data collection efforts.

The amalgamation of these methodologies – collecting unbiased data, systematic measurement, establishing a human experience score and taking meaningful action – holds the key to enhancing the human experience in the workplace.

Yet amid this data-driven approach it's imperative not to lose sight of the human element. Data without insights is meaningless, and insights without action are futile. Organisations must ensure that their data collection efforts are purposeful, aimed at fostering a work environment where every employee feels valued and empowered. By embracing a thoughtful and systematic approach, organisations can make meaningful strides in enhancing the human experience for all.

Paul Anderson-Walsh, pictured below, is CEO of ENOLLA Consulting, formerly the Centre for Inclusive Leadership and a specialised consultancy with focus on human inclusion.

Portrait of Paul Anderson Walsh

Published 29 May 2029
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