Closing EDI data gaps – what we need to know and what we don’t know

Bekah Ryder, 17 August 2022

Over the last few years, the NHF has been working with our members to better understand the equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) of the housing association workforce in England.  

At the end of last year we published, a report presenting the findings of the first ever national picture of EDI within the housing association workforce in England. The report highlights clearly where there are issues around representation amongst the housing association workforce, particularly when it comes to our leaders and those with a disability. 

The report’s main findings also show some big gaps in our knowledge due to unknown data for many characteristics, particularly for socio-economic background, caring responsibilities, and gender identity. There are also large gaps for marital status, religion, and sexual orientation.  We were also more likely to be missing data on boards compared to executive teams and staff.

Housing associations have taken an important first step in understanding more about diversity within the sector, but the data gaps remain a problem for getting an accurate picture of EDI in the sector. Until we address these data gaps then we don’t truly know how representative we are, and we can’t effectively act to improve diversity. 

Issues with large data gaps 

Collecting diversity data is the first step in enabling organisations to analyse and understand the diversity of their workforce and inequalities that exist in the workplace. 

Being able to perform meaningful analysis allows employers to implement targeted and focused initiatives to make a real change to their workplace culture, achieve their inclusion and diversity goals and help them mitigate risks of unconscious bias and discrimination. 

But missing data can distort the picture, potentially meaning some groups are smaller or larger than they appear. This makes it difficult to accurately compare to the population. It also makes it difficult to target action to improve diversity or have inclusive policies if you don’t know what all your workforce looks like.  

If we don’t have accurate data, we don’t know how realistic the national picture of EDI is within the housing association workforce in the UK. For example, we are missing a quarter of data on the ethnicity of board members. From available data, boards look to be more ethnically diverse than executives are, but if everyone for whom we don’t have data identified as White British then there would be less diversity than currently appears to be the case. 

This is why key recommendations from our EDI report focus on improving data coverage through more voluntary data sharing, leading to less unknown or undeclared data across characteristics and groups.

Addressing data gaps 

Employees and employers both need to contribute to better data coverage, through routine data collection and voluntarily sharing data. There are many reasons that an employee may not wish to disclose personal data about themselves. This might include concerns about who has access to the data, effect of disclosure on employment, not understanding the purpose of collecting data, and wording of questions and categories used. It could indicate issues around inclusion, and how safe a person feels revealing this information about themselves in the workplace.

We suggest housing associations should engage with their workforce to establish why staff choose not to share this information. Acting on an understanding of any issues should improve EDI in the workplace and lead to more accurate data. 

This might include tailoring communication and activity to reflect concerns raised by staff. Raising awareness of why collecting this data is important and how you will use it should also help. 

Data is critical to progressing equality, diversity, and inclusion. As a social housing sector, being transparent about workforce diversity is an important step towards meaningful change. It not only demonstrates a strong commitment to diversity, but also strengthens accountability for housing associations that are committed to promoting fairness, addressing any inequalities and truly representing the communities they serve.

Housing associations who successfully collect EDI data are also in a good position to act on this data. This could be through accurate reporting of diversity metrics, identifying inclusion and diversity focus areas and developing diversity initiatives that can have the biggest impact on their workforce. 

Next steps for the NHF on EDI data collection

The NHF developed our EDI data tool to enable housing associations to compare key characteristics of their workforce to population by stock location, as well as staff to executive, staff to board and workforce to customers. 

We will continue to update and improve the EDI data tool to reflect data releases from Census 2021. We plan to publish a revised version of the data tool in early 2023, for all members to access. We will then conduct a new data collection exercise in 2023, to track our progress towards a more diverse sector. 

As your trade body, we will continue working with the sector to create change. Our ambition is that the 2023 data analysis will show improved EDI across our sector. 

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing examples of good practice on how members have addressed large EDI data gaps within their organisation. This will be published on our website.  

If you want to share your plans on improving data gaps, or have any questions around this, then please contact me