Diversity Monitoring as Qualitative Research: an empirical study exploring the value of free-text demographic monitoring for organisational learning


  • Christopher W.B. Stephens University of Roehampton
  • Lia D. Shimada University of Roehampton


Diversity Monitoring, Diversity Management, Equality, Inclusion, Research Methods, Equal Opportunities.


Diversity Monitoring (DM) is a process by which organisations and communities gather information about the personal characteristics of stakeholders. The standard method of DM uses tick-box surveys to gather quantitative data about predetermined group identities. This paper reviews existing research to argue that this standard method fails to produce data appropriate for achieving many of the organisational purposes for DM. Tick-box surveys ignore the complexities of human identity and can lead to exclusion and diminished engagement.

The researchers advocate developing alternative approaches to DM. They describe an original, empirical study conducted with two UK-based professional membership organisations: the College of Mediators and the Diaconal Order of the Methodist Church in Britain. This study used a primarily qualitative method, inviting free-text responses to identity questions. The paper explores themes emergent from the resulting data, examining data validity and utility, and participant experience and engagement with the research method.

The researchers describe the methodological considerations of gathering qualitative data for DM and the resulting analytical process. They argue that free-text DM represents a viable method for organisations to balance the need for data validity and practical utility, while ensuring greater inclusion and nurturing positive relationships with participants.

Author Biographies

Christopher W.B. Stephens, University of Roehampton

Head of Southlands College

Lia D. Shimada, University of Roehampton

Senior Research Officer, Susanna Wesley Foundation


ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) (2018), “Prevent Discrimination: Support equality, guidance for employers”, available at: http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/k/k/Prevent_discrimination_June_2018.pdf (accessed 10 April 2019).

Afkhami, R. (2012), Ethnicity: Introductory User Guide, Economic and Social Data Service, Colchester.

Aspinall, P.J. (2012), “Answer formats in British census and survey ethnicity questions: does open response better capture ‘superdiversity’?”, Sociology, Vol. 46 No. 2, pp. 354-364.

Aspinall, P.J. (2011a), “The utility and validity for public health of ethnicity categorization in the 1991, 2001 and 2011 British Censuses”, Public Health, Vol. 125 No. 10, pp. 680-687.

Aspinall, P.J. (2011b), “Who is ‘Black African’ in Britain? Challenges to official categorization of the sub-Saharan African origin population”, African Identities, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 33-48.

Aspinall, P.J. (2010), “Does the British state’s categorization of ‘mixed race’ meet public policy needs?”, Social Policy and Society, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 55-69.

Aspinall, P.J. (2009), “The future of ethnicity classifications”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 35 No. 9, pp. 1417-1435.

Aspinall, P.J. (2008), “Ethnic options of ‘mixed race’ people in Britain: a report for UK census agencies on preferences for terminology and classifications”, University of Kent, Centre for Health Services Studies, Canterbury, available at: https://www.researchcatalogue.esrc.ac.uk/grants/RES-000-23-1507/outputs/read/d57458c4-8b2d-458d-83fa-8d748f8b85d1 (accessed 10 April 2019).

Aspinall, P.J. (2003), “The conceptualisation and categorisation of mixed race/ethnicity in Britain and North America: identity options and the role of the state”, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Vol. 27 No. 3, pp. 269-296.

Aspinall, P.J. (2002), “Collective terminology to describe the minority ethnic population: the persistence of confusion and ambiguity in usage”, Sociology, Vol. 36 No. 4, pp. 803-816.

Aspinall, P.J. (2000), “The challenges of measuring the ethno-cultural diversity of Britain in the new millennium”, Policy and Politics, Vol. 28 No. 1, pp. 109-118.

Aspinall, P.J. and Anionwu, E. (2002), “The role of ethnic monitoring in mainstreaming race equality and the modernization of the NHS: a neglected agenda?”, Critical Public Health, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 1-15.

Aspinall, P.J. and Mitton, L. (2008), “Operationalising ‘sexual orientation’ in routine data collection and equality monitoring in the UK”, Culture, Health and Sexuality, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 57-72.

Aspinall, P.J. and Song, M. (2013), Mixed Race Identities, Palgrave MacMillan, New York, NY.

Aspinall, P. J., Song, M. and Hashem, F. (2008) The Ethnic Options of ‘Mixed Race’ People in Britain Full research report for ESRC research grant RES-000-23-1507 (Swindon: ESRC)

Becker, H.S. (1967), “Whose side are we on?”, Social Problems, Vol. 14, pp. 239-247.

Bell, M.P., Özbilgin, M.F., Beauregard, T.A. and Sürgevil, O. (2011), “Voice, silence, and diversity in 21st century organizations: strategies for inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees”, Human Resource Management, Vol. 50 No. 1, pp. 131-146.

Bendl, R., Bleijenbergh, I., Henttonen, E. and Mills, A.J. (Eds) (2015), The Oxford Handbook of Diversity in Organisations, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Bhopal, R.S. (2002), Concepts of epidemiology, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Blumer, H. (1954), “What is Wrong with Social Theory?”, American Sociological Review, Vol. 21 pp. 683-690.

Bonnett, A. (2018), “Multiple racializations in a multiply modern world”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 41 No. 7, pp. 1199-1216.

Bonnett, A. and Carrington, B. (2000), “Fitting into categories or falling between them? Rethinking ethnic classification”, British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 21 No. 4, 487-500.

Booysen, L.A.E., Bendl, R. and Pringle, J.K. (Eds) (2018), Handbook of Research Methods in Diversity Management, Equality and Inclusion at Work, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham and Northampton, MA.

Bowleg, L. (2008), “When Black + Lesbian + Woman ≠ Black Lesbian Woman: The Methodological Challenges of Qualitative and Quantitative Intersectionality Research” Sex Roles, Vol. 59, pp. 312-325

Brewer, M.B. (2003), Intergroup Relations, 2nd edn, Open University Press, Maidenhead.

Brown, R. (2010), Prejudice: Its Social Psychology, 2nd edn, Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester.

Brubaker, R. (2004), Ethnicity Without Groups, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London.

Brubaker, R., Loveman, M., and Stamatov, P. (2004), “Ethnicity as cognition”, Theory and Society, Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 31-64.

Bryman, A. (2006), “Integrating Quantitative and Qualitative Research: How is it Done?”, Qualitative Research, Vol. 6, pp. 97-113.

Bryman, A. (2016), Social Research Methods, 5th edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Burton, J., Nandi, A. and Platt, L. (2010), “Measuring ethnicity: challenges and opportunities for survey research” Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 33 No. 8, pp. 1332-1349.

Byndner, J. Landra, M. Plewis, I. et al. (2001) Scoping Study and Development Work for a New Cohort Study of Young People (14 to 25) (London: NatCen, ISER and Institute for Education)

Cidell, J. (2010), “Content clouds as exploratory qualitative data analysis”, Area, Vol. 42 No. 4, pp. 514-523.

Clarke, L., Michielsens, E. and Wall, C. (2006), “Women in manual trades”, in Gale, A.W. and Davidson, M. J. (Eds), Managing diversity and equality in construction: initiatives and practice, Taylor & Francis, London, pp. 151-168.

Connelly, R., Gayle, V. and Lambert , P.S. (2016), “Ethnicity and ethnic group measures in social survey research”, Methodological Innovations, Vol. 9, available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2059799116642885, (accessed April 11 2019).

Creswell, J.W. and Plano Clark, V.L. (2011), Designing and conducting mixed methods research, 2nd edn, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Denzin, N.K. and Lincoln, Y.S. (2000) (Eds), Handbook of Qualitative Research, 2nd edn, Sage, London.

Goldberg, D.T. (1997), Racial Subjects: Writing on Race in America, Routledge, New York, NY.

Gómez, L.E. (2012), “Looking for race in all the wrong places”, Law and Society Review, Vol. 46 No. 2, pp. 221-245.

Gómez, L.E. and López, N. (Eds) (2013), Mapping “Race”. Critical Approaches to Health Disparities Research, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ and London.

Greene, A.-M. and Kirton, G. (2009), Diversity Management in the UK. Organizational and Stakeholder Experiences, Routledge, London and New York, NY.

Hacking, I. (1986), “Making up people”, in Heller, T.C., Sosna, M. and Wellbery, D.E. (Eds), Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, pp. 222-236.

Hacking, I. (1995), Rewriting the soul: Multiple personality and the sciences of memory, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ.

Hamdani, M.R. and Buckley, M.R. (2011), “Diversity goals: reframing the debate and enabling a fair evaluation”, Business Horizons, Vol. 54 No. 1, pp. 33-40.

Hammersley, M. (1992), What’s Wrong with Ethnography?, Routledge, London.

Hannah, D.R. and Lautsch, B.A. (2011), “Counting in Qualitative Research: Why to Conduct It, When to Avoid It, and When to Closet It”, Journal of Management Inquiry, Vol. 20, pp. 14-22.

Haseldon, L. and Joloza, T. (2009), Measuring Sexual Identity. A Guide for Researchers, Office for National Statistics, Newport.

Herring, C. (2009), “Does diversity pay? Race, gender, and the business case for diversity”, American Sociological Review, Vol. 74 No. 2, pp. 208-224.

Hitlin, S., Scott Brown, J., and Elder, G.H. (2006), “Racial self-categorization in adolescence: multiracial development and social pathways”, Child Development, Vol. 77 No. 5, pp. 1298-1308.

Hunting, G. (2014) Intersectionality-informed Qualitative Research: A Primer, Institute for Intersectionality Research & Policy, Vancouver.

Jason, L.A. and Glenwick, D.S. (Eds) (2016), Handbook of Methodological Approaches to Community-Based Research, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Jayne, M.E.A. and Dipboye, R.L. (2004), “Leveraging diversity to improve business

performance: research findings and recommendations for organizations”, Human Resource Management, Vol. 43 No. 4, pp. 409-424.

Jenkins, R. (2004), Social Identity, 2nd edn, Routledge, London.

Jenkins, R. (1994), “Rethinking ethnicity: identity, categorization and power”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 197-223.

Joshi, A. and Roh, H (2007) “Context matters: A multi-level framework for work team diversity research” in J. Martoccio (ed) Research in Personnel and Human Resource Management vol. 26 pp.1-48 (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press)

Kirkman, B. L., Tesluk, P.E., and Rosen, B. (2004) “The impact of demographic heterogeneity and team leader-team member demographic fit on team empowerment and effectiveness” in Group and Organization Management 29:334-368

Kirton, G. and Greene, A.-M. (2016), The Dynamics of Managing Diversity. A Critical Approach, 4th edn, Routledge, London.

Knudsen, H., Busck, O. and Lind, J. (2011), “Work environment quality: the role of workplace participation and democracy”, Work, Employment & Society, Vol. 25 No. 3, pp. 379-396.

Kochan, T., Bezrukova, K., Ely, R., Jackson, S., Joshi, A., Jehn, K., Leonard, J., Levine, D. and Thomas, D. (2003), “The effects of diversity on business performance: report of the diversity research network”, Human Resource Management, Vol. 42 No. 1, pp. 3-21.

Köllen, T. (2013), “Bisexuality and diversity management – addressing the B in LGBT as a relevant ‘sexual orientation’ in the workplace”, Journal of Bisexuality, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 122-137.

Lincoln, B. (Ed.) (2008), Mix-d UK: A Look at Mixed-race Identities, Multiple Heritage Project and Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Education Trust, Manchester.

Lincoln, Y.S. and Guba, E.G. (1985) Naturalistic Inquiry, Sage, Newbury Park, London and New Delhi.

Lopez, A. (2003), “Collecting and tabulating race/ethnicity data with diverse and mixed heritage populations: a case-study with US high school students”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 26 No. 5, pp. 931-961.

Mahtani, M. (2002), “Interrogating the hyphen-nation: Canadian multicultural policy and ‘mixed race’ identities”, Social Identities, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 67-90.

Marshall, J. (1984) Women Managers: Travellers in a Male World, Wiley, Chichester.

Martin, E.A. and Gerber, E. (2006), “Methodological influences on comparability of race measurements: several cautionary examples”, Statistical Research Division, US Census Bureau, Washington, DC, available at: https://www.census.gov/srd/papers/pdf/rsm2006-06.pdf, (accessed 11 April 2019).

Mateos, P., Singleton, A. and Longley, P. (2009), “Uncertainty in the analysis of ethnicity classifications: issues of extent and aggregation of ethnic groups”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 35 No. 9, pp. 1437-1460.

Maynard, M. (1998), “Feminists’ Knowledge and the Knowledge of Feminisms: Epistemology, Theory, Methodology and Method”, in T. May and M. Williams (Eds), Knowing the Social World, Open University Press, Buckingham, pp. 120-137.

Miles, M. (1993), “Towards a Methodology for Feminist Research” in M. Hammersley (Ed.), Social Research: Philosophy, Politics and Practice, Sage, London, pp. 64-82.

Morgan, D. (1998), “Practical strategies for combatting qualitative and quantitative methods: application to health research”, Qualitative Health Research, Vol. 8, pp. 362-376.

Morning, A. (2008), “Ethnic classification in global perspective: a cross-national survey of the 2000 census round”, Population Research and Policy Review, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 239-272.

Nandi, A. and Platt, L. (2012), “Developing ethnic identity questions for understanding society”, Longitudinal and Life Course Studies, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 80-100.

Ndofor-Tar et al. (2000) Capital Assets: A Community Research Intervention by the African Forum in Redbridge and Waltham Forest (London), Sigma Research, London.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) (2015), “Ethnic group: harmonised concepts and questions for social data sources”, ONS, London, available at: https://gss.civilservice.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/P3-Ethnic-Group-June-16-1.pdf, (accessed 11 April 2019).

Office for National Statistics (ONS) (2012), “2011-2001 Census in England and Wales questionnaire comparability”, ONS, London, available at: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160107112044/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/census/2011/census-data/2011-census-user-guide/comparability-over-time/index.html, (accessed 11 April 2019).

Parameshwaran, M. and Engzell, P. (2015), “Ethnicity in England: what parents’ country of birth can and can’t tell us about their children’s ethnic identification”, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 41 No. 3, pp. 399-424.

Pettigrew, T.F. and Tropp, L.R. (2011), When Groups Meet: the Dynamics of Intergroup Contact, Psychology Press, New York, NY and Hove.

Prasad, P., Mills, A. Elmes, A. and Prasad, A. (1997) Managing the Organizational Melting Pot, Sage, London.

Prewitt, K. (2005), “Racial classification in America: where do we go from here?”, Daedalus, Vol. 134 No. 1, pp. 5-17.

Pringle, M. and Rothera, I. (1996), “Practicality of recording patient ethnicity in general practice: descriptive intervention study and attitude survey”, British Medical Journal, Vol. 312(7038), pp. 1080-1082.

Rankin, J. and Bhopal, R. (1999), “Current census categories are not a good match for identity”, British Medical Journal, Vol. 318(7199), p. 1696.

Renn, K.A. (2000), “Patterns of situational identity among biracial and multiracial college students”, The Review of Higher Education, Vol. 23 No. 4, pp. 399-420.

Rogers, J. and Kelly, U.A. (2011), “Feminist intersectionality: Bringing social justice to health disparities research”, Nursing Ethics, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 397-407.

Schwartz, H.A. and Ungar, L.H. (2015), “Data-Driven Content Analysis of Social Media: A Systematic Overview of Automated Methods”, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 659, pp. 78-94.

Shadish, W.R., Cook, T.D. and Campbell, D.T. (2001). Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs for Generalized Causal Inference, Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Shimada, L.D. and Stephens, C.W.B (2016) “Beyond the Box: Diversity, Mediation and New Models of Demographic Monitoring” in Mediation Theory and Practice 1.2:132-154

Song, M. and Aspinall, P.J. (2012), “Is racial mismatch a problem for young ‘mixed race’ people in Britain? The findings of qualitative research”, Ethnicities, Vol. 12 No. 6, pp. 730-753.

Statistics Canada (2003), “Ethnic diversity survey: content overview”, Statistics Canada, Ottawa, available online: http://www23.statcan.gc.ca/imdb/p2SV.pl?Function=getSurvey&SDDS=4508, (accessed April 11 2019).

Stephan, C.W. and Stephan, W.G. (2000), “The measurement of racial and ethnic identity”, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Vol. 24 No. 5, pp. 541-552.

Susanna Wesley Foundation (2018) – Who we are – Studying Diversity Among Methodist Deacons Using Free-text Responses, Report for the Methodist Diaconal Order http://susannawesleyfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Condensed-SWF-Diversity-Monitoring-MDO-Report-2018.pdf

Theodorakopoulos, N. and Budhwar, P. (2015), “Guest editors’ introduction: diversity and inclusion in different work settings: emerging patterns, challenges and research agenda”, Human Resource Management, Vol. 54 No. 2, pp. 177-197.

Todd, J. (2005), “Social transformation, collective categories, and identity change”, Theory and Society, Vol. 34 No. 4, pp. 429-463.

Townsend, S.S.M., Markus, H.R. and Bergsieker, H.B. (2009), “My choice, your categories: the denial of multiracial identities”, Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 65 No. 1, pp. 185-204.

Ulmer. C., McFadden, B. and Nerenz, D.R. (Eds) (2009), Race, Ethnicity, and Language Data: Standardization for Health Care Quality Improvement, National Academies Press, Washington, DC.

Ver Ploeg, M. and Perrin, E. (Eds) (2004), Eliminating Health Disparities. Measurement and Data Needs, National Research Council/National Academies Press, Washington, DC.

Vertovec, S. (2007), “Super-diversity and its implications”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 30 No. 6, pp. 1024-1054.

Vidich, A.J. and Lyman, S.M. (2000) “Qualitative methods: their history in sociology and anthropology” in Denzin and Lincoln (2000) pp. 37-84.

Walby, S. and Armstrong, J. (2010), “Measuring equalities: data and indicators in Britain”, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 237-249.

Waters, M.C. (2000), “Immigration, intermarriage, and the challenges of measuring racial/ethnic identities”, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 90 No. 11, pp. 1735-1737.

Werbner, P. (1990), The Migration Process: Capital, Gifts and Offerings among British Pakistanis, Berg, London.

Wiggins, B.J. (2011), “Confronting the dilemma of mixed methods”, Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, Vol. 31, pp. 44-60.

Woodhams, C. and Danieli, A. (2000), “Disability and diversity – a difference too far?”, Personnel Review, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 402-416.

Young, I.M. (1990), Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton University Press.


Additional Files