Employee Trust: The Key to a Successful Strategy for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging


“Diversity and inclusion is no longer just the right thing to do – it is an absolute business imperative to thrive and succeed,” said Supriya Jha, chief diversity and inclusion officer at SAP. “Organizations have learned that their people, the ecosystem, and society in general are demanding a higher degree of conscientiousness around diversity and inclusion.”

It is well known that more diverse teams bring creativity and innovation, and diverse organizations are more likely to be profitable than their competitors. According to Gartner, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) has been ranked among the top five priorities for HR Leaders in 2022.

But as we know, simply recognizing the importance and value of DEIB is not a solution – and making meaningful change is difficult. For strategic DEIB initiatives to succeed, organizations need data, and this is where many struggle. The data dilemma is two-fold: obtaining the right data about their people and being able to manage and interpret it properly. By rethinking when and how to ask for data, organizations can gain a clearer sense of who is in their workforce and how they can continuously improve their experiences surrounding DEIB.

DEIB data collection is a sensitive issue because employees may want to keep certain aspects of their identity private. The potential consequences of revealing one’s identity – particularly what may not be apparent to others, such as sexual orientation or religion – vary across time and place. Employees may face insensitive questions, microaggressions, outright prejudice, or even discrimination as a result. When employees anticipate these consequences, they feel less comfortable taking the risk of sharing their identity, and this lack of psychological safety leads to less self-reporting. The result is that leaders lack access to DEIB data to understand and improve the organization and, most importantly, the employee experiences of their people.

At SAP SuccessFactors, we talked to over 40 customer organizations globally on the scarcity of personal data and our findings show the issues are structural. Employees do not understand why some personal data is being collected or how it’s being used. To avoid bias and discrimination, they refuse to share this personal information.

So, what are the structural issues and how can they be addressed?

Using employee onboarding as an example, think about the data often requested on day one: name, date of birth, address, bank details, gender, marital status, along with potentially detailed identity data.

This is a lot of personal information to give an organization that an employee does not yet know or trust. Asking them only in the initial stages of joining an organization makes little sense and ignores the fact that identities can change over time. Instead, organizations need to earn the trust of employees and be strategic about when and how often they ask employees for social identity data.

Transparency Is Key: How to Help Employees Feel Comfortable with Sharing Their Identities

Organizations should think of addressing the various aspects – like demographics – of an individual’s identity, timing the reporting process, and, most importantly, ensuring trust among the individuals that their data will be used constructively and privately.

Transparency here is key. Employees need to know who will have visibility into their personal data, to what extent, and for what purposes. They also need to understand how technology systems will use the data, which requires organizations to be clear about their strategies and policies on managing bias.

Maybe organizations want to identify and support underrepresented groups or improve employee experiences in targeted areas. Specificity is also key. These noble intentions must come to fruition with clearly communicated programs and results tracking to gain the trust of employees and make them feel confident that their details are in safe hands. The more information employees are willing to self-disclose, the more organizations will be able to improve and individualize their experiences in return.

To recap, changing when and how organizations ask for personal data can result in greater self-reporting.

  • Start with the less sensitive data you already have, like date of birth, place of birth, and current location.
  • Gain employee trust by clearly communicating the benefits of self-disclosure and where and how their data will be used.
  • Collect data on a regular basis, particularly after moments that matter, to better understand changes in identity.
  • Communicate to employees how this data has informed the development and execution of the DEIB strategy.

The journey to address DEIB within an organization cannot be completed overnight. Intentionally and intelligently collecting and using data can help employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. On the other hand, by knowing their people better, organizations can explore ways to foster growth and profitability.

Learn more about SAP’s social responsibility solutions.

Amy Wilson is SVP of Products and Design at SAP SuccessFactors.