Using Employee Relations Data and Practices to Banish Racism

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Aug 20, 2020

Diversity and inclusion are top of mind today across the workplace, while racial equality and equity now lead board and C-level agendas. CEOs are pledging cultures of trust and transparency. And employees have high expectations for safe, fair workplaces, free of harassment and bias.

These are lofty goals, and while most companies have taken public stands and made commitments to change, what’s still missing are concrete action plans for leaders to diagnose bias and racism in their organizations. To make real progress, organizations need to assess their current state and then make some bold decisions.

Change is driven through behaviors (what we do) and our embedded processes (how we do it). Organizations must hold themselves accountable by coming to terms with both. That requires putting in place the means to measure progress against established goals. 

Sure, you might already be looking at engagement scores, hiring information and pay metrics. But it’s your employee relations data that is the true treasure chest of invaluable data that will help you enact real change.

Here are five ways to use your ER data to move from words to action when it comes to identifying and rooting out racism and bias in your workforce.

1. Benchmark Your Current State 

Where does your organization stand today with gender, racial, and other bias incidents? How do they break down by leader and geography? How do you compare to organizations of your size and industry?

It’s impossible to make progress without a clear-eyed baseline. You’ve got to be able to aggregate your employee-incident data to see a current, accurate view of where you stand as an organization, particularly so you can quickly identify outliers where immediate action is required.

And once you’ve assessed your current state, accountability to your key stakeholders is key. Unfortunately, our recent employee relations study shows that only 25% of organizations report information about investigation information to their boards, and just 29% report any kind of employee relations statistics to their employees. When asked why they didn’t share information, participants reported that either they didn’t have the data or that it wasn’t being asked for by senior management or the board. Accountability is practically non-existent. What gets measured and reported gets done.

2. Proactively Identify Issues With Predictive Modeling

Only 30% of organizations use employee relations data to construct predictive models of behavior to protect their people, measure actions being taken, and reduce risk. If we want to drive change and ensure equality, we need to take steps toward prevention by focusing on our employee behaviors and the processes that support them.

It’s critical to review incidents that occur or remediation delivered across your organization, making sure to analyze by race, gender, and other protected groups. This data will enable you to identify pockets of concern that require deeper analysis. 

For example, is your organization putting black employees on corrective action for a specific violation or at a certain location at a proportionately higher rate than white employees? Only with this data will you be able to proactively identify bias and racism, understand root cause, and make changes required to ensure a fair and safe environment.  

3. Document Bias in Everyday Interactions 

It’s easy to spot obvious bias when someone says, “You do such great work for a woman.” But bias it’s much more subtle and likely unconscious when a colleague tells an older employee, “You’re excellent with technology.” Such a comment might indicate ageism. 

Unconscious bias training can help mitigate such instances. However, to help ensure the problem is not systemic, it’s critical to track each and every incident of suspected bias so you can analyze your employee data more effectively.

4. Train Your HR Leaders

Our research also reveals that 89% of discrimination cases are handled by employee relations professionals, theoretically trained in how to handle these cases. Unfortunately, 45% of those professionals are not even getting trained once per year. No surprise, then, that over a quarter say they have very little confidence to handle discrimination concerns. 

Moreover, a recent study by SHRM identified that 49% of Black HR professionals think race or ethnicity-based discrimination exists at their job, while only 13% of their white counterparts agree. That is highly concerning. 

Managing equity in the workforce and promoting an anti-racist environment are still fairly new concepts. Don’t assume that your HR team is equipped and ready to lead. If you are a leader who truly wants to drive change, you need to equip people with tools and the capabilities to help them serve as role models for others, as well as address allegations when brought to their attention.

5. Invest in the Right Data, Tech, and Processes

In 41% of organizations, there is no required process for conducting an investigation when an allegation of bias or racism is made. 

Meanwhile, 61% of investigations are handled in Excel or with no system at all, meaning cases are likely not managed consistently, fairly, or confidentially. Basically, when an issue is raised, it’s handled however the person it’s raised with sees fit to handle it. And if an action is taken (or not), the facts, analysis, and decision-making processes are not centrally documented, recorded, and certainly not measured. All of which can expose you to a host of compliance risks.

Truly driving systemic change and rooting out racism and bias takes more than words. We need action informed by data specifically focused on employee behaviors and the processes that support, track, and measure them.

Now is the time to turn the anti-racist conversation into a movement that lasts — with progress we can all see.