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Swedish and British job seekers are in favour of equality data collection to improve inclusion in workplaces

In studies among job applicants in both Sweden and the United Kingdom, all groups were positive about anonymously collecting sensitive information such as age, ethnicity, and gender to improve the work with diversity. This is shown by Amanda Heath in a dissertation in psychology, which she believes should also have policy implications. Such data is necessary to make a fairer society, she thinks.

How can information in job advertisements be used to attract applicants from under-represented groups and potentially increase inclusion and diversity in organisations? This is what Amanda Heath has investigated in a new doctoral thesis in psychology, which comprises both Swedish and British job applicants.

Information about diversity work or not mattered

In a Swedish study, the information in job advertisements from a county council was varied over time. Some contained no information about diversity work; others an industry-standard statement on equality, diversity, and inclusion; yet others information about so-called equality monitoring work (see fact box).

“I found that the share of foreign-born and female job applicants and the average applicant age was not affected by the different contents in the advertisements. This differs from an experiment I conducted in the UK, where information about equality and diversity resulted in stronger job-pursuit intentions in the ethnic minority group”, says Amanda Heath.

Equality monitoring

Equality monitoring is the collection and use of data from job applicants, usually on legally protected characteristics (age, ethnicity, sex etc.). The data is gathered using voluntary and anonymous questionnaires and is used to inform policies that promote inclusion and reduce inequality. Equality monitoring is a common human resources’ practice in some countries, such as Finland and the UK, but not in Sweden.

Amanda believes the difference is due to the fact that in the UK study, the jobs were hypothetical and there you could state your ideal preferences. In the Swedish study, the advertisements were real and there are many things that can influence whether or not you will apply for a job. As examples, she mentions geographical limitations, that one may wish to get away from their current job, and that the county councils are such dominant employers in the healthcare sector that job applicants may have only one choice of employer in a region.

“However, survey responses from the applicants in Sweden showed that the perceptions of equality monitoring were positive across all studied groups. They tended to be highest in groups protected in discrimination law”, Amanda Heath continues.

She expects that diversity information will have a positive effect on job applications when people have more choice of employers, by improving perceptions of the organization.

Important policy implications

Amanda Heath believes that the findings should have important policy implications.

“The Swedish government has been asked by the EU and the UN to collect equality data as part of its obligations to anti-discrimination regulations, but has so far refused or made the excuse that it is against data protection law – which is not true. My results suggest that the government and organisations in Sweden have nothing to fear from introducing equality data collection if it is explained to the public that data gathering is voluntary and anonymous, and that the purpose is to promote inclusion and equality.”

This data is extremely valuable in helping to identify where groups in society like disabled people, women, sexual and ethnic minorities are being excluded, and how to tackle the problems where they are observed, says Amanda Heath.

“We do not know just where, how and to whom discrimination or exclusion might be happening in Sweden and in other European countries were equality data collection is not currently used. Only through such data collection can we take an evidence-based approach to make a fairer society.”

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