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Understanding Self-identification

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

What is self-identification at the workplace?

Self-identification is when employees explicitly express their diversity such as race/ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability or veteran status to their employers.

For record keeping purposes, employers can approach employees to voluntarily self-identify. Most employers conduct anonymous surveys using communication tools with strict codes of confidentiality to gauge the true diversity of their workforce.

Though self-identity is optional, some firms need to submit this data to the Federal Government to help assess the fair and forward implementation of civil rights. If this information is not shared voluntarily, some employers at times conduct visual surveys to deduce some parameters. If an employee voluntarily chooses to self-identify then this information cannot be overridden by the employer.

Why self-identification is important

When employers encourage their employees to self-identify or take part in anonymous surveys about the same, they obtain a realistic picture of the existing diversity of their workforce which would have been hidden otherwise. This information can be fed into developing new programs for the freshly identified groups and also, in collating resources to support them.

With self-identification data, meaningful employee engagement programs can be cultivated which would also drive awareness among other employees. The data would also help identify gaps in policies and processes pertaining to recruitment, compensation benchmarking, performance management and career growth opportunities.

Thus, self-identification when undertaken and encouraged in the right way, can help organizations step up their overall diversity and inclusion efforts.

How to get started on the self-identification journey

If self-identification is yet to be introduced at your workplace, then these steps can help initiate the process.

  • Build awareness - Use communication channels to build awareness about the different forms of visible and invisible diversity that can exist among fellow employees. Highlight the challenges faced by underrepresented groups. This will create sensitivity among the community and a sense of belonging among marginalized groups.

  • Commit to confidentiality - Sharing information about self-identity is a deeply sensitive and personal affair. It is the employee’s prerogative to disclose details. Hence, while conducting anonymous surveys, stress on data confidentiality to coax apprehensive employees to share honestly so as to improve their work environment.

  • Harness the power of ERG platforms - Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) serve as excellent platforms to advocate for initiatives linked to diversity. Active ERG members and leaders can reach out to their fellow employees to educate them about the benefits of having a community at the workplace, thus, encouraging them to self-identify.

  • Begin implementation - Most companies tend to focus on identifying marginalized groups and then get stuck in this loop of identification. Once underrepresented groups have been identified in the first round of anonymous surveys, it is important to begin implementing changes that support them. Walking the talk will build trust and encourage other groups to also self-identify when they witness positive changes at the workplace.

An organization where employees feel secure enough to self-identify is a mark of a truly inclusive workplace. The reluctance to self-identify can serve as a litmus test of how comfortable employees feel in sharing their authenticity with their colleagues and employers. The ideal state is when employees self-identify with pride and have no fear of being treated unfairly - a state which all employers should strive towards!


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