In the urgent drive for equality, data matters

David whitfield
4 min readApr 22, 2021


The devastating death of George Floyd in Minnesota, and subsequent upsurge in support for Black Lives Matter, has once again highlighted how people of ethnicity are treated by the criminal justice system. And the statistics on people of ethnicity deaths from Covid-19, and of people of ethnicity frontline workers in particular, have reinforced the need for urgent action.

The workplace doesn’t offer equality of opportunity

Our own data tells a similar story. A recent survey, based on a sample of companies representing over 90,000 UK employees, revealed that 14% were people of ethnicity. 70% of these employees were in the bottom income levels, earning less than £17,000, and just 4% of them were earning more than £50,000.

And while many organisations have clear diversity and inclusion strategies, these tend to have a broad remit, covering issues such as gender, disability and age, as well as ethnicity. If the current focus on people of ethnicity rights is to lead to real change, we need to take a more targeted approach. Otherwise, there is a risk that it will get lost within a wider debate about equality, or considered ‘too difficult’ to tackle.

It’s also worth noting at this point that even the term people of ethnicity is broader than many would like. Grouping together black, Asian and minority ethnic people as a homogenous group gives the impression that the issues they face are the same. In reality, different ethnic groups, and groups within these groups, have different challenges to overcome.

To change the experiences of employees of ethnicity, we need to track the data

So what’s the answer? Clearly the recent report from the Race Commission does not support legislation which is hugely disappointing given the impact of the gender pay gap laws. They quoted the difficulties of sample sizes which is flaky at best. We spoke with our community, we ran surveys and the overwhelming response that they did indeed support legislation.

Without legislation there is no compulsion. Our research tells us that 84% of companies will self publish at some point but to date just 125 organizations in the UK have reported. My fear is without this compulsion it will be an initiative that companies do ‘next year’.

If companies do not report they can not be held account by their colleagues, customers and wider society. How can they possible understand what areas to focus on, to track progress and engage with their colleagues on success and challenges.

Measurement just isn’t happening.

Part of the reason is that most HR systems hold limited data on ethnicity; new starters aren’t required to state their ethnic background, and employers don’t encourage them to do so. And while that’s understandable on both counts, it’s also a missed opportunity.

There are some green shoots with the majority of companies in our community actively building trust with their colleagues and putting in place processes and systems to collect the data they need.

Increasing disclosure rates is the first step in truly understanding the issues in each unique organsiation.

Proactive data capture shows a willingness to take action

Instead of seeing it as a problem, leaders could take the opportunity to engage with their colleagues about the benefits of gathering ethnicity data. They could explain that it will allow them to track the progress of groups of employees, to explore any differences and to take action to overcome the barriers that cause them.

In short, they could be clear that the data that is captured will be used to hold the leadership team to account. And not just the data of new starters; capturing this information about current employees and unsuccessful candidates will give leaders even better clarity about the ethnic minority experience and how it can be improved.

Collaboration between companies will give us the full picture.

But why stop there? If we really want to change the workplace for employees of ethnicity, we need to think bigger than at organisational level. If companies were to share their learnings, pool their data and collaborate on next steps, it would be far easier to identify what works, and implement it more widely. That’s where we come in.

We’re calling on business leaders to work with us to create a robust set of data that will allow proper tracking and improvement of opportunities and progression for employees of ethnicity, including looking at the different ethnic groups that sit under this term. We’re making a start by creating clear guidelines for how to collect the data, and what data to collect.

We’ll then ask companies to share their results with us, so we can validate that data, report on what we’ve learned, and identify areas for improvement. We’ll also be looking to share examples of best practice, and suggest potential sector-led workstreams, on our HR DataHub platform.

Get access to the HR DataHub platform and wider community for free and find out how other companies are tackling this vitally important issue.