D&I clinic: How can HR encourage disclosure of protected characteristics?

Our resident D&I expert Huma Qazi advises HR on how to encourage candidate to disclose protected characteristics and how to avoid dividing the workforce through remote work.

Q. How can we encourage applicants to disclose their protected characteristics?

A. To feel encouraged and voluntarily disclose personal information, applicants will value understanding the reason for collecting data and trust how such information will be used as part of the full recruitment process.

Following the ‘why, how and what’ principle helps here: why are we asking for this information; how will the information be used, and what does it do for us as an organisation.

This provides greater clarity and some reassurance to applicants. State this concisely and not as small print.

Explain why this is of importance – for example, part of your HR strategy or D&I goals. If available, share a link to show how applicant data is reported in your company.

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Under the Equality Act 2010, there are nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

Applicant data monitoring forms tend to list most and can also include gender fluid/non-binary, as this group is now protected under the Equality Act following the judgment in Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover in September 2020.

Also, you have the option to reference and make better use of Section 159 in the Equality Act towards ‘positive action’ during recruitment, and do this to make the necessary accommodations, as well as overcome any disadvantages towards levelling the playing field.

Not everyone is comfortable to disclose their protected characteristics and provide personal information at applicant stages. To improve disclosure, you may opt for collecting such data on an anonymous and non-identifiable basis.

Where protected characteristics may be identifiable and volunteered against an applicant record, that data may only be held per level of the consent given by the applicant.

Note that UK GDPR does not apply where an individual cannot be identified from the data provided. Finally, diversity data monitoring is vital to generate data, analysis and insights.

You may also encourage applicants by saying you are surveying the applicant experience and correlating it to diversity demographics, to see if any patterns are emerging for different groups of applicants.


Q. With hybrid working models, is there a danger those working from home more will be left behind?

A. Working patterns have been disrupted and hybrid models with people in the workplace, working from home or other remote locations are now the way forward. With most organisations having moved to a blended approach to accommodate different working styles, preferences and new policies, you raise a valid concern around the risk of people being treated differently, directly or indirectly.

Two things are required to mitigate this risk and there needs to be a heightened awareness for a state of ‘conscious inclusion’ and a speak-up culture for ‘calling-out exclusion’.

With greater numbers of people opting for flexible working, remote working and
part-time arrangements, there needs to be a call to action to be active and purposeful to tackle this.

Here are some thoughts on what companies can do:

  • See hybrid as the norm in terms of mindset, expectations and also how conversations are set up and decisions taken.
  • Openly talk about the different working patterns and arrangements and communicate this widely.
  • Call out behaviours that point to presenteeism. Be aware of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ decisions.
  • Run short workshops to get everyone involved, generate ideas on inclusion and how everyone works together to not inadvertently exclude.
  • Be mindful when taking decisions that require meeting people outside the organisation too.
  • Technology is your friend, use it strategically and thoughtfully. Mix it up and keep experimenting.
  • And finally, you can build your own three or five step check-in for this ‘conscious inclusion’, create a campaign, give it a slogan and build a sense of pride around it. While many still refer to it as a ‘return-to-work’, let’s reframe this as an ‘evolution-of-work’.


Huma Qazi is a diversity and leadership consultant and founder of The Privilege Project


If you have a pressing D&I problem you can't get to the bottom of, send in your query here where it will be be answered by our resident D&I specialist Huma Qazi in the next issue of HR magazine.


This piece appears in the July/August 2021 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.