Person filling out a survey on a clipboard

Collecting Workforce Demographic Data: How to Create an Inclusive and Effective Employee Survey

Articles Feb 27, 2023

Most organizations collect demographic data from their employees, often during the job application or onboarding process. It’s easy to overlook the importance of these routine surveys, but that is a mistake. If basic demographic questions aren’t framed with inclusive practices in mind, these seemingly simple questionnaires can sabotage your organization’s efforts to recruit and keep top talent.

Employee demographic form

Why Inclusive Employee Surveys are Important

Imagine a nonbinary candidate is filling out your company’s online application. When they come across gender identity, they are met with only two options: man or woman. This person immediately feels unseen and may begin to question whether your organization is a safe space for them to work. They may choose not to apply for the job.

Or, perhaps, during an organizational audit of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) readiness, you conduct an employee engagement survey that tracks sentiment across demographic groups. A multiracial employee is excited to share their perspective, but becomes discouraged when they don’t see an appropriate answer for the racial and ethnic identity question. This person feels forced to select one aspect of their identity that may not align with how they self-identify. Not only will your survey results be inaccurate, but the employee will feel excluded. If the badly worded question is part of a pattern of exclusion at the company, this individual may become disengaged or even start looking for another job.

It is a small lift for organizational leadership to create inclusive demographic questionnaires, but the impact of making all employees feel recognized and included is large. By giving these surveys the importance they deserve, asking questions with a people-first mindset, and using inclusive language, your organization will be able to collect data accurately and respectfully. Below you’ll find our recommended language for ensuring your surveys provide a sense of security and affirmation for all employees.


Kaela Sosa

Kaela (she/her) is a Certified Diversity Executive and curriculum and programming manager at The Diversity Movement. She applies her writing, project management, and production skills to advance DEI.