Conducting DEI focus groups & listening circles to give employees a voice

Both focus groups and listening groups can help organizations to provide a safe space for open discussion, and to encourage employees to have their say in company policies.

Although focus groups and listening groups are similar, there are some key differences including size, structure, and depth of insight. A listening session is typically used to gain some new ideas and collect detailed feedback on these topics, while a focus group is often used to gather quick feedback and explore various different perspectives. As both are valuable, it can be effective to utilize both focus groups and listening circles so that a breadth and depth of insight can be understood.

What steps should be taken when planning & executing the research sessions?

Define the objectives:

First, your organization should determine what they hope to achieve with the focus groups and listening circles. This may include identifying any current diversity and inclusion issues within the organization, understanding the perspectives of employees from different backgrounds, or developing strategies to enhance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. As there are often various topics to be addressed, sometimes having multiple of these sessions, each with a key focus area, can be the best way to ensure that everything is covered and that data can be analyzed more efficiently afterwards.

Selecting participants & making research inclusive:

Organizations should aim to include a diverse group of participants in the focus groups. This may include employees from different departments, levels of seniority, and backgrounds. To truly address experiences, challenges, and future plans for diversity & inclusion, it’s important to hear from employees who have different identities and needs. This includes LGBTQ+ employees, Black employees & employees of color, disabled employees, women & non-binary people, and employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds. 

To ensure that everyone has the opportunity to be included, an open invite for volunteers could be sent to all employees, and multiple sessions could be implemented if numbers are high. In addition, it’s crucial to ensure that the focus groups and listening sessions are accessible and inclusive to all employees, this may require accommodations such as making the environment more accessible, or facilitating different communication channels. 

If volunteer numbers are low, or do not seem to reflect a diverse range of perspectives, it could be a time to be transparent about this with employees, and see if there are ways to improve the research strategy. If some employees don’t feel comfortable joining these sessions, but would still like to share their perspectives, it could be useful to have other channels of anonymous feedback. 

It’s important to ensure that participants feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions, so confidentiality and anonymity should be assured as much as possible. 

Develop questions:

Your company should develop a set of questions that will help achieve the objectives of the focus groups and listening circles.These questions should be open-ended and designed to encourage participants to share their experiences and opinions. It’s important to ensure that the questions are inclusive and considerate of all participants. 

It’s beneficial to have a rough structure in place to guide a valuable discussion, but there should be flexibility in the structure so that participants can speak freely and have the opportunity to introduce topics that may not have previously been considered.

The optimum length of time to run focus groups is thought to be around 60 to 90 minutes, allowing enough time to gain valuable insights but maintaining a sense of structure and efficiency so that data can be analyzed effectively afterwards. If there are particularly valuable discussions happening after this time, you may make the choice to continue the session.

Conduct the sessions:

The focus groups / listening circles can be conducted in person or online. The sessions should be moderated by a skilled facilitator who can keep the conversation on track and ensure that all participants have an opportunity to contribute. The company should also consider providing incentives to participants as a way of thanking them for their time and input.

It’s important to note that when conducting any research, all participants should be given clarity about what the process is and how the data will be used. All participants should be given an introductory brief, and a debrief afterwards to ensure they feel informed and comfortable. 

In addition to this, it’s crucial that participants are given the right to withdraw from the research for any reason. All employees should be informed of this clearly and be given the opportunity to remove their data up until a certain date after the sessions have taken place. 

Some participants may feel more comfortable joining sessions that are run by a third party, so that they can discuss their thoughts and feelings without the presence of leadership. Third parties can also help to ensure that the sessions are completely inclusive, and are structured in the most valuable ways. 

Analyze the data:

Once the sessions are completed, your organization should analyze the data collected. This may involve categorizing responses into ‘themes’ by highlighting all key challenges, experiences, & ideas and then seeing which ones can be related to each other. This process is sometimes referred to as ‘coding’. It is most effective to have several rounds of coding so that there’s an opportunity to pick up on themes that may have been overlooked initially. Additionally, it could be beneficial for a couple of people to analyze the data separately and then compare, to try and overcome potential biases. 

Implement changes:

Based on the feedback received, your organization should develop an action plan to implement changes and improvements. This may involve developing new policies and procedures, increasing training and education around diversity and inclusion, or creating new opportunities for employees from different backgrounds to connect and collaborate. It can be beneficial to include the focus group participants in the development of these action plans so that employees are given the opportunity to contribute to decision making and influence the outcomes of the discussions. As such, ‘action plans’ can be made a topic to cover, and agree on, at the end of each session so that plans are targeted to the key themes of the discussions.

Evaluate the impact:

Finally, your company should evaluate the impact of the changes implemented. This may involve conducting follow-up focus groups or surveys to assess whether the changes have made a positive difference. It’s important to continue to listen to feedback from employees to ensure there is transparency and to give employees the opportunity to maintain their influence. 

Creating a more inclusive workplace is a journey of continuous learning, adapting, and improving, so regular feedback sessions are often mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

Diversio is the people intelligence platform that measures, tracks, and improves Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

By connecting artificial intelligence (AI) technology, sophisticated data analytics, and knowledgeable subject matter experts, Diversio is able to accurately diagnose your pain points, benchmark you against peers, and create a robust action plan that will meet your DEI goals. Through the unique combination of technology and human expertise, Diversio is driving meaningful impact for hundreds of organizations across over 35 countries globally.

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