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Diversity & Inclusion: Using Employee Data to Combat Racism and Bias

Sep 3, 2020
Deb Muller


I have spent the last few weeks meeting with diversity and inclusion leaders and if there’s one common thread across the conversations, it’s that making change is hard. The hardest parts are getting started with real, actionable plans and measuring progress.

Diversity and inclusion aren’t new concepts, but they’ve escalated to the top of workplace, board and C-level agendas since the Black Lives Matter exploded earlier this summer. CEOs and CHROs are pledging cultures of trust and transparency. And, as they should, employees have high expectations for safe, fair workplaces, free of harassment and bias.

I’ve written here before about the need to get started on your anti-racism and D&I efforts with concrete action plans, starting by assessing the current organizational state. Once you know what’s happening, you can make bold decisions, measure progress and drive your organization forward.

As Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, you’ve had the power all along. It’s in your employee relations data. It’s a gold mine that will help you drive real change. Here are five ways to use your ER data to act now to identify and root out racism and bias in your workforce.

  1. Assess Your Current State  

As Yogi Berra famously said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” Well… we know what he meant. And he was right: if you don’t start out with a clear baseline, you won’t be able to create a map to where you need to go.

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?

Your employee incident data holds the answer. Aggregate your employee issue data for current, accurate view of where you stand as an organization, particularly so you can quickly identify outliers where immediate action is required. Then, you can begin to make plans and progress.

Once you’ve assessed your current state, you can report it and hold yourself accountable with your key stakeholders. That’s key and today, that’s not happening. Our recent employee relations Benchmark 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. That’s not enough. What gets measured and reported gets done.

  1. Use Predictive Modeling to Protect Your People

Our research shows that only 30% of organizations use employee relations data to construct predictive models of behavior to protect their people, measure actions and reduce risk. Benchmarking your current state and aggregating your data to see where you stand is the first step. Next, apply predictive analytics to uncover trends and areas of concern that require deeper analysis. 

This means reviewing incidents and remediation across your organization, making sure to analyze by race, gender and other protected groups. 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.  Predictive models, applied to your data, can help you identify areas to act on.

  1. 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 is 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.

  1. Train Your HR Leaders

Managing equity in the workforce and promoting an anti-racist environment are still fairly new concepts. Don’t assume that your HR and employee relations teams are 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.

  1. Invest in the Right Data, Technology 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. Your employee relations data holds the key. Turn it into meaningful action. I’m happy to help – please reach out to me at

Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.