A person with long hair and round glasses dressed in white trousers and jacket holding a microphone and wearing headphones smiles at a person with long blonde hear wearing a grey sweatshirt outside a single storey brick building and grassy area.
Artist Sanda Kalauskaite interviewing a youth club group outside Grantham Community Centre, as part of the cultural programme for High Street Heritage Action Zones. © Emma Nunn
Artist Sanda Kalauskaite interviewing a youth club group outside Grantham Community Centre, as part of the cultural programme for High Street Heritage Action Zones. © Emma Nunn

How Do We Communicate the Value and Importance of the Diversity Survey to Our Workforce?

Guidance for organisations

What is this resource for?

This resource aims to provide information for heritage sector organisations whose employees have the option of undertaking the Historic England Heritage Sector Workforce Diversity Survey. It covers all of the questions participants will be asked, gives background as to why this information is important for Historic England to collect, and provides guidance on how to discuss these questions if approached.

This advice was produced on behalf of Historic England by Nexer Digital.

What are the key points?

  • A workforce diversity survey is an important tool to establish representation in the workforce and enable organisations to develop strategies that tackle barriers to entry
  • The survey will be anonymous. There is no requirement to ask employees questions about their protected characteristics or identity
  • To support engagement and encourage participation, you might wish to let your employees know you’re available to talk if they would like to. This resource provides guidance on how to approach these conversations
Take Part: Heritage Sector Workforce Diversity Survey

29 April to 28 June 2024

The Heritage Sector Workforce Diversity Survey is now live.

If you work in any area of heritage in England, please click the link to take part and share it with your colleagues and networks.

Take the survey

An introduction to the survey and a Q&A session was held on 7 May 2024, led by staff from Historic England and Nexer Digital. This brief introduction talked through why this survey is being undertaken, what is being collected, and how the data will be handled.

Watch a recording of this session.

Read a transcript of the recording.

The guidance below provides more information about the survey, including how your data will be stored and processed.

What is the background to the workforce diversity survey?

What is a diversity survey?

A diversity survey asks people to report how they self-identify across different demographic characteristics. It is used to audit a group or organisation to discover where there might be gaps in representation. This can help identify barriers that can impact whether people join or stay in an organisation.

Why is Historic England doing a diversity survey?

As part of the ongoing work on inclusion, diversity, and equality (IDE) and the Historic Environment Forum’s 'Heritage Sector Resilience Plan 2022-2024', Historic England has identified a lack of consistent data collection in the heritage sector. Although some areas of the sector have made individual progress, there is not a consistent and aligned method of data collection to assess diversity across the sector.

To ensure the heritage sector is truly representative, we need to first understand who is currently being represented in the sector and who is not. We can then explore ways to encourage more diverse voices and people with lived experience to get involved in the sector.

Historic England is working with Nexer Digital to develop this workforce diversity survey, and to analyse the resulting data. Nexer Digital are a user-centred research and design company, based in Cheshire.

Why do my employees need to share this information?

The diversity survey is voluntary and anonymous, and no identifiable data will be collected. Each question has an answer option for ‘prefer not to say’ or equivalent, so participants can answer only the questions they wish to. Each question also has the option to self-define.

For more information on how the data will be used in accordance with GDPR and data protection rules, please see our ‘How Do We Stay GDPR Compliant When Conducting a Workplace Survey?’ page.

It is important to highlight that there are no wrong answers in a survey such as this. It is designed to find out how individuals see themselves and their own identity.

How do we talk about diversity in the workplace?

Why have you asked these questions?

The survey questions are based on the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010, which forms the basis for most representation and diversity work in English workplaces today.

Alongside these characteristics, there is an additional section on socio-economic background and identity. Although socio-economic background, or ‘class’, is not a protected characteristic in UK law currently, there is much evidence that this can directly affect an individual's access to opportunities and life chances.

Talking to our employees about inclusion, diversity, and equality

Talking about some of the topics in the diversity survey can be difficult, both for you as an employer and your employees. Some of the topics raised can be sensitive or misunderstood, especially if it is something your organisation has had little experience with or exposure to.

The survey is anonymous, and your employees will submit their answers directly. You are not required to have conversations with your employees about anything covered in the survey or ask them questions about their protected characteristics or identity.

However, to support engagement and encourage participation, you might wish to let your employees know you’re available to talk if they would like to. You may also receive questions about the purpose of the survey and why it’s happening.

This guidance provides some additional resources and information to help you have open conversations with your employees if you consider this appropriate and valuable and to tackle what can be unfamiliar and potentially uncomfortable topics.

Under each section that follows, there is information on how you might talk about that topic, including language guidance and key phases to consider. At the end of the guide, there are also some links to helpful external resources and further reading.

What are the survey sections?

The survey is broken down into multiple sections. The first section contains qualifying questions to assist with the data analysis. Each section that follows is concerned with questions on different areas of identity, guided by the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010.

The following information provides further detail on the questions, including relevant statistics and background on why we have chosen to ask them. It also provides guidance on talking to your employees about each area and advice on language.

1. About your organisation

Questions in this section

  • What is your organisation type?
  • Which heritage domain is your organisation a part of?
  • What is your role within your organisation?
  • What is your current contract type?
  • What percentage of your work would you say is directly heritage related?

Why are we asking these questions?

We are collecting information to help us understand who is working in our sector. Part of this will be understanding representation across all domains, and therefore, we need to learn a bit about the sector the person filling in the survey works in.

These questions have been chosen to allow the data collected to be grouped according to organisation type and size, enabling a better understanding of the demographics in each area. The data will only be segmented using these fields when there are enough responses to gain valuable information for any 1 area and to ensure anonymity is protected.

Talking to your employees about their role within the heritage domain

The questions in this section, as with all questions in the survey, have the option to select 'prefer not to say' as an answer. If someone is uncomfortable providing information about their role within the heritage sector, reassure them they can choose this option.

2. Age

Questions in this section

  • What is your age?

Why have we asked this question?

The UK's employment rate for people aged 16 to 64 between November 2023 and January 2024 was 75%. However, we know that this proportion increases and decreases depending on the age bracket and the sector.

For example, Historic England's 'Strategy for Inclusion, Diversity and Equality Report 2020-2023' noted that people under 25 were significantly underrepresented in the sector at 3.2% compared to a national working-age population of 16% in that same age bracket. The Office of National Statistics recommends requesting data in age brackets according to standard census classification.

Talking to your employees about age

Be aware of age stereotypes when talking about age. Phrases such as 'young professional' or 'mature worker' can reinforce stereotypes, creating assumptions about an individual or group based purely on age.

Stay clear of language that risks belittling individuals or groups of people. For example, do not refer to a young person over 18 using terms generally reserved for children, such as 'boy' or 'girl', or use words such as 'geriatric' or 'grandad/grandma' when talking to an older person.

Age can be a sensitive topic, and people can feel uncomfortable grouping themselves in an age range for the purposes of a survey (especially if they have recently moved into a new age bracket). Reassure your employees that understanding the age diversity in a team is important to make sure voices from multiple generations are represented and heard.

3. Disability and Neurodiversity

Questions in this section

  • Does the Equality Act's definition of being disabled, as detailed below, apply to you?
  • If you answered yes to the previous question, what best describes your disability, impairment, learning difference or long-term condition?
  • Do you see yourself as being neurodivergent?
  • If you answered yes to the previous question, how would you describe your neurodivergence?

Why have we asked these questions?

According to government statistics, 52.6% of people with disabilities who are working (16 to 64) were employed in 2022. Although this shows a slight increase on the previous year of 0.8 percentage points, this is significantly less than non-disabled people, where 82.5% of people are employed. The disability employment gap is now at its widest point since 2018.

If people without lived experience of specific disabilities or conditions are not employed in a sector, it is more difficult for an organisation to identify what barriers might exist to making the sector open and accessible for everyone.

Questions in this section are taken directly from the 2021 England and Wales Census as current best practice.

This section includes 2 questions specifically about neurodiversity. These have been included to collect data in this area separately from the wide spectrum of disability, as neurodiversity itself covers a wide range of conditions and neurotypes.

Talking to your employees about disability and neurodiversity

The term 'disability' covers a wide range of experiences, conditions, and identities. People with lived experience also have different opinions about the best words and phrases to use when referring to disability. It is always best to ask an individual whether they prefer to use terms such as 'disabled' or 'neurodiverse' to refer to themselves or whether they use an alternative term.

Language around disability has traditionally placed emphasis on the disability and not the person. Address the person first where possible, try to recognise how your employee describes themselves, and mirror this.

Avoid talking about someone being 'brave' or 'courageous' or any phrases denoting a struggle or adversity when discussing disability specifically. It can come across as patronising or belittling.

Terminology around disability and neurodiversity changes and evolves regularly, and terms that were once used fall out of favour or become problematic. Be open to being corrected, and don't be afraid to ask an individual how they would prefer to be referenced.

4. Ethnicity

Questions in this section

  • Which of the following best describes your ethnic group?

Why have we asked these questions?

In the UK, 77% of white people are in employment, compared with 69% of people from all other ethnic groups combined. In the heritage sector, people who identify as Asian or Black are less likely to engage with heritage than people who identify as white, according to the 'Taking Part Survey Adult Report 2018/19' from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The answer options provided in the survey are taken from the 2021 Census of England and Wales, which is current best practice for questions about ethnicity in England and Wales. It is acknowledged that the groupings are broad and combine race and nationality to a certain extent. As with all questions on this survey, people can self-describe.

Talking to your employees about ethnicity

As with other topics in this survey, it is okay to have conversations about ethnicity, race, and culture, but they should always be led by the individual. The survey asks people to put themselves into ethnic groups for the purposes of data collection, but in reality, each individual is likely to see their own identity in multiple layers based on their own race, background, upbringing, cultural identity, and experiences.

In conversations, avoid using umbrella terms to refer to an assumed grouping of people, especially if it is to assume or stereotype a perceived behaviour. Consider why phrases such as "all Asian people…" or "Black people are…" might be problematic.

Names are an important part of a person's identity, and people from a different ethnic background may have a name you have not heard before. When speaking, make sure you pronounce people's names correctly, and avoid using shortened names unless someone has explicitly asked you to do so.

If someone has a name (or names) that have unfamiliar pronunciation or perhaps sounds similar to other words, do not laugh about the name or complain about it being difficult for you. Instead, ask people how to pronounce their name and repeat it to them to check that you have it right.

5. Gender and Gender Identity

Questions in this section

  • Gender: Which of the following best describes your gender?
  • Gender Identity: Do you identify as trans?

Why have we asked these questions?

50% of people of working age in the UK are women, which is generally reflected across the job market as a whole. However, this equity is not reflected in many sectors and roles. Men are often disproportionately represented in positions of seniority and power, and women often comprise the majority of support/administration positions.

Half of trans and non-binary people (51% and 50%, respectively) have hidden or disguised the fact that they are LGBT at work because they were afraid of discrimination. The question on trans identity was taken from Stonewall's guidance 'Do Ask, Do Tell: Capturing data on sexual orientation and gender identity globally' to monitor and improve the workplace experience of trans people.

Talking to your employees about gender and gender identity

When talking to employees, be sensitive to how they wish to refer to their own gender and gender identity. There are no wrong ways to identify, and each person's identity is unique to them (and can change). Always ask before assuming.

Sex, gender, and gender identity are different things with distinct definitions. These terms are not interchangeable:

  • Sex is a label given to a person at birth based on anatomical or chromosomal characteristics
  • Gender is a socially constructed concept that is based on behaviours and perceived physical attributes
  • Gender identity is an individual's sense of their own gender

Avoid making generalisations linking gender and assumed ability, and try to avoid phrases such as "man up" or "throw like a girl" as they reinforce outdated gender stereotypes.

Some people may openly share their own gender identity, including their personal pronouns, whereas others may prefer to keep this private. Try to use gender-inclusive language and respect each individual person's own identity by using their chosen pronouns.

6. Sexual Orientation

Questions in this section

  • Which of the following best describes your sexual orientation?

Why have we asked these questions?

According to Stonewall's 'LGBT in Britain: Work Report 2018', almost 1 in 5 LGBT people (18%) who were looking for work said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity while trying to get a job in the previous year. More than a third of LGBT staff surveyed (35%) had hidden or disguised that they were LGBT at work in the last year because they were afraid of discrimination.

This question was taken from Stonewall's guidance 'Do Ask, Do Tell: Capturing data on sexual orientation and gender identity globally' to monitor and improve the workplace experience for LGBT people.

Talking to your employees about sexual orientation

People may choose to share their sexual orientation, or they may decide to keep it private. They may not feel able or ready to share their sexual orientation. Avoid pressuring people to share if they haven't already, and consider that an individual might be 'out' but not wish to discuss it in their workplace. Take the lead from the individuals, and never assume.

Terminology around sexual orientation has evolved and changed over time, so be aware of using outdated words and stereotypes. As our understanding has evolved, new phrases have entered common vocabulary, which can be confusing. If someone uses a term you're unfamiliar with, politely ask them to explain their choice of words, though be aware that different individuals feel differently about sharing or educating those around them. Useful guides to terminology are available from reputable organisations, such as the definitions glossary from Childline.

Avoid words and phrases that assume heterosexuality. For example, asking a man about his wife or girlfriend without knowing his sexual orientation. Use neutral words like 'partner' or 'spouse' if you're not sure.

7. Religion and Belief

Questions in this section

  • Which of the following best describes your religion or belief?

Why have we asked these questions?

Religion and belief can be an important part of someone's identity and can shape everything from how they interact with the world to how they spend their time each day. There are noted disparities in representation between different religions and beliefs. To address these, it will be helpful to discover how the heritage sector compares to the wider UK population.

This question was devised using Office of National Statistics categories.

Talking to your employees about religion and belief

Religion and belief can be difficult topics to discuss in a workplace setting. If you lack diverse voices from different religions or belief systems, you can risk a lack of understanding. People of different religions or beliefs, including those who identify as agnostic or atheist, can also experience tensions and disagreements. Begin any conversation on religion and belief with the notion that all voices are valid. Respect for one another should always be the starting point.

World events, both current and historical, can influence people's individual opinions on different religions. It is important to be aware of any potentially problematic situations between people of different faiths or belief systems and be mindful of tensions between people. Don't delay having a difficult conversation, as too much time passing can create a disconnect.

Avoid making assumptions about how people might celebrate or practice their religion. For example, not all Muslim women wear a hijab (head covering), and not all people who celebrate Christmas are Christian. Ask people to share their religious traditions and practices if they feel comfortable doing so, and encourage open discussions where people can learn.

Be mindful that there is a wide range of different beliefs and practices, even within the bracket of a single religion. Allow individuals to tell you how they prefer to identify with religion or belief.

8. Caring Responsibilities

Questions in this section

  • Do you have caring responsibilities?

Why have we asked this question?

According to the CIPD, 1 in 4 people in work with caring responsibilities consider giving up their job, and the additional statistics in the same report show some stark realities on mental wellbeing, long working hours and trust in employers.

Talking to your employees about caring responsibilities

Caring responsibilities can include caring for children, parents, siblings, or other family members. It can also include someone who cares for a partner, friend, or neighbour. Caring can mean being solely responsible for another person, as well as sharing that responsibility with others.

Avoid reinforcing stereotypes around caring responsibilities. For example, caring for a parent is a burden, or an assumption that someone is a single parent because something negative has happened to them. Everyone's situation is different. Allow them to define their own circumstances to you when relevant.

Some people may not classify themselves as 'carers' or as having caring responsibilities. For example, someone who has a partner with a disability may reject the suggestion that they have caring responsibilities, instead identifying themselves simply as a couple who care for each other as any other couple would.

9. Socio-Economic Background and Social Mobility

Questions in this section

  • What type of school did you mainly attend between the ages of 11 and 16?
  • Think about the parent or caregiver who was the highest income earner in your household when you were around 14 years old. What kind of work did they do?

Why have we asked these questions?

Although socio-economic background is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, understanding social mobility and the social and economic background of the workforce is key to helping to form an accurate picture of an industry's and employer's openness and accessibility.

Recent reports have shown that the UK has some of the lowest rates of social mobility in the developed world.

The questions in this section were chosen based on best practice for assessing socio-economic status and social mobility in the workplace. This is a relatively new area of exploration in terms of diversity, so it will likely continue to develop.

Talking to your employees about socio-economic background and social mobility

Socio-economic background refers to the balance of social and economic factors that you were born and raised in and, crucially, have little control over. Social mobility means doing better or worse in terms of lifetime outcomes than your parents.

The terminology around socio-economic background can be problematic and emotive, especially when considering social class. Referring to a person as working class, middle class, or upper class can create connotations of status or hierarchy that may not be correct. However, it is also important to note that some people see class as an important part of their identity.

Avoid making assumptions about a person's socio-economic background, especially based on their accent, dialect, and where they grew up. Some accents have been historically and incorrectly stereotyped to denote class, education, or intelligence.

What are some additional resources and further reading?

This guidance, which includes research and HR specialists, was written by the Nexer Digital team. Some guidance was taken from Nexer Digital’s internal ‘guide to inclusive language’ and reliable external sources.

The subject of diversity in the workplace and in society more generally is an evolving space. Guidance should be revisited and updated regularly, and ongoing feedback from participants in a diversity survey should be sought and welcomed.

If you have any queries, comments, or further discussion points you would like to raise, please contact Dr Pen Foreman (they/them), Senior Inclusive Heritage Advisor at Historic England.

If you wish to read more about some of the topics covered in this guidance, please see the references below:

Inclusive Employers

Inclusive Employers are a membership organisation that audit, train, and embed workplace inclusion in the UK. Its blog contains useful reference guides on a wide variety of diversity and inclusion topics.


The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) have several useful factsheets and guides on diversity, including:

How to talk about race at work

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace 

Department for Education

The Department for Education's 'How Many People' tool is a useful way to see the number of people who might have different disabilities or conditions within a total number of people.

Nexer Digital

Nexer Digital launched its own annual workplace diversity survey in 2023. Earlier this year, they shared information on why they did it and what they learned.


A practical resource about pronouns and how and why they are used.