How Thomson Reuters Made Self-Identification Initiatives Work for Its Employees

Self-identification is essential when prioritizing belonging and diversity, but how do you make it work across a global team? Discover how Thomson Reuters expanded belonging and diversity self-identification capabilities to 68 countries.

Self-identification isn’t just a common fixture of the digital age; it’s an essential part of how we understand and engage with one another. Whether we’re providing personal data in order to gain access to a new industry report or updating our information on social media, self-identification helps construct the building blocks of our online personas. Correspondingly, personal information forms an important part of HR processes within the business sector, providing integral insights around belonging and diversity (B&D) that, in turn, impact overall employee experience. 

But how do you manage those data requests when your employees span multiple countries, continents, and laws? 

For a multinational technology organization such as Thomson Reuters, this sensitive issue required an equally nuanced and thoughtful approach. In order to ensure its workforce and leadership teams were as diverse as the worldwide clients and audiences it works with, Thomson Reuters needed access to a wealth of diversity data—data the organization had to ensure employees generated in a manner that was informed and intentioned. With over 25,000 employees in 75 countries, that’s no easy feat. But to make meaningful steps forward, it’s also essential. 

“You can’t make progress on what you can’t measure,” says Elizabeth Nelson, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Thomson Reuters. As Nelson explains, Thomson Reuters had one major goal it wanted to quantify and progress toward: “We wanted to ensure as many current employees as possible globally can self-disclose relevant diversity data in Workday and feel safe and comfortable to do so, while also upholding data collection privacy and processing compliance.” For such a seemingly simple mission statement, executionally it’s a remarkably complex feat. 

We were recently joined by Nelson, along with Dalia Kendik, head of Thomson Reuters’ digital HR team, to talk about the progress the organization has made so far on its self-identification journey, what the largest obstacles were, and the positive impacts leaders have seen across the business as a result. Read on to discover the insights they uncovered and how to apply the same lessons to your own business.

Setting Clear Goals for Belonging and Diversity

For self-identification initiatives to succeed, companies must be able to succinctly explain how the aims relate to the wider business. While the goal for self-identification may have its own parameters, it should always tie back to the overarching priorities for B&D. That way your employees recognize that your organization is working consistently toward the commitments you’ve previously established, as well as providing further transparency on why data requests are a net positive.

“You can’t make progress on what you can’t measure.”

Elizabeth Nelson VP of Diversity and Inclusion Thomson Reuters

In the case of Thomson Reuters, three central pillars acted as drivers. Those binding goals were to increase the representation and professional growth of diverse talent across the organization, to operationalize B&D across the business, and, in turn, to create and nurture a workplace that has belonging at its core. In that way, Thomson Reuters wanted to promote change at every level of the business. 

When outlining your own goals, it’s important to tie B&D priorities to quantifiable metrics. Kendik further explained that at Thomson Reuters, those objectives and key results (OKRs) included doubling the amount of Black talent in leadership positions and increasing gender parity, aiming for 45% of leadership roles to be women. In order to reach such clearly delineated goals, Thomson Reuters first had to increase the reach and scope of its datasets. 

Converting Unmeasured Data Into Measurable Insights

Thomson Reuters already had a range of datasets, but it didn’t have the depth or breadth needed to further its B&D goals. “We were collecting gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability data in only some of the countries that we operated in, so we had to establish a global baseline of data,” explains Nelson.  

Collecting B&D data while maintaining privacy protections can be challenging. With goals established, Thomson Reuters’ next step was to create a working group, spanning internal HR professionals, external HR consultants, legal representatives, and privacy lawyers. By prioritizing an agile approach to project and workforce management, sourcing talent from a pool of cross-functional teams, and breaking the project into sprints, the working group could tackle each day anew, focusing on a subset of countries and the corresponding legal reviews required. Or, as Nelson puts it: “How do you eat an elephant? You start one little piece at a time, right?” 

Those little pieces not only refer to evaluating the global team on a country-by-country basis but also determining which data options to offer where. Rather than attempting to get every form option functional in all regions simultaneously, consider how you can make incremental progress in multiple different markets, while remaining respectful of cultural differences. And, most importantly, ask your employees what’s relevant to them. Nelson explains that Thomson Reuters is now piloting a religion form option in seven countries based on the feedback that religion was a stronger factor in rebalancing representation than other demographic options the team was working on.

“Embedding the program into day-to-day workflows and answering the standard employee question ‘What’s in it for me?’ must be a part of the strategy.”

Dalia Kendik Head of HR Digital Thomson Reuters

Fulfilling Each Employee’s Daily Needs

Side-by-side with a consideration of the legal complexities is a need to focus on employee engagement and experience. Thomson Reuters made that focus clear from its initiative title: “Count Me In.” Front and center is the importance of employee consent, as well as a prioritization of employee enthusiasm and understanding. But how do you encourage employees to engage? By keeping the process simple.

Thomson Reuters streamlined the process for employees by expanding its use of existing systems. “With Workday, we’ve been able to build a framework so that global employees can self-disclose relevant diversity data and feel safe and comfortable,” says Nelson. “This is critical in order to get as many employees as possible to self-ID.” By using familiar systems, you reinforce that feeling of personal safety, while also increasing each employee’s integration speed. 

As Kendik explains, “Embedding the program into day-to-day workflows and answering the standard employee question ‘What’s in it for me?’ must be a part of the strategy for ‘Count Me In’ to work. Explain to employees that the easier these tools and processes are to use, the more effective we are at fulfilling our strategies and meeting our objectives.” In essence, you need your employees to see the value proportional to their involvement: The smoother the process, and the more impact on strategy they see, the more they’ll take action.

“We have increased self-identification in some categories by 700%.”

Elizabeth Nelson Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Thomson Reuters

Listening to Your Employees Sparks Measurable Change

You’ve considered the requirements of each global team, embedded the program into your employees’ daily routines, and gathered the relevant data. Now it’s time to take action.  

What action looks like will vary based on the OKRs driving your strategy, but there are some recurring themes. Hiring practices, internal training programs, and leadership promotions can all be optimized far more intuitively with access to regularly updated demographic data. The impacts for Thomson Reuters are multiple and ongoing, with B&D insights the organization has gained forming the backbone of efforts to refine its global workflows, workplace communication, and products. The main takeaway? Once you know your people, you can know how best to support them. 

As for the self-identification project metrics themselves, Thomson Reuters’ sprint-based method of pooling cross-department (and even cross-company) talent has reaped dividends already. “We have increased self-identification in some categories by 700% with ‘Count Me In’ campaigns,” says Nelson. “We’ve also expanded our insights. At our baseline, we were measuring race and ethnicity in six countries; that’s now up to 48 countries. We now measure gender and sexual orientation in 44 countries instead of just six. We were measuring disability in 22 countries; that’s now up to 68 countries. And we added religion in seven countries.” As those countries and metrics continue to expand, so too will the impact on Thomson Reuters’ employee experience.

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