Legal and Ethical Considerations for Diversity and Inclusion Surveys in the UK: A Comprehensive Guide

24th May 2024 by Mark Holt

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Diversity and inclusion surveys are a crucial tool for organizations to gain insights into their workforce and promote diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives. These surveys can be a powerful means of collecting anonymous feedback from employees, identifying areas of improvement, and driving positive change within an organization. However, it is crucial that employers approach these surveys with careful consideration of the legal and ethical implications involved.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to the legal and ethical issues surrounding D&I surveys in the UK. By understanding these considerations, organizations can ensure their surveys are conducted ethically and in compliance with relevant laws, thereby protecting both the organization and its employees.

Legal Disclaimer

Please note that, while we have made every effort to ensure this article is helpful and comprehensive, it should be considered as being for illustrative purposes only and should not be considered legal advice or a comprehensive list of relevant legislation and resources. If you have specific concerns, then please seek professional guidance.

Once you've read this article, you might also be interested to read our comprehensive article on Diversity and Inclusion for UK Company Directors

Understanding Diversity and Inclusion Surveys

Before delving into the legal and ethical considerations, it is important to understand what diversity and inclusion surveys entail. These surveys are typically anonymous, voluntary, and designed to gather insights on a range of topics related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. They may cover areas such as employee demographics, experiences of discrimination or harassment, perceptions of fairness and equality, and suggestions for improving D&I practices within the organization.

The anonymity of these surveys is a critical aspect that encourages honest and open responses from employees. It is important for organizations to ensure that respondents can provide feedback without fear of retaliation or negative consequences, especially when discussing sensitive topics. Learn more about how the Divrsity platform is obsessed with anonymity.

Legal Considerations

There are several legal acts and regulations in the UK that are relevant to diversity and inclusion surveys. Understanding these laws is crucial to ensuring compliance and protecting both the organization and its employees.

Data Protection Laws

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the UK's Data Protection Act 2018 set out strict rules regarding the processing of personal data. When conducting diversity and inclusion surveys, organizations must ensure they comply with these regulations. Personal data, as defined by the GDPR, includes any information relating to an identified or identifiable person. This can include names, email addresses, employee IDs, and even IP addresses.

To ensure compliance, organizations should:

  1. Obtain Consent: Obtain clear and explicit consent from employees before collecting and processing their personal data. Inform employees of the purpose of the survey, how their data will be used, and their right to withdraw consent at any time.
  2. Anonymize Data: Whenever possible, process data in a way that removes personal identifiers, rendering the data anonymous. This can include aggregating data or using unique codes instead of employee IDs.
  3. Secure Data Storage: Ensure that any personal data collected is stored securely and accessed only by authorized individuals.
  4. Privacy Notice: Provide a privacy notice that explains how personal data will be processed, retained, and deleted, as well as the rights of employees in relation to their data.
  5. Data Minimization: Collect only the personal data necessary for the purpose of the survey and retain it only for as long as is required.

Employment Law

Employment law in the UK also plays a crucial role in the legal considerations of diversity and inclusion surveys. The Equality Act 2010, in particular, is relevant as it protects individuals from discrimination based on nine protected characteristics, including age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

To ensure compliance with employment law:

  1. Avoid Discrimination: The questions asked in the survey should not discriminate against individuals based on their protected characteristics. For example, questions about an employee's religious beliefs or sexual orientation should be avoided unless directly relevant to the survey's purpose.
  2. Accommodate Employees: Organizations should make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities or specific needs to ensure they can participate in the survey on an equal basis.
  3. Confidentiality: Ensure that employee responses are treated confidentially and anonymously. This means that individual responses should not be shared with managers or colleagues without the consent of the respondent.
  4. Avoid Retaliation: Protect employees from any form of retaliation or victimization based on their survey responses. This includes ensuring that managers or supervisors do not have access to individual responses, thereby preventing any potential bias or discrimination.

Equality Law

The Equality Act 2010 also imposes a duty on organizations to consider the impact of their policies and practices on individuals with protected characteristics. This duty is known as the 'public sector equality duty' and applies to public authorities, including some private companies providing certain services.

To comply with the equality law:

  1. Consider Impact: When designing and conducting diversity and inclusion surveys, organizations should consider how their policies and practices impact individuals with protected characteristics. The survey results can help identify areas where certain groups may be disadvantaged or facing discrimination.
  2. Promote Equality: Use the survey results to promote equality and foster an inclusive environment. This may involve making reasonable adjustments, changing policies, or introducing new initiatives to support diverse groups within the organization.

Other Legal Considerations

  • Trade Unions and Recognition: If an organization has recognized trade unions, EDI surveys may need to consider consultation obligations under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. This Act governs how employers must consult with trade unions, and EDI surveys could be a tool to facilitate this process.

  • Public Sector Equality Duty: Under the Equality Act 2010, public authorities, including many UK organizations, have a duty to consider how their policies and decisions might impact individuals with protected characteristics. EDI surveys can help public sector bodies fulfill this duty by providing insights into the experiences of their staff and service users.


Ethical Considerations

In addition to legal compliance, there are several ethical considerations that organizations should keep in mind when conducting diversity and inclusion surveys.

Anonymity and Confidentiality

Maintaining the anonymity and confidentiality of employee responses is critical. Employees must feel assured that their responses will be kept confidential and anonymous, especially when discussing sensitive topics or sharing negative experiences. Breaking this confidence could lead to a loss of trust and a reluctance to participate in future surveys.

To ensure anonymity:

  1. Anonymous Reporting: Design the survey in a way that allows employees to report sensitive issues anonymously. For example, using unique codes instead of employee IDs.
  2. Third-Party Administrators: Consider using a third-party administrator to manage the survey, thereby removing the organization's access to individual responses and protecting confidentiality.
  3. Data Security: Implement robust data security measures to protect respondent privacy, including encryption and secure data storage.
  4. Use the Divrsity Platform: The Divrsity platform has been designed from the ground-up to ensure security (our team were accountable for security on the Trainline and Chase Bank platforms) and we are Obsessed with Anonymity.

Voluntary Participation

Participation in diversity and inclusion surveys should be voluntary, and employees should feel no pressure or obligation to take part. Coercing employees into participating can lead to biased responses and a lack of trust in the process.

To ensure voluntary participation:

  1. Communicate the Purpose: Clearly communicate the purpose of the survey and how it will benefit the organization and its employees. Help employees understand the value of their feedback.
  2. Opt-Out Option: Provide an easy and anonymous way for employees to opt out of the survey if they do not wish to participate.
  3. No Retaliation Guarantee: Emphasize that participation is entirely voluntary and that there will be no retaliation or negative consequences for those who choose not to take part.

Bias and Stereotyping

Survey questions should be carefully designed to avoid reinforcing biases and stereotypes. Questions that are poorly phrased or assume certain characteristics based on protected attributes can lead to inaccurate results and further marginalize diverse groups.

To avoid bias and stereotyping:

  1. Careful Question Design: Ensure that questions are neutral, non-leading, and do not assume any particular characteristics based on protected attributes.
  2. Pilot Testing: Test the survey with a small group of employees to identify any potential biases or areas for improvement before rolling it out to the entire organization.
  3. Diverse Perspective: Involve individuals from diverse backgrounds and with different perspectives in the design process to help identify and address any potential biases.

One of the really powerful benefits of the Divrsity AI is it's ability to summarise data in a completely unbiased way. The data doesn't lie!

'Representativeness' and Participation Rate

The representativeness of the survey sample and the overall participation rate can impact the accuracy and reliability of the results. A low participation rate or an unrepresentative sample may lead to biased findings and incorrect conclusions.

To ensure representativeness and a high participation rate:

  1. Ensure Everybody can participate: Communicate the importance of the survey and encourage employees to participate. Highlight the benefits of an inclusive workplace for all. The Divrsity platform includes Collective Surveys that help ensure that employees who are not habitual technology users and still able to participate.
  2. Friendly competition:The Divrsity platform generates a significant amount of data while the survey is in-flight. One of the most effective ways to drive participation is to build competition between teams and offices: "Our Leeds team are in the lead with 83% participation, Hereford is at 73% and Cardiff at 70%. Remember that surveys are taking just 4 minutes and 34 seconds to complete".
  3. Remote and Hybrid Workers: Make sure that remote and hybrid workers are included in the survey and consider the best way to reach this group.
  4. Focus on your communication strategy: The comms strategy around your survey can make-or-break your participation. Our article on communication strategies for a successful DEI Survey is a helpful reference.
  5. Exclude "Poison" Surveys: Poison surveys are those where employees attempt to skew the results by deliberately providing extreme answers to questions. The Divrsity platform includes algorithms to automatically exclude those from the aggregated survey results.

Action and Improvement

Finally, one of the most critical ethical considerations is what organizations do with the results of the survey. It is not enough to simply collect data; organizations must take action based on the insights gained and make tangible improvements to foster a more diverse and inclusive environment.

To ensure ethical action and improvement:

  1. Communicate Results: Share the aggregated and anonymized results with employees, highlighting areas of success and areas that need improvement.
  2. Set Goals and Initiatives: Use the survey findings to set concrete goals and initiatives for improving diversity and inclusion within the organization.
  3. Measure and Monitor: Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the impact of the initiatives and regularly monitor progress.
  4. Employee Engagement: Involve employees in the process of designing and implementing improvements, ensuring that their voices are heard.

Best Practices for EDI Surveys in the UK

To ensure a smooth and ethical EDI survey process in the UK, consider the following best practices:

  • Seek input from diverse stakeholders, including employees and trade unions (if applicable), to design the survey and ensure it covers relevant topics
  • Use our Communication Strategy Best Practices to ensure clear and transparent information about the survey process, including how data will be used, stored, and protected in line with GDPR requirements.
  • Ensure the survey is accessible to all employees, considering language, format, and accessibility needs. e.g. Divrsity surveys use the Atkinson Hyperlegible font that is approved by the braille institute.
  • Communicate the value of the survey to employees and emphasize the importance of their honest feedback.
  • Encourage a high response rate without coercing participation, and consider offering incentives appropriately, bearing in mind any potential impacts on employment relationships.
  • Securely store and anonymize data, ensuring compliance with GDPR requirements and respecting respondents' privacy.
  • Act on the findings, communicating any changes or improvements transparently and holding leaders accountable for addressing issues raised. The Divrsity platform


Conducting effective diversity and inclusion surveys requires a careful approach that considers both legal and ethical implications. By following the guidelines outlined above, organizations can gather valuable insights while fostering an environment of trust, inclusivity, and respect. Ultimately, this leads to a more productive, innovative, and successful workforce.