People in the workplace are becoming increasingly more uneasy when asked for their personal demographic information by their employers and even other organizations they associate with broadly.  Many individuals worry about how their personal information will be used in data collection due to past histories on sexism, racism, homophobia, and the other forms of discrimination that can occur within an organization.

When determining what demographic questions are needed to conduct an analysis, it is essential to consider the above factors and to understand demographic information is discretionary data provided by individuals.  To ease the minds of participants, researchers and analysts can explain the reasoning for a hypothesis and the impacts the results will have on an organization, potentially increasing response rates and boosting the effectiveness of data collection.  Here are some other areas to consider when asking for demographic data.

What are Demographics?

Some of the most common demographics are race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin of an individual.  Demographic data is personal information voluntarily provided by employees that must be protected to ensure the safety of individuals and to prevent targeting of specific groups or sub-groups.

Range of the Analysis

One of the most important discussions in creating demographic questions is the range of the analysis.  Are people’s identities the central objective to the research?  If so, an extensive number of demographic questions can be justified.  If the research is particular to specific demographics in its hypothesis, it would make more sense to only include questions related to those specific demographics.  For example, if you were doing an analysis specifically on a population of males and females, you wouldn’t ask questions about individuals’ ages or races.

As a common rule, demographic research should only show results when the results can ensure the protection of the participants’ privacy.  If a demographic category is too small to report results on, it is best to exclude the demographic category from the analyses or combine the demographic category with other demographic categories to ensure participants’ privacy is maintained.

Sharing Data      

Who will the data from your analyses be shared with?  It is essential that only appropriate personnel have access to the demographic data to ensure there are no violations to the confidentiality or anonymity of the participants.

When planning to share data, be sure to determine who is authorized access to the data.  In many cases, organizations have policies on who is allowed to view personnel data.  These policies typically include a need-to-know clause, a non-disclosure agreement, or both documents – requiring a signature from the viewing parties.

Demographic Questions to Consider

The data needed for an analysis always depends on specific questions.  The questions need to have a balance between the sensitivity of participants’ answers and validation through a wide variety and an inclusive index.

Consider asking yourself the following questions before conducting a research analysis that includes demographics:

  • What purpose does this question have in the analysis and how will it be used to understand the representation of the participants against the overall population?
  • Is this analysis confidential or anonymous, and has there been disclosure of the status to the participants?
  • Will this analysis be shared with leadership or the entire workforce? How can the data be protected to ensure confidentiality or anonymity when being used by others?

Considering these areas and questions will help ensure you are collecting the appropriate data for your analysis that adequately protects the participants and provides results that will support positive impacts on your organization.

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About CIDIS: CIDIS is an Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business that focuses on working in collaboration with clients to create high-performing diverse and inclusive organizations through the transformation of their business operations, organizational culture, and human capital management practices.