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Racial Equity Survey Questions

February 24, 2022

work colleagues shaking hands

Diversity and inclusion is a vital consideration for your business. At the most basic level, it’s a key ethical responsibility. You need to make certain every aspect of your business attracts, supports, and empowers employees from all backgrounds. But true racial equity also has a significant impact on worker satisfaction, customer service, company culture, and your ability to innovate within your industry.

However, it’s important to understand that racial equity can only be sustained through commitment to change and intentional action. It can certainly be challenging to establish the true extent of inclusivity in your company from your perspective as a leader alone. Therefore, it’s important to take steps to gain insights on racial equity in your business directly from your workforce.

A survey is usually the most efficient and agile way to obtain these viewpoints from staff. But asking the right questions is key to making the most of the exercise. So, let’s take a look at some of the racial equity questions you should consider including in your surveys.

Demographic Identification

Among the simplest set of questions to determine racial equity are those about basic demographic information. Some companies may feel this is not a relevant or particularly insightful area of focus. This is because they feel their human resources (HR) department can provide data on these elements if needed. However, it is vital to note your employees may not have provided information about their racial background on their application or onboarding documents. This is not unusual, as fears about discrimination based on race are still commonplace in the workplace. You will, therefore, find you’ll get the most accurate and actionable demographic information on race through anonymous employee surveys.

You can begin with a simple multichoice question on racial identification. However, you may find your answer list is both incredibly long and still quite limiting. A set of racial indicators you may feel is complete may fail to include an option an employee considers crucial to their identity. Indeed, employees who find their racial background is not adequately represented in your multiple choice answers may be less keen to engage with the rest of the survey. 

As such, it’s often better to leave such descriptors open to the employees themselves. Make it a qualitative question. For example, “How would you describe your racial or ethnic identity?”  

You should also be cognizant of the fact that racial equity isn’t strictly about race itself. It’s also about making certain there is a balance of those from marginalized backgrounds that also fit into other demographic groups such as those living with disabilities, those from varied socioeconomic backgrounds, and a range of educational experiences. As such, you should include questions to identify these components in order to get a complete impression of racial spread. 

That said, beneath all such racial demographic identity questions you must provide “prefer not to say” answer options. While this doesn’t provide you with identifying demographic information, it does give you insights into how your employees think race is perceived or even discriminated against in your organizational culture.

Development and Influence

Racial equity isn’t just about bringing on a greater number of diverse employees. Rather, it means your company must make certain there is representation throughout all areas of your operations. This includes employing leaders and key influencers from a variety of backgrounds. But you must also ensure there is an accessible development protocol in place that empowers diverse employees to progress through the business.

As with so many other areas of the business, it’s important to recognize what you may consider to be accessible development and influence may not be shared by your workers. You, therefore, need to include some survey questions that get to the heart of how racial equity is present throughout these aspects of your company.

Your questions here could include:

Is there equal racial and ethnic representation in company leadership?

This question isn’t necessarily about what departments or even specific races are not represented well enough — although this could be handled with follow-up feedback. Rather, it’s about how your employees feel about leadership racial equity on balance. It also avoids showing preference to a single obvious or more visible racial background. It requires workers to think about all races and whether they perceive them to be sufficiently equal.

This can be particularly telling when measured against the previous racial demographic information provided. You get the chance to clearly see where employees from certain racial or ethnic backgrounds consistently feel their identity holds them back in your company. You should include a follow up qualitative question as to what these hurdles are.

Which of the following has actively encouraged you to pursue further professional development? 

1) Immediate supervisor

2) Human resources

3) Other colleagues

4) Higher management/Executives

5) None of the above

Your employees will have their own professional ambitions. However, support and encouragement from leadership is vital in starting them on the path to in-house progression. This question does more than provide data on who is offering this motivation for engaging with the development program. Most importantly, it helps you to see trends in whether these figures are offering their encouragement equally across all racial demographics. 

Experience and Discrimination

Racial equity is as much about employee experience as it is about balanced representation. You can have a fairly diverse split of racial identity across your employee base, but if their experiences differ based on their demographic, this isn’t an equal true equality. 

This is an especially important aspect to consider when it comes to the presence of discrimination or presence in your organization. An analysis of formal complaints may not show a distinct presence of prejudice. But this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Discrimination is often subtle and even unconscious, performed through microaggressions and other actions that affect workers’ day-to-day experiences. As such, the questions you ask need to seek a greater understanding of whether the experiences of each racial demographic are equal. 

Some questions to consider here include:

On a scale of 1(lowest) to 5 (highest), how valued do you feel as a member of the company?

This is an important gauge of overall experience within the company. In terms of engagement, an employee being valued can be considered the key goal as it informs almost all other areas of their employment. While this may not seem like an overtly racially-oriented question, it provides you with vital equity insights. When compared with the demographic identifiers in your reports, you can see whether there is a clear balance in how employees of different races or ethnicities experience feeling valued at work.

Have you been personally subjected to any of the following behavior at work?

1) Microaggressions

2) Clear and deliberate discrimination

3) Indirect discrimination

4) Ethnically discriminatory dress code policies

5) Victimization (treated differently because you’ve made a complaint about discrimination)

Simply asking whether a person has been discriminated against at work doesn’t provide you with a lot of actionable data. Not to mention your workers may be reluctant to suggest they’ve experienced discrimination under its most extreme definition. This approach identifies the types of discrimination present in your company and gives employees more relevant language to describe their experiences. You can also compare answers here to purely racial demographics but also to combinations of other marginalized identities like disability or gender. Digging down here gives you more useful data to work with.

Do you feel your concerns or complaints surrounding discrimination at work have been taken seriously?

Ascertaining whether discrimination has been part of your employees’ experience only tells part of the story. Your racial equity assessment also needs to gain data on employees’ experiences of reporting or discussing such behavior. It isn’t necessary to go into full details about types of complaints or even the outcomes. What is important here is understanding whether workers of marginalized backgrounds feel their concerns were treated with the respect and seriousness the worker felt they deserved. You can then compare these to answers from other racial groups to ascertain whether there is an equal approach to responding to discrimination.

Wrapping Up

Racial equity is an increasingly important factor both from an ethical standpoint and in ensuring diverse employee engagement. When designing questions to gain insights here, it’s important to empower your employees to provide you with answers from their perspective, rather than limiting their responses to your own ideas on the matter. Racial equity is impacted by a variety of factors, so be sure to ask questions that allow you to dig deeper and accurately compare experiences with employees of other demographics.