Using pulse surveys to improve diversity and inclusion

Emelie Heikura
November 1, 2022
Using pulse surveys to improve diversity and inclusion

Everyone knows the stats by now. The business case for diversity and inclusion couldn’t be clearer: the most diverse companies are more likely than ever to outperform non-diverse companies in profitability terms. So why the continuing lack of progress?  

For most organisations we chat to, the problem is poor workforce visibility, but we've also discussed 3 other big threats for 2023 here. As McKinsey point out, diversity hinges on a culture of inclusion:

“The dynamics around inclusion are a critical differentiator for companies. An emphasis on representation is not enough. Employees need to feel and perceive equality and fairness of opportunity in their workplace. Companies that lead on diversity have taken bold steps to strengthen inclusion.”

You can’t create this culture of inclusion without great top-to-toe visibility across the workforce, but traditionally that’s been a pipedream. The ‘Iceberg of Ignorance’ has been common, where seniority negatively correlates with workforce visibility.  

The result is a senior leadership team who don’t know what’s happening on the ground. So when they come to make decisions to improve or solve, they have no idea what needs improving or solving.

That’s starting to change, as pulse surveys are increasingly recognised as a major lever for improving workforce visibility and powering culture change. By surfacing and solving issues that impact your people’s day-to-day experiences, you can build a fairer, more inclusive culture — supporting employees from all backgrounds to thrive.  

Here's a step-by-step roadmap to using pulse surveys to drive progress on diversity and inclusion.

1. Understand what’s happening today

To build a more inclusive culture, you need to know where you’re starting from. Most organisations think they know what their culture’s like, but there are probably heaps of blind spots.  

Often when you’re staring down the barrel of a culture problem, the temptation is to focus on comprehensive over concise. That’s why some organisations wind up with endless annual surveys with 50+ questions that take hours.

It’s much better to choose a handful of targeted, relevant questions (ideally quantitative with space for qualitative input). This a) stops your people getting fatigued with surveys and b) is much faster, so you can ask lots of questions more often. That’s what the “pulse” in “pulse survey” refers to — a drumbeat of short, sweet questioning.  

To make sure you’re getting the right info in the least obtrusive way, choose a provider with strong scientific credentials. For example, Winningtemp’s questions are based on more than 600 scientific studies so you can trust you’re asking incisive questions that’ll generate valuable insights.

Looping back on anonymity

Anonimity is super important. Employees tend to be sceptical about feedback surveys and don’t tell the whole truth, especially for the sensitive feedback you might receive about DE&I. This hamstrings your ability to meaningfully improve.  

Ideally, your feedback mechanism should be entirely anonymous, so no individual responses can be identified (even by your provider).  

Where your survey platform allows qualitative input (great for getting richer insights), this data shouldn’t be visible for teams with less than five people, to avoid responses being de facto identifiable.  

2. Understand how you compare to other organisations

Your biggest competitor is yourself, yada, yada. Except, you don’t operate in a vacuum. Your employees talk to their friends at other companies. They’re exposed to job ad targeting and employer branding campaigns from other companies. They — gasp! — interview for other roles that sound interesting.  

The point is, your people have a good idea how your culture compares to other companies’ cultures. If your senior leaders don’t, you’re at a real disadvantage: you can’t address, counteract, or refute what you don’t know.  

That’s why we’re big believers in benchmarking. Winningtemp’s real-time data dashboards don’t only show how your organisation is performing against critical culture markers; they empower you to easily benchmark against your industry peers.  

3. Set diversity and inclusion goals

Now you’ve got a great idea how your organisation is doing and how you could be doing compared to competitors. Using these insights, now’s a great time to take a step back and set goals.  

The power of a platform like Winningtemp is the ability to dive into your culture from multiple perspectives — like team, age, employment interval, and gender identity.  

For example, you might see that Engineering employees register lower scores for equality than the workforce norm. The granularity here makes it much easier to set realistic and meaningful goals.  

You might set a team goal to attend inclusion training, for example, plus a goal to improve team equality scores by 30%. The right platform should make it easy to set goals, connect them to wider organisational goals, choose visibility across the workforce, and track progress.  

4. Act on feedback!

This sounds obvious and simple but it’s where many organisations fall down. Especially if you’ve previously been relying on annual surveys, action is often really hard. The mountains of qualitative data that annual surveys give you is usually as useless as no data, because it’s almost impossible to analyse.  

In contrast, within Winningtemp, HR, managers, and individuals all get personalised action plans that are automatically generated based on pulse survey responses. You can also supplement these AI-powered suggestions with your own recommendations based on your own policies and practices.

For example, let’s say your new hire, Ash, is experiencing problems with discrimination.

Ash will get recommendation of things they can do on their own to help, and if the problem persists there’ll be an escalation recommended, to speak to their manager directly. Ash’s manager will also get an alert that they have a problem of discrimination in their team or department, with suggested actions to tackle. And the HR manager will also see trends across the organisation, so if discrimination is happening at scale they can see there’s a bigger problem and take steps to resolve.

Sometimes, just knowing a problem exists isn’t enough: managers need more detail to truly understand a team member’s experiences. But as we mentioned earlier, anonymity is sacrosanct. That’s why Winningtemp offers an anonymous conversation platform, where managers can interact with employee feedback one-to-one, with complete anonymity.

Read more tips on how to build a culture of feedback here.

5. Gather follow-up data

Knowing the temperature of your organisation one week, or day, doesn’t mean that’s their temperature forever. A huge part of the value of pulse surveys is the ability to track temperature over time, so you can spot trends and track progress.

This is another real benefit of harnessing AI, because you can easily send follow-up questions to understand more about issues.

Say one team feels bullied, for instance. An AI-based survey platform will ask bullying related follow-up questions again over time, so you can see how these feelings evolve.  

6. Present compelling data to the right people  

To build a more inclusive culture, everyone needs to be involved. The right employee survey platform should make it easy to track your progress and showcase your value upwards.  

It’s ideal if you can generate instant reports and send them to the relevant stakeholders, with simple engaging graphics. For instance, you might want to send a one-page PDF summarising engagement and wellbeing trends for new hires over the past six months.

7. Monitor and improve participation

Effective culture change comes from high participation. When all your people engage with the feedback process, you know how everyone feels and so can make changes that work for everyone.  

That’s especially true for diversity and inclusion because different employee groups often have vastly different experiences. If these groups don’t give feedback, you can’t make the right changes.  

Choose a survey platform that makes it easy to monitor participation. We typically see participation start low, as many employees have had poor experiences with annual surveys that take forever and achieve nothing. Then participation starts to quickly build, as your people realise the process is simple, fast, and – crucially – valuable, because it drives real change.  

A sign you’re moving in the right direction is a participation rate of 80%+ (although there is often variety between different industries and work situations).

Better workforce visibility powers intentional inclusivity

A reminder from McKinsey: companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 25% more likely to experience above-average profitability. For ethnic and cultural diversity this leaps to 36%.  

The major barrier to progress for most organisations has been a lack of visibility, stopping organisations making the changes that matter.  

Pulse surveys are a proven mechanism to change that, collect and escalating your people’s voices upwards so you know what’s happening in real-time. So you can build an intentional, inclusive culture where everyone can grow, thrive, and progress.

Watch this two-minute demo video to see how Winningtemp makes DE&I progress easy.

With over 10 years of experience working in HR, Emelie is very passionate about employee engagement. In her current role as Employee Experience Manager at Winningtemp, she focuses on shaping and facilitating the employee-centric initiatives across the organisation. By combining her knowledge in exciting scientific areas such as positive psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and leadership, she acts as an internal consultant to intentionally design a high rewarding, motivating, integrated and end-to-end valuable employee experience at Winningtemp.

About the author
Emelie Heikura

Focusing on people

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