How to measure Diversity and Inclusion for a stronger workplace

Becky Cantieri

Becky Cantieri
Chief People Officer

Customizable questions crafted by survey experts

Input from HR managers at startups, major enterprises, and speciality firms

Strategies for timing, sending, and optimizing D&I surveys

Boats with one red boat taking a new path

According to McKinsey, companies within the top quartile for diversity are 21% more likely to have good financial performance than companies in the bottom quartile—probably as a result of having a broader understanding of market needs. Diversity has also been correlated with higher rates of innovation. And companies are starting to pay attention.

Thirty-eight percent of the 12,543 working Americans we surveyed in 2018 said that it’s a high priority for their company, for business reasons and more importantly, for ethical ones. More and more companies have set diversity and inclusion related goals and committed to pursuing a more balanced workforce.

But unfortunately, these good intentions aren’t translating into employees’ real experiences. Many employees still feel that they don’t belong, and dozens of companies have made recent headlines for diversity and inclusion-related crises. In these workplaces, many female employees don’t feel respected (or sometimes even safe), minorities can be painfully underrepresented, people with disabilities often don’t have the resources they need to succeed, and so on.

No company wants to have a culture where not every employee feels like they can thrive, but it’s hard to address problems when you don’t know they exist. Without a way to measure inclusion, executives and HR teams have to rely on their own subjective perceptions of the culture at their organization—with varied level of accuracy.

But inclusion isn’t totally unquantifiable. If you want to know whether your employees’ experience aligns with your company’s ideals—at scale—you can just ask.

Employee belonging survey reactions

Surveys are the perfect tool for measuring the feelings and opinions of your workforce at scale.  When used correctly, they can raise red flags about potential problems within your company that you didn’t know about (and would never have thought to check for), and they can uncover opportunities to empower employees through internal programs.

There’s a ton to consider when you’re building diversity and inclusion into a company-wide initiative. We’ve broken this guide into navigable pieces so that you can skip around and focus on the areas most relevant to your business.

We recommend you start with 2 universal, overarching surveys: 1 for diversity and 1 for inclusion. These surveys give you a baseline breakdown of your current demographic makeup and whether or not employees of all backgrounds feel a sense of belonging.

From there, we’ll drill down into the specific areas where companies tend to struggle. You can read through all of them if you like, or skip to the areas that you think are the most relevant to your company, based on your results from the inclusion survey.

Then, we’ll cover different actions you can take to create change—including policies, programs, and strategies that promote diversity and inclusion. These strategies, which we’ve classified as either diversity-focused or inclusion-focused, are useful for every business.

Diversity and inclusion flow chart
Template pro tip
A note on templates in this guide: You'll be able to use all the templates we mention in this guide with a free SurveyMonkey account, but you won't be able to customize them with your own questions. If you have a paid account, you're free to use them however you want.

Get a baseline read on your company’s diversity metrics and company culture

If you’re reading this guide, you already know that diversity is important, and you might be responsible for promoting it at your organization. As an HR professional (or passionate advocate) charged with improving D&I, collecting diversity metrics is important. Comparing yourself over time to benchmarks helps you set new goals and clearly track your progress against them.

Diversity numbers tell you the overall makeup of your population, and which groups are underrepresented. The first step toward building an inclusive culture is understanding more about the humans already behind your workforce.

Diversity tracking seems like it should be straightforward, but if you really want to support your employees work toward a more balanced workforce, you need to think beyond traditional demographics—which really comes down to asking more than the obvious questions.

Impact of diversity on financial returns
Polaroids of diverse team

True diversity means having people from all kinds of backgrounds and identities at every level of your organization. It means making a conscious effort to diversify teams and management, in addition to overall numbers. Diversity is especially important when it comes to hiring and advancing people from underrepresented groups.

The traditional concept of underrepresented groups includes women and people of color, but these are only a few of many internal communities with unique needs that require respect and support.

Does your organization include people with disabilities? People with different religious backgrounds? Members of the LGBTQ* community? Veterans? People over 60? True diversity is expansive, and the differences between people aren’t always visible.

That isn’t to say that hiring people of different ethnic backgrounds isn’t important. That’s still the area where businesses fall short. It just means that you need to be aware of those numbers in addition to some of the other areas that are typically overlooked.

Template pro tip
Use our Diversity template to get more insight into the DNA of your company. You’ll find out how many of your employees are veterans, parents, or members of a minority group. You’ll also find out whether there are people with disabilities (who might have accommodations requests that aren’t being met) and what religions employees belong to (which might come with holiday commemorations or interest in having space in which to pray).

When you have your results, you’ll know more about where to focus your hiring efforts and how to support the needs of the employees you already have in your workforce. You might also choose to publish some of your findings in an effort to be transparent and open about where your company is doing well or needs improvement. This is a great way to hold your org accountable for change.

At SurveyMonkey, we shared some of our diversity statistics for the first time publicly in 2017, and companies like Google, Coca Cola, and Michelin have done the same. Our annual diversity report gives us a benchmark to track against as we move toward our goal of achieving gender parity.

We recently had the pleasure of working with Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity and Belonging at Atlassian for our recent webinar, “Your toughest D&I questions answered.” Aubrey shared insights about how Atlassian—a famously inclusive company—thinks about diversity.

Atlassian expert corner

One mistake that companies often make when they first start thinking about D&I is that they don’t think intersectionally. Each of your employees has layers—lots of different identities. And when many companies start thinking about diversity they say, ‘diversity equals more women.’ And that’s a great intention, but sometimes that means you don’t think about different groups of women within that group. You only build programs that speak to straight white cisgender economically privileged women.

But when you start to think beyond “meeting diversity metrics” and start to think about building balanced teams, those are potentially your strongest opportunities for impact.

HBR research has proven that diverse teams perform better, but you only get those benefits if each team has a variety of different viewpoints represented. You can hit a certain number for gender goals, but if all your women and nonbinary people are in HR and marketing, you’re not actually getting the rewards.

At Atlassian, we’ve moved away from the language of “diversity” to actively acknowledge that people often have a multitude of identities—not all of which are obvious. Instead, we try to build teams that incorporate a wide variety of viewpoints so we can support a wide variety of customers and really thrive as a business. Our goal is always to give every unique viewpoint a voice, and make everyone feel like they are valued.

Asking about race, gender, and sexual orientation in your surveys can feel personal and invasive, but respondents are rarely put off by them. The Census Bureau recently found that people are no more likely to skip these types of questions than any other.

People are conditioned to expect these types of questions from a survey, and as long as your options are “standard” or inclusive, you’re unlikely to lose responses just for asking. This applies to every template in this guide, not just the diversity survey. Don’t be shy about asking for demographics—even in HR surveys that aren’t directly related to diversity and inclusion. If you’re going to track D&I at all, they’re important to know.

If you’re worried about excluding anyone, include an “other” option in your demographic questions so that survey takers can write in their own identities.

We share more of our thinking around this and how to frame it for yourself in this blog post.

Hands in solidarity

Where diversity is about variety, inclusion is about having a solid foundation for supporting employees and their different needs. Inclusion requires a culture where employees feel welcome, respected, and empowered to grow. Even the most diverse companies can’t be successful without inclusion.

“Inclusive” cultures don’t necessarily mean they are “fun.” In fact, companies that “work hard, play hard” can be decidedly non-inclusive. Instead, inclusive environments are nurturing and open-minded. Every employee feels that they belong and they have space to make mistakes and develop professionally.

Diversity is easy to break down into metrics—hiring numbers, promotion statistics, demographics. But many companies neglect the “I” part of “D&I” and risk alienating and disempowering their employees. Hiring people from underrepresented groups isn’t enough—those new hires need to feel safe and respected, and they need to genuinely believe they can have a successful career path at your company. According to SurveyMonkey research, many don’t.

In July of 2018, SurveyMonkey partnered with Paradigm, a consulting firm that specializes in diversity and inclusion. Together, we created a survey template designed to investigate the many different layers of inclusion in the workplace. We used the template to survey 843 working Americans, and the results were telling:

  • 44% of employees didn’t feel that they could express a contrary opinion at work without fearing negative consequences.
  • 32% did not feel that their opinion was valued.
  • 60% of employees say their compensation is fair relative to others at their company. But only 48% of Black workers agree with this statement.
  • In every single case, the percentages were lower for people from the underrepresented communities that we checked for (women, Black, and Latinx.)

The business significance of these findings is profound. If employees are feeling stifled or disrespected, your retention will suffer and you may tarnish your chances to attract new hires. This type of environment will also affect your employees’ ability to perform—if people don’t feel empowered to voice contrary opinions, how can you trust that they’ll speak up about potential business mistakes? How many great ideas might never get raised? How many people may lose enthusiasm for their day-to-day work?

Many leaders have begun to argue that an inclusive culture is more impactful for retention than offering expensive perks. According to PR specialist Sarah Stoddard, of Glassdoor:


Employers need to work a little harder to find and retain talent. And when you boil it down to what employees are really looking for, it is traditional benefits with a strong company culture—one that really values employees.

The importance of inclusion is easy to understand, but the layers of company culture that make up “inclusion” aren’t. Unlike diversity, inclusion is heavily rooted in employees’ individual experiences—which aren’t easy to monitor or quantify. And perception of culture can differ dramatically from person to person. Leaders, for example, might see things differently than the people who work for them: Our research for Harvard Business Review found that 83% of executives think they encourage curiosity at work, but only 52% of employees agreed.

The only way to address inclusivity in your organization is to turn it into a company-wide conversation. Our Inclusion and Belonging survey template is a comprehensive evaluation that helps you understand the foundations of inclusion within your workplace.

Expansive but still relatively quick to take, it focuses on the three key aspects of inclusion, according to research by Stanford University researchers Carol Dweck, Greg Walton, and Geoffrey Cohen. Here’s what each means at the most basic level.

  • Objectivity: Do people feel like promotions and policies are fair and transparent?
  • Growth Mindset: Do employees believe that your organization supports their ability to grow, or do they think that their value is fixed, leading to a sense of stagnancy and de-motivation?
  • Belonging: Are employees certain that there is a place for them—and people like them—at your company?

Together these three areas define your employee experience, and you need all three if you want employees to feel comfortable and empowered. Most of the common diversity and inclusion challenges occur when employees’ experiences of objectivity, growth mindset, or sense of belonging are compromised.

Diverse group on phones

Diversity and inclusion-related questions can be sensitive, so there are a few ways that you can make your survey more comfortable for employees.

  • Make responses anonymous—and communicate that clearly when you send the survey out. If employees aren’t comfortable associating themselves with a certain identity, knowing that they can keep their privacy may set their minds at ease. Note: This setting has to be enabled before you send the survey. It can’t be done after responses have come in.
  • Make every question optional, so respondents can skip any questions they’re uncomfortable with but still participate in the survey.
  • Be transparent about the reason you’re sharing the survey. Respondents might be more likely to share information about themselves if they know that their responses will help support diversity and inclusion.
  • Be conscious of language. When you’re asking about sensitive topics, you’re asking respondents to be vulnerable. Non-inclusive language can inadvertently offend respondents and prevent them from answering honestly. We’ve included a list of common triggers and mistakes at the end of this guide so you can double-check your instincts. We’ve also included recent research on microaggressions so that you can better understand what employees might find offensive.

Once you’ve finished your initial Diversity and Belonging and Inclusion surveys, you’ll be able to dig deeper into the parts of your culture where being conscious about D&I might be especially important.

The Diversity survey gives you baseline demographics, and the Belonging and Inclusion survey includes dozens of different dimensions for evaluating inclusion. Slicing and dicing these results can help you understand where you need to focus your efforts first.

The Inclusion template includes questions about demographics like gender, race, and age, so you can filter your results to see whether there are different answers among different groups.

When you’ve gotten a read on your company culture as a whole, it’s time to go deeper into specific areas of focus.

In part 2 of this guide, we cover some areas where companies commonly struggle with D&I along with specialized survey templates, advice, and/or original research to help you understand and address them. You can read each section, or go straight to the sections that are most relevant to your business.

You can also use the results of your Diversity and Belonging & Inclusion surveys to show you where to focus.

Diverse team

If you have a high number of employees who identify as female, go to "Women in the workplace"

Skip to this section >

If you have a high number of employees with a disability, go to "Disabilities at work" and "Mental health"

Skip to this section >

If you have a high number of employees from a racial or ethnic minority, go to "Culture of genius" and "Belonging and underrepresented groups"

Skip to this section >

If you have a high number of LGBTQ employees, go to "Belonging for underrepresented groups"

Skip to this section >

Inclusive group

If you have negative responses when you filter by gender, go to "Women in the workplace"

Skip to this section >

If you have negative responses to questions about learning and growing (3, 9, 10, 17, 19), go to "Culture of genius"

Skip to this section >

If you have negative responses when you filter by race, go to "Belonging and underrepresented groups"

Skip to this section >

If you have negative responses when you filter by disability, go to "Disabilities at work" and "Mental health"

Skip to this section >

If you have negative responses to questions about authenticity (11-13), go to "Mental health"

Skip to this section >

Drill down into aspects of inclusion that are often problematic or confusing

Pro tip
You’re welcome to read every section in part 2, or simply skip to the areas most relevant to your company.

Within the category of inclusion, there are opportunities to excel and places where company cultures tend to struggle. We’ve chosen to highlight a few areas where inclusion efforts most commonly fall short.
Belonging 1 in 4 workers
Blocks with male and female symbols

Women are often underrepresented in their workplaces, and the struggle to achieve gender equality in pay, career opportunities, and overall treatment has been well-publicized.

There are many different sides to gender equality, and many companies fall short by focusing too closely on only the most glaring problems. But more insidious issues, like perceived disrespect and unconscious bias, can sometimes end up causing the biggest problems down the line.

The systemic repression of women at Nike was revealed to reporters at the New York Times in 2018 after an employee sent an internal survey asking women colleagues if they had been the victim of gender discrimination—though many leaders at the company claimed not to know about the situation. Since then, Nike has launched a major corporate overhaul, made changes to training and compensation programs, and committed to ensuring women equal opportunities. But if HR professionals had started asking questions earlier and taken the responses seriously, they would have been able to make proactive improvements instead of reactive amends.

To understand the experiences of women employees, raise nuanced questions. Don’t just ask “Do we have enough women here?” Instead, ask: Do women here feel safe, comfortable, and respected? Do they feel like they have equal career opportunities? Do they feel like they’re paid fairly?

Some answers are cut and dry (Are we hiring enough women?), but others are tougher to know unless you ask.

SurveyMonkey created a Gender in the Workplace survey template in partnership with Sheryl Sandberg's team at LeanIn.Org to help companies understand:

  • How women (and people of other genders) are distributed within your organization (are there certain departments that skew one way or another?)
  • Whether women are accurately represented in leadership positions (and whether employees perceive this to be true)
  • Whether women feel that their ideas are fairly acknowledged and their merit is recognized
  • Whether women think promotions, raises, and other opportunities are awarded fairly
  • Whether employees believe that gender diversity is truly a value for your company and how your existing policies and programs are viewed
  • Whether employees feel like they can maintain work/life balance

Asking questions about objectivity—whether people think your workplace is fair or not—can be scary. Will you provoke discontent by asking? But avoiding hard truths about employee perception won’t fix the problem. Instead, it gives you the fodder you need to make things right.

Sometimes culture problems are rooted in subjective perceptions—or misconceptions. For example, employees might believe that people from different genders are unequally compensated, even if that isn’t true at your organization. Even if it’s unfounded, that belief might create tension at the company and suggest that you need more transparent compensation policies.

Our Pay Gap template tells you, quickly and simply, exactly what employees think about compensation at your company. If you’re not willing to commit to the full Gender in the Workplace survey, the Pay Gap template can clue you in to sentiment around compensation at your organization.

Awareness about pay gaps vary. When we surveyed workers about the pay gap between white men and Latina women, 4 in 10 people did not believe that Latinas face racial discrimination. Unsurprisingly, Latinas were much more aware of the issue—51% said they’d experienced it personally. You need to understand the mindset that people have at your company so that you can address both those who feel wronged, and those who underestimate any disparity.

Sexual harassment is complex, and often deeply emotional, to communicate through a survey. We don’t recommend using surveys to ask about it, so we don’t have a template for it. Why? Because sexual harassment is best addressed directly with the person impacted—not studied as an aggregate of anonymized data. You’re legally obligated to take accusations of sexual assault and harassment seriously, and surveys simply aren’t appropriate.

At SurveyMonkey, we provide employees with an escalation toolkit that details the process for recognizing harassment and lodging a complaint, and explains how it will be dealt with. We also have an Integrity Hotline—an anonymous service through which employees who don’t want to go on record can anonymously report breaches of SurveyMonkey policies or values.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) published a public guide to help companies create, articulate, and enforce sexual harassment policies. Here’s a summary of their recommendations:

  • Make sexual harassment policies public and ensure that every employee reads them.
  • Explicitly forbid: rape, physical assault and inappropriate touching, sexual comments, jokes, gestures or remarks, unwanted sexual advances, preferential treatment in exchange for sexual activity, discrimination, and retaliation against people who lodge complaints.
  • Employees can either address those who harass them directly, or bring the issue to HR, depending on their comfort level.
  • It is HR’s responsibility to document the incident, collect notes, and communicate with both parties as soon as possible. Make sure to emphasize the severity of sexual harassment when talking to the subject of the complaint.
  • Take immediate steps to make sure that the behavior doesn’t happen again.
  • Report illegal incidents to police immediately.
  • Conduct an internal investigation as soon as a complaint is lodged, and consider engaging an outside firm. If the accused person is VP level or above, you should use an external third party.
  • Communicate any corrective actions to both parties.

Many companies fall short by only paying attention to major violations like sexual harassment and assault, but the cultural problems that lead up to them are equally harmful, and much less obvious. Sexual harassment and incivility in the workplace more broadly is more likely to exist in environments where aggressive attitudes are normalized through shared humor or assumptions. Both the Gender in the Workplace, and Inclusion and Belonging templates can help you identify whether this type of culture exists at your company. If it does, it might be time to institute some workplace behavior training and/or clearer anti-harassment policies.

Scissors cutting the word impossible

The term “culture of genius”, coined by Stanford researcher Carol Dweck, sounds deceptively positive. But a culture of genius is one where leaders assume (or employees believe that they assume) that workers’ value or skills are fixed—which means employees don’t grow, improve, or add more value in their employer’s eyes.

1 in 5 U.S. employees (21%) say their company believes that people have a certain amount of talent and they can’t do much to fix it. That culture of genius can prevent feelings of belonging and growth, especially for groups that are already in the minority: Nearly 3 in 10 Black and Latinx employees (28% versus 17% of white workers) believe that people in their company have a “culture of genius.”

A company’s culture can vary by department, team, or even role. “Culture of genius” isn’t something that most HR pros intuitively look for, even if they’re focused on diversity and inclusion. But it plays a major role in defining employee experience.

Some red flags indicating you have a culture of genius:

  • You use words like “rock star” or “mastery” in job descriptions and focus on candidates’ ability to execute flawlessly instead of learning quickly or collaborating to find solutions.
  • Your company does one-directional, top-down feedback in annual reviews in lieu of ongoing conversations where the employees get to participate in setting goals and discussing their progress.
  • You have high burnout rates and turnover.
  • Employees have vocalized interest in training programs or other professional development tools, and you haven’t been able to offer them.
  • Promotions at your company are inconsistent.
  • People from underrepresented groups tend to shy away from applying to your company.

If you’re not sure whether or not you have a culture of genius, you can use this template to better understand how employees feel.

In spite of the damage that a culture of genius can do, it’s not necessarily an insurmountable problem to have. A few straightforward changes can make a big impact.

At SurveyMonkey, we’ve moved away from annual reviews and instead instituted a program that we call “GIG.” GIG stands for Growth, Impact, and Goals. We hold GIG conversations quarterly, and they aren’t tied to compensation. We also ask the employee being reviewed to lead some of the conversation rather than passively receiving feedback. By having these conversations more often and emphasizing growth, we’re trying to transform typically stressful performance reviews into clear, timely, useful conversations that inspire employees to continue their personal growth.

Group holding an LGBTQ flag

Belonging is one of the hardest parts of inclusion to influence. You can’t usually change how welcoming employees are to one another, and the same words or actions might be considered hostile, neutral, friendly, or too friendly, depending on who you ask.

Cultural sensitivities vary, and some of your employees might have backgrounds or ideologies that are directly at odds with one another. Your job as an HR person is to balance each group’s desire to “bring their authentic selves to work” with appropriate workplace behavior.

Your job as an HR person is to open a dialog and engage employees in creating the kind of workplace where everyone is treated fairly and respectfully, has equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization's success.

Because individual actions are ultimately up to each employee’s discretion, it’s important to identify and educate your employees about which ones promote inclusion and which don’t.

To explore this idea, we recently did some research about one of the more difficult elements of non-inclusive behavior to qualify: microaggressions.

Microaggressions are indirect, sometimes subconscious words or actions that make someone feel attacked or uncomfortable—often as a result of their identity.