How should companies support mental health at work? Is trying to hire for Diversity enough, or should business be holding themselves to harder metrics? What does it mean to be inclusive? Questions that fall under Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are unique because DEI is both an internal HR concern and part of a broader, workforce-wide conversation.
One way that organizations can contribute to that conversation is by publishing original research that helps advocate for systemic change. DEI is bigger than any one company, and the right data can make a big impact.
Over the past year, several organizations have used SurveyMonkey to delve into specific problems and misconceptions that are creating inequality in different industries. This article will highlight that incredible work, including the major takeaways in case you’d like to do something similar.
Note: If you’re more interested in understanding inclusion and belonging at your company, perceptions of fairness in pay, etc., we have free survey templates and a comprehensive guide for measuring and promoting DEI.
- Lydia Amoah and The Black Pound Report
- What you can learn from the Black Pound Report
- HoneyBook and the Gender Pay Gap Report
- What you can learn from the Gender Pay Gap Report
- Paradigm and Inclusion and Belonging research
- What you can learn from the Inclusion and Belonging research
- Tips for creating your own, inclusive DEI surveys
The Black Pound Report
The Black Pound Report’s author, Lydia Amoah, has spent her career looking at media from every angle. She is an award-winning business coach with clients like Channel 4, The Telegraph Media Group, NFL, and Bank of Ireland. As an executive coach one thing she rarely saw in the content that she helped publish were people that looked like her.
As the daughter of west African immigrants, Amoah falls into a category that the U.K calls “B.A.M.E” (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) —a group that is 20% of the national population. However in London this represents 44% (3.5m). Lydia is campaigning for industries to change their language from B.A.M.E to Multicultural, as it is more inclusive and does not divide other nationalities.
B.A.M.E/Multicultural people are underrepresented in both ads and traditional media, but the more that Amoah studied it, the more she realised that the issue isn’t just about television and ads.
It’s about innovation. If businesses and other organizations don’t view people of color as a legitimate group to market to, they’re not going to invest in products specifically suited to that community’s needs. (Amoah points to the beauty industry’s distinct lack of representation for all skin tones as an example.)
According to implicit stereotype/bias, people of color have less spending power than the average (white) consumer. Amoah wondered—is that actually true? And then she started her research using SurveyMonkey core and our consumer research panel—SurveyMonkey Audience. According to her report, the bias is wrong.
On a late Friday evening (for her), trans-continental call, we asked her to share more.
The why: creating a cohesive piece of research about real people of color
Besides her own personal experience, Amoah became increasingly uneasy about what she was hearing from clients and other multicultural colleagues, regarding how brands underestimate the value of multicultural consumers. This is a missed opportunity for brands to tap into the U.K’s fastest growing population—including highly successful people of color themselves!
She wanted to not only prove that assumption wrong, but also make a data-backed case for what needed to change and why.
The what: The Black Pound Report
Amoah compiled The Black Pound Report from a combination of over 300 in-depth interviews and survey responses from people of color all around the country. In her research, Amoah found that 52% of these consumers made a salary that was higher than the national average. Over 50% of those surveyed owned their homes. Forty-four percent were able to spend 600 pounds or more on haircuts and styling.
The “Black consumers aren’t worth marketing to” narrative isn’t true.
This conclusion is mirrored in other market research around the world. The market research firm Mintel, for example, found that the market for hair products for Black people—not including wigs, hair accessories, or electric styling products—is 2.5 billion in the U.S. alone.
But Amoah’s research also enabled her to go deeper on the topic than just spending habits. She also wanted to know how perceptions about consumers of color were influencing feelings about Diversity overall. She found something insidious: public perceptions about multicultural buying power were influencing how people of color view themselves. They were having a direct psychological effect on their wellbeing.
As her conversations made this clearer, Amoah bolstered her findings with more statistics.
- 66% of the people Amoah spoke to were unsatisfied with the representation of B.A.M.E/Multicultural respresentation in the media (especially advertisements).
- 70% of B.A.M.E/Multicultural consumers feel undervalued as a consumer in the UK.
- 65% of B.A.M.E/Multicultural consumers feel like they require more access to financial knowledge.
The Black Pound Report takes these findings and many more, and combines them with an in-depth analysis of the current media landscape in the U.K. In her analysis, Amoah outlines the impact that ignoring B.A.M.E/multicultural buyers is already having and what kind of changes need to happen.
The what’s next: consultation and training on unconscious bias and fighting for better representation
Some research projects end when their author hits "publish". That won’t happen with the Black Pound Report. Amoah plans to repeat the research regularly and track changes over time. Recently, she also used her research to build Creative Equals—a global nonprofit organization based in the U.K. that drives Diversity, Equity and Inclusion across the creative sector. Amoah is also the architect of ‘Accelerate’ a multicultural leadership training program, designed to help people from junior to mid-level talent, providing them the opportunity to build their skills, receive mentoring and overcome any barriers to success.
The program starts with a 3.5 hour workshop which is run on a monthly basis, educating professionals within the advertising, marketing and media industry. Participants learn about the impact of unconscious bias and discover leadership skills to empower them to become the next generation of multicultural leaders. The program is supported by companies like Unilever, Campaign Magazine, Wavemaker, Momentum Worldwide, Google, Spotify, and more.
Amoah has used her research to craft an individually empowering program based heavily on data, because, as she puts it: “Feelings matter. And numbers talk.”
What you can learn from Lydia Amoah and the Black Pound Report
There are a few important best practices you can learn from Lydia’s research. Each is covered more thoroughly in our Ultimate guide to using surveys for content marketing (don’t be fooled by the title—it can help with non-marketing content, too.)
1.Look for areas of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that people seem to know matter, but don’t have very many proof points. Many people understand that there isn’t enough diverse representation in the media, but there wasn’t much information about why the problem existed. The best kinds of survey research content fills in these types of gaps.
2. Backward engineer your survey from a few clear, cohesive hypotheses. The key to any good survey is focus. The best surveys address a single, clear research question, around which all the other questions are structured. Surveys that try to answer several unique questions will often deliver weak results. If you’re thinking “let’s see what we can find out about this topic” when you’re writing your survey, the outcome will often be disparate and unfocused, which weakens your point. Ultimately, you want a key thesis (it doesn’t have to be proven right!) and a few key points that support that thesis. (The guides give you more tangible examples of this.)
3. Use a combination of qualitative and quantitative data to make your point. Amoah used both surveys and focus groups, but you can get a similarly blended result by using a combination of multiple choice and a few strategic open-ended questions in your research. The multiple choice questions get you statistics, but the open-ended ones give respondents space to express themselves fully, in their own words. That’s where you’ll get the anecdotes and quotes that will really bring your message home. Just remember to try and limit the number of open-ended questions to 2-3 to prevent burnout. Read more about the different question types here.
4. Share your research with the media before you publish it. Maybe your company/organization doesn’t usually get very much attention from the media. That’s okay! Research about Diversity and Inclusion might be more generally interesting to journalists than the things that your organization typically reaches out about, and the more people you reach—the bigger the impact that you can have.
However, it’s important that you share your data with journalists well before it’s actually published. That way it ensures that when they write about it, it’s still fresh news. Another thing to keep in mind: Journalists won’t cover a study with a thin sample size. If you’re surveying a general population, you need at least 1,000 respondents—or maybe half that if it’s a more niche audience.
The point of DEI research is to inspire conversation and change. That means getting your research out there however you can.
You’ve probably heard about America’s pay gap (women making 70 cents per dollar that a man makes doing the same job), but what about freelancers and consultants? Do people who set their own rate face the same level of inequality as people in the corporate world?
In 2017, a business management software company called HoneyBook decided to find out. They analyzed 200,000 invoices processed on their platform and sent out a SurveyMonkey survey to an additional 3,102 people from their user base to get more context. The answer was a resounding “yes”: Freelancers are just as likely as full-timers to make less money if they happen to identify as female.
HoneyBook published the results in a comprehensive report, and then decided to repeat the study in 2019 to see whether anything had changed. The second time around, they found something even more frustrating: The professional women on their platform were finally making almost as much as their male peers—but only by completing 22% more projects a year. And even then, they still netted 11% less income overall.
We asked HoneyBook marketing manager Natalie Walters, who authored the report, for a little more context about why they ran the study, what else they learned, and what they’re planning to do with the data next.
The why: helping independent contractors understand the pay gap
In Natalie’s opinion, knowledge is power—and knowing about inequality is the first step toward addressing it.
HoneyBook supports a huge community of creative entrepreneurs from all kinds of backgrounds—from wedding photographers to graphic designers to business consultants. Freelancers have to wear a lot of different hats, and they have a lot of responsibilities that might not come naturally—think: brand building, financial planning, and, of course, negotiation. It’s hard to advocate for yourself if you’re doing something out of your normal comfort zone.
In HoneyBook’s survey, 80% of women said that they would change their pricing if they found out that their quotes were lower than someone of the opposite gender in the same industry and region. Awareness about inequality gives people the confidence to make change, so HoneyBook decided to start building some awareness.
HoneyBook shared both reports with everyone in its network—including everyone who participated in the research. This report isn’t just academic—it’s actually giving the women experiencing the pay gap the fodder that they need to make a change.
“By publishing this research we hope to drive as much awareness for the gender pay gap in the freelance economy as there is for pay inequity in the corporate world,” said Natalie Franke, Head of Community at HoneyBook. “It’s about empowering small business owners to know just how much more they are worth.”
In fact, reports like this one are central to HoneyBook’s mission to empower their users through education. (More on that later.)
The what: digging into the pay gap for creative entrepreneurs
HoneyBook’s research exposed several fascinating and frustrating trends. Here are a few of the major takeaways:
- Women are over-qualified and under-valued. In 2019, women averaged $51,900 in annual income while men made about $57,700. That actually broke down to about $2,221 per project for women—26% less than the 3k per project earned by men.
Not only did women work more and earn less, but they were also, on average, more educated than their male peers. 71% of the women in HoneyBook’s research had a bachelor’s degree, compared with only 54% of men. That’s a pretty striking statistical difference.
- Perception of the wage gap for freelancers is growing, especially among women. A couple of years can make a big difference on public perception—especially if you’re part of the group getting paid less. In 2017, 63% of women and 72% of men thought men and women were paid equally. In 2019, the numbers were 59% of men and 35% of women.
But despite changes in overall awareness, people are still confused about the exact causes of the wage gap, torn between blaming lack of transparency, the “motherhood tax”, and the fact that women undervalue their own services.
- Parenthood affects men and women differently. Forty-seven percent of women feel like they have to hide the fact that they are mothers from their clients in order to be taken seriously. Only 14% of men felt the same. Freelancers are worried that clients will think women put kids first while men prioritize work.
The what’s next: helping make business education accessible for all freelancers
The pay gap study isn’t the only piece of helpful content that HoneyBook publishes. In fact, they create educational guides on business topics important to creative entrepreneurs each month, which are published on their blog and shared with their members and online community, the Rising Tide.
HoneyBook’s Rising Tide community was co-founded by Natalie Franke to bring freelancers, who often work alone, together to support one another’s business growth. Rising Tide chapters meet monthly in cities all over the world where freelancers come together to discuss the topic of the most recent guide and exchange tips and advice based on their personal experience.
“When freelancers share knowledge with one another, it is powerful and can affect real change,” says Walters. “That’s why we focus our research so strongly on areas where the data really matters. We want these reports to help people make the best decisions for their business. . .”
HoneyBook believes that providing education is an important part of helping freelancers succeed in business. As such, the educational resources they create are available to all small business owners, not just HoneyBook users.
What you can learn from HoneyBook’s Pay Gap report
Here are a few lessons from HoneyBook that you can apply to your own DEI research. (Again, many of these points are delved into in our guide to using surveys to create content.)
- Repeat research at regular intervals to track trends over time. People’s perceptions can change quickly, and often the trends are as interesting as the original findings—sometimes more so. Use identical questions in quarterly or annual research to create benchmarks for change.
Make sure to use relatively similar sample sizes each time and keep as much consistent as you can to ensure the results are as accurate as possible. That said, you can add or eliminate questions from year to year as long as the new questions don’t introduce new bias. (Read about eliminating bias here.)
Trend research is especially important in DEI, because it shows people where change is happening and where there needs to be more change.
- Use demographics questions in your survey research to find differences between groups. Many of HoneyBook’s findings highlight the differences between men’s experiences and women’s. Including demographic questions in original research is a good way to identify differences in perception among subgroups of survey respondents. (In SurveyMonkey, you just filter by question to see the differences.)
Common demographics questions ask about gender, age, geographical location, industry, and role—but you can also ask questions that let you zero in more closely on your area of interest, like “people who feel like they can speak openly at work” or “people at companies with mental health benefits.” These aren’t demographics per se, but you can use the same question filtering technique to create a new lens.
- Combine proprietary data with surveys to unlock deeper insights. You’re always going to have a deeper sense of expertise when you’re writing about your own industry. Surveys can help bring more context and depth to the data that you already have. If you know that you want to contribute to the growing body of DEI research but don’t know how, start by working backward from topics that you’re already familiar with.
A few areas to consider:
- Mental health in your industry
- People with disabilities in your industry (either customers or employees)
- Pay gaps or underrepresentation of certain groups in leadership
- Representation of different groups in marketing, advertising, and product development
- DEI culture and beliefs in your industry
- Parenthood and related challenges in your industry
- Include guidance, resources, and calls to action along with your research. HoneyBook’s pay gap reports end with tips from financial coaches and other experts. Seeking 3rd-party input—especially on sensitive DEI related research—can add a lot of helpful substance, but you can also create value by doing your own investigating or using your own expertise to recommend next steps.
You can also provide your readers with ways to use the content itself. HoneyBook hosts discussions and provides infographics and pinnable charts that freelancers can use to understand their worth. Other options might include an interactive calculator (like our sample size calculator) or real life examples your readers can learn from. The important thing is giving your readers tools to create change.
Paradigm is a firm that focuses specifically on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It helps companies make meaningful changes based on data. But there’s a challenge: Of those 3 areas of expertise (the D, E, and I), only Diversity is somewhat easy to tie to numbers. Equity and Inclusion are a little more complicated.
Of course, there is one way to turn personal experiences into data: surveys. With that in mind, Paradigm, lead by CEO Joelle Emerson, partnered with SurveyMonkey to dig deeper into people’s current perception of inclusion and belonging in their workplace. Which groups are happiest? What are workers really craving? Where are employers falling short?
The results were a massive data set with almost 10,000 responses from American employees and a free survey template that businesses can use to measure it themselves.
The why: Measuring inclusion for more actionable insights
Without Inclusion, Diversity almost doesn’t matter. It’s not enough to hire people from different backgrounds—you also need to treat them fairly and empower them to succeed. But because there aren’t clear metrics, companies have less accountability for supporting inclusion.
According to Joelle, “You can’t change what you don’t measure. While a growing number of organizations have committed to analyzing and addressing Diversity, there’s a common misconception that inclusion can’t be measured. It can. By measuring key factors like objectivity, voice, and belonging, organizations can get a clear sense of opportunities to build a more inclusive culture.”
So Paradigm decided to undermine those excuses with a research-backed survey template that does give users a benchmark. They also announced the findings in a joint press release with SurveyMonkey.
The what: identifying the key components of an inclusive workplace
Paradigm was especially interested in zeroing in on the factors that define whether or not a person feels included at work. Obviously, everyone’s personal experiences will be a little different, but there are still a few key things that matter to everyone. After extensive research, Paradigm’s experts landed on 3:
- Growth mindset: A company with a “growth mindset” believes that people can keep learning and evolving, as opposed to assuming that abilities are fixed. One in 5 people in the research said that their employer does not have a growth mindset. People from underrepresented groups were also more likely to face employers who are unwilling to invest in their growth: nearly 3 in 10 Black and Hispanic employees (28% compared to 17% of white workers).
- Belonging uncertainty: Belonging uncertainty is the state of wondering whether others will include, value, and respect you. When an employee feels like they don’t belong it can be incredibly taxing. The research found that a quarter of workers feel like they don’t belong at their company, and that jumps to nearly 1 in 3 for Black workers.
- Objectivity: Objectivity is about whether people feel like they’re treated fairly relative to their peers. While over 60% of employees overall said their compensation was fair, less than half of Black workers (48%) agreed with that statement. (And they’re probably right...as of 2019, Black women had to work 1 year + 8 months to make what a white man doing the same job would make in a year.)
IThe what’s next: An approach to building inclusion that’s grounded in data
The findings from the research help fuel Paradigm’s strategy for building Inclusion with each of their corporate clients, and the template they helped design is free and accessible to anyone in the SurveyMonkey template library.
SurveyMonkey also published a guide for measuring Diversity and Inclusion based on input from Paradigm, as well as 5 other DEI leaders and a team of survey experts.
What you can learn from Paradigm’s inclusion research
- Do your homework before you survey. Paradigm collaborated with Stanford University professors Carol Dweck, Greg Walton, and Geoffrey Cohen before they even started building their survey in order to understand how their research could make the biggest impact. Doing survey research only to find that your findings are redundant or that you overlooked an important aspect will take the wind out of your sails and make your research less influential.
- Break your topic down. Paradigm’s research covered several different areas of inclusion, with a few more specific insights tied to each one. To get the same type of differing perspectives, create distinct sections of your survey with 2-3 clustered questions about the same topic so that you can keep your respondents focused on the specific areas you want them to talk about.
- Choose a topic in which individual perspectives really matter. Surveys are the only way to measure people’s beliefs, opinions, and perceptions—which means that the best way to make your survey research valuable is to focus on those areas. You technically could use a survey to get a sense of how many people live in a certain area or use a specific social network, but you could also probably find that data elsewhere, and probably more comprehensively.
Paradigm focused their research on an area where individual experiences matter deeply, and where there’s very little quantitative data available. That’s a big part of what makes their research unique and imminently valuable.
Parting tips for creating your own DEI surveys
- 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, equity, 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.
At SurveyMonkey, our ethos is to cultivate diverse, equitable and inclusive communities, both within our workplace and beyond, while recognizing that diversity, equity, and inclusion are relevant for every organization. Bringing more research to the conversation is a great way to make an impact beyond your own business. People like Lydia Amoah, Natalie Walters, and Joelle Emerson are helping change the workforce as a whole.