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  • Writer's pictureKevin Chang

How Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Surveys Can Inform Organizational Change: Applying Data Science

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

Survey research frequently collects large amounts of data on a variety of demographics, including employees, which often brings up concerns related to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), which can in turn intersect with employment law. On May 10, 2022, we gave a presentation of how EDI is relevant to data science to employment lawyers at Miller Thompson LLP, with the specific aim of showing how there are times when survey researchers and law firms can learn from each other and work together in terms of how to advise and guide organizations carrying out employee engagement surveys.

A man gives a presentation

Case Studies on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusiveness (EDI) Projects

EDI has real legal implications for employers. In the US, EDI is covered by Title IX, a federal civil rights law in the United States of America that was passed as part (Title IX) of the Education Amendments of 1972. It prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or education program that receives federal funding, making EDI issues of particular interest to educational institutions.

Kai Analytics has analyzed data from many employee surveys for educational institutions across the US. In the case where an organization is trying to improve the employee experience, these surveys sometimes ask why an employee might choose to leave their workplace. Although it might appear simple at first glance, there is so much that could influence an employee’s answer, and a closed-ended question may not always tell the whole story. Many employees, for example, may select issues such as compensation, pay equity, or a vaguer selection of stress and overwork. While these issues are important, employees may feel more comfortable selecting them than mentioning issues related to EDI. Employee concerns that could result in them leaving their employer could be of particular interest to an institution’s legal advisors, as it is so easy for a small misstep from an institution to result in big legal disputes.

A woman and man discuss data on a slide

Our Approach to EDI and Employee Engagement Analysis

In the situation mentioned above, when we looked at the closed-ended questions alongside the open-ended question, it became clear that the core problem in the workplace was a toxic work environment. While this had ranked lower in the closed-ended questions as a reason to leave, responses to the open-ended questions showed that workers were incredibly concerned about the way they were being treated in the workplace, particularly in issues related to EDI. In our years of experience working with educational institutions, we’ve frequently seen that employees are afraid of the repercussions of speaking out on this subject. This is important for educational institutions to keep in mind because while employees might mention EDI as an issue less frequently, it could end up having a tremendous impact, and if an employer fails to respond in the right way it could escalate into a lawsuit or job action.

Legal Meets Policy Advice

The survey debrief often includes the vice president and senior leadership, and is high-stakes, as this is the most critical time to ensure that the institution fully understands the survey findings and the key factors of employee engagement and satisfaction. During these debriefs, survey researchers can benefit from the advice of a law firm to understand the full legal implications of their recommendations. In turn, law firms may find survey data helpful in providing their clients with advice, so that the resulting actions are both legally sound and based on real data.

Three people hold slides with different kinds of graphs

Although it might seem counter intuitive, we’ve learned from countless surveys that the biggest employee complaints might be the least impactful due to a fear of speaking out about EDI issues, and as a result what appear to be small complaints can end up becoming the most significant. Closed-ended questions are important for helping organizations establish baselines, but the open-ended responses provide actionable items because employees may reveal their nuanced thoughts and experiences. Both a legal perspective and a data perspective can be incredibly helpful for fully understanding complex employment survey results.

We believe there is a fascinating opportunity for survey researchers and law firms to collaborate in interpreting this important data, with a labor and employment team informing clients of the different legal outcomes when it comes to organizational change and the survey statistics informing clients likelihood of each of those outcomes happening based on reliable data. We hope to continue to keep these possibilities in mind while looking at future projects and opportunities.


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