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Mind the Perception Gap: A Guide to Understanding Employee Lived Experiences for Effective D&I Strategies


Creating an inclusive work culture extends beyond traditional Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) metrics like quotas and representation. According to Accenture’s 2020 ‘Getting to Equal’ report, there’s a significant perception gap between leaders and employees about how inclusive their workplaces actually are. To bridge this gap, organizations must focus on the lived experiences of their employees.

The Inconvenient Truths

For an authentic understanding of workplace inclusivity, organizations must be willing to confront uncomfortable realities. Generic inclusion surveys often fall short, as they lack the depth to encourage honest employee feedback. Addressing this issue means asking difficult questions that truly gauge the employee experience.

Asking the Right Questions

Conventional questions like “Do you feel valued at work?” are not enough. Questions should be framed in a way that allows employees to share both positive and negative experiences. For example, adding questions like “On any occasion in the past 12 months, have you been treated in a way that makes you feel ashamed, inferior, or excluded?” can provide deeper insights. These open-ended questions can also prompt employees to share personal stories, offering a more complete view of their lived experiences.

Data Segmentation for Deeper Understanding

Including optional demographic data in the survey can help in slicing the data for better insights. It can reveal patterns about who feels they belong, who feels excluded, and why. Understanding these nuances is vital for developing an effective D&I strategy that genuinely fosters a sense of belonging among employees.

The Importance of Preliminary Work

Before crafting a D&I strategy, it’s crucial to do the groundwork by collecting and analyzing this data. A well-informed approach is more likely to result in a plan that genuinely ensures inclusivity and a sense of belonging for everyone.


Closing the perception gap between leaders and employees requires organizations to dig deep and ask challenging questions. This effort will not only yield a more authentic understanding of employee lived experiences but also guide the development of more effective D&I strategies.

About the Author

Helen May specializes in building inclusive workplaces. Her book ‘Everyone Included,’ available on Amazon and other major retailers, offers a comprehensive guide to making belonging and well-being central to organizational culture. She also provides Belonging@Work® audits to help organizations measure their inclusivity effectively.

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