Looking through the responses to some data monitoring around equality that we have been doing on behalf of a construction organisation, alongside our work with RIBA and the CIC, it struck me that a lot of people were very unhappy that they were being asked for this information.
Comments that expressed this dissatisfaction included: – “this has nothing to do with my job”; “it’s unequal to ask”; and “there is only two genders, to suggest otherwise is ridiculous”.
Whilst everyone has a right to their opinion and a choice around whether or not they want to provide it (hence the opportunities to opt-out), these comments only reinforced something I have believed for some time.
People don’t know why we collect data on equality, and they are suspicious that it is not going to be for any good reason.
Hopefully this blog will provide you with good reason as to why it’s collected, though of course it should be noted that just because a company collects information doesn’t mean that they will do anything with it, but that’s a problem for another day – right now this is enough to meet my word limit.
So firstly, those who say “this information has nothing to do with my ability to do my job” – you’re right, that’s kind of the point. Your gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. does not have anything to do with YOUR ability.
It might though, have a lot to do with how people perceive you and your ability.
Businesses need to operate on a number of different levels – at an operational level, where it’s mostly about getting the job done, your gender, race, etc. should not be considered. Here, it should be about getting the best person for the job. It should be that simple; nothing else. Best person for the job = person who gets the job.
Unfortunately, we know the world isn’t that simple – a whole host of factors can mean the best person for the job doesn’t get it. The most popular examples are the person who knows the boss best gets the job, or the person who takes the credit for other people’s work gets the job.
There are other reasons this might happen, such as a tendency to promote in our own image, historical stereotypes about certain groups and ideas around people’s ability to do a job based upon visible characteristic.
So in order for companies to ensure that the best people are getting the jobs they need to think strategically in order to see if there are any groups of people that are having a different experience in the workplace. For example, if half of your graduates come from black communities and have done for the last 10 years, but none of your senior staff members are black, this might raise a question.
Without standing back and looking at how the organisation is made up we are not able to understand where problems might arise. Why do we ask questions about particular groups? Well research has shown us that these groups tend to be unfairly discriminated against in recruitment and promotion. In other words, people already decide individuals aren’t good enough for the job before they are even considered on their own merit.
We need to have a strategic overview to ensure that the best people are getting to the top, and there is a reason why this is important.
If the same people always gain promotion, not only will you miss out on the best talent, but your company will suffer twice. You see, the more similar we look as a group the more likely we are to agree, even if we don’t actually agree. It’s a normal part of group behaviour.
This means that the company won’t benefit from the best ideas, realise its potential or see the profit it needs for growth.
In other words, it could affect you.
So next time you get asked to fill in a data monitoring form, remember it’s not about you, but about your company looking to make sure that the best rise to the top and it is certainly something you should be glad about.