Workplace Guides: Monitoring Sexual Orientation

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Preparing to Monitor

This section outlines:

An inclusive organisational culture

Sexual orientation monitoring is not appropriate for an organisation which has not previously engaged with LGB staff or developed initiatives to eradicate homophobia from the workplace.

Steps to address these issues might include:

  • Incorporating sexual orientation in equalities policies,
  • Training staff in diversity issues,
  • Including sexual orientation ensuring senior managers speak out about LGB equality,
  • Taking steps to ensure LGB staff can report bullying and harassment,
  • Supporting an LGB staff network

An inclusive and supportive organisational culture is essential if an LGB employee is to feel confident and safe in declaring their sexual orientation for the purposes of monitoring. One way of measuring organisational inclusion is through Stonewall’s annual Workplace Equality Index.
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Clear aims and outcomes

Monitoring for the sake of it is generally unsuccessful. Before sexual orientation monitoring is introduced, it is important that employers identify why they want to ask about sexual orientation, what they want to find out and what they will do with the information.

Establishing a clear set of aims and objectives for monitoring is essential. This should feed into a business case, which will ensure top level buy-in.

For example, monitoring can be used to find out:

  • Are LGB people applying for jobs in the organisation?
  • Are LGB people represented at all levels of the organisation?
  • Do LGB staff experience higher levels of absenteeism or stress than their colleagues?
  • Are LGB staff more likely to leave than other employees?

JPMorgan, part of the global JPMorgan Chase financial services organisation, formed nine Task Forces to assess the impact of the firm’s equality and diversity work through focus groups and surveys. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) Task Force concluded that voluntary self identification of sexual orientation and gender identity needed to be included in the firm’s Global Employee Opinion Survey. Without this it was difficult to know about the views of LGBT employees in particular, and whether their sexual orientation or gender identity impacted on their experience in the workplace. Using the survey data to establish a baseline enables the firm to measure progress in creating an inclusive environment for LGBT employees.

Before introducing sexual orientation monitoring, the Home Office LGBT employee network, Spectrum, was set up. The group developed a dialogue with the organisation, and engaged in activities such as awareness raising and community outreach. Members of the group felt the Home Office lacked official knowledge about the specific needs and experiences of LGB staff, such as potential barriers to progression or views on the organisation as an employer. Spectrum members believed they should have the choice to identify themselves as LGB in equal opportunities monitoring. Sexual orientation statistics were also required to inform policy and procedure, and to justify organisational spend on the group.

Barclays relaunched its Employee Opinion Survey in 2003, and simultaneously introduced optional questions on sexual orientation, disability and age.

It did this in order to:

  • Pinpoint areas of concern for employees

  • Understand issues and barriers employees may face

  • Examine employee development and progress

  • Demonstrate a commitment to treating all employees fairly.

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Top level buy-in

Sexual orientation monitoring will only work if senior staff support the initiative. A robust business case for monitoring, with clearly detailed aims, benefits and outcomes for the organisation, is an essential tool for gaining that support.

Senior management’s public support for sexual orientation monitoring can:

  • Reinforce the importance of LGB equality to the organisation
  • Help deter negative reactions to sexual orientation monitoring
  • Encourage people to respond

Following consultation with the LGB staff network, Nacro’s Head of Equality Strategy gained senior support for sexual orientation monitoring by presenting the business case to the board. She explained why sexual orientation mattered at work and why it was important to understand the needs of different groups of staff members to ensure representation and to act on key concerns. She described how in the long term sexual orientation monitoring would lead to better employee relations and improved service provision.


The Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive at Nottinghamshire County Council are both official Equality Champions. A joint letter from them accompanies the organisation’s Equality and Diversity Survey, encouraging staff to respond. This letter explains why the council monitors equality and diversity, describes the positive changes achieved through previous surveys and guarantees that the survey is confidential and anonymous.


JPMorgan experienced some objections from a minority of staff when sexual orientation was introduced into the firm’s equalities monitoring and diversity agenda. In response, the CEO publicly championed diversity and inclusion, including LGB colleagues. He made it clear that while people have a right to their beliefs, hostility towards others on the basis of those beliefs will not be tolerated.


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Consultation with key stakeholders

Proper consultation ensures that sexual orientation monitoring is tailored to the needs and expectations of an organisation. It is important to gain support from key stakeholders, and to reassure LGB stakeholders that the exercise will be valuable and confidential. These groups will play a vital role when implementing and communicating new monitoring procedures to the wider organisation.

Consider consulting with:

  • LGB staff and network groups
  • Senior management
  • LGB organisations
  • Trade unions or staff associations
  • Employers’ associations

These groups will be able to offer advice on the most appropriate questions to ask, and may highlight concerns and challenges. They may also have ideas about how to publicise and gain staff support for sexual orientation monitoring. Some organisations have learned valuable lessons from representatives of other diversity groups, including black and minority ethnic staff and people with disabilities. These groups generally have more experience of being monitored for equal opportunities, and many of the challenges they have dealt with are similar to the challenges regarding sexual orientation monitoring.

Staffordshire Police Authority held meetings to discuss the potential implementation of sexual orientation monitoring with its LGB staff network, a number of its other staff networks, other forces who were already monitoring sexual orientation and trade unions. They sought advice on language, communications, training and benchmarking, and were advised that it could take three to four years to set meaningful and useful benchmarks.


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Training and awareness raising

Staff involved in the sexual orientation monitoring process will need to be trained to ensure they understand what the exercise will entail, and its purpose. Staff who already work in monitoring and research will be familiar with issues around data collection; the principles for sexual orientation monitoring are the same. Monitoring staff need to be able to articulate to colleagues why sexual orientation data is being collected, particularly if staff do not understand the issues and raise objections. This also applies to managers who are responsible for implementing monitoring within their own team.

Some organisations have added a module on sexual orientation monitoring into existing diversity training and staff inductions. This means that all staff have the chance to see a sample monitoring form, and have the reasons for monitoring explained to them.

Equalities training for all staff, which includes sexual orientation issues, can gradually familiarise the concept of LGB equality. Organisations already monitoring sexual orientation have found that the more familiar staff are with the issues, the less likely they are to object when monitoring is introduced.
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Confidentiality and data protection

Stonewall research has found that LGB employees’ key concern about sexual orientation monitoring is confidentiality. Even when an employee can respond anonymously, care should be taken to reassure staff that the data will be treated sensitively. If LGB employees fear that disclosing their sexual orientation for monitoring will expose them to gossip or harassment, they will not do so.

Organisations have been collecting confidential information about race, disability and gender for some time now, so it is likely that secure systems will already be in place for storing data. Usually, these systems can be replicated for the storage of information relating to sexual orientation. Some organisations have updated their IT systems to introduce self-completion for new monitoring categories, including sexual orientation, faith and disability.

Organisations considering monitoring staff sexual orientation need to demonstrate unequivocally that the data will be totally secure.

  • Ensure and explicitly state that only a limited number of trained, and named, HR staff will have access to the data.
  • If the data is not anonymous, the Data Protection Act applies. State how the information will be used, and include a tick box that enables the employee to consent to the information being used.
  • If the data is published, this must be done in a way that does not identify any individual. Particular care must be taken when dealing with low numbers of respondents.

Failure to do this can result in damaged relations with LGB staff, as well as wasted resources. There are legal implications if an individual’s data is misused: disclosing someone’s sexual orientation to others without their consent could constitute harassment.

Two per cent of respondents voluntarily identified as LGBT in JPMorgan’s first anonymous Global Employee Opinion Survey. The second survey was not anonymous, but was explicitly and clearly confidential. This streamlined the form, as many demographic details could be cross-referenced with existing employee records. Nearly four per cent voluntarily identified as LGBT in the second survey. This increase seems to be a result of growing trust in the firm’s handling of the data, and its positive stance on equality.

In order to allay staff concerns about confidentiality, Barclays’ Employee Opinion Survey is managed by an external consultancy. Staff are asked where they work, but for teams of less than 20 people, the data is amalgamated with data from the next staff grade level or organisational tier before any diversity analysis is reported back.


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Good communication

In addition to consulting key stakeholders on proposals to monitor sexual orientation, it is essential to communicate with the wider organisation so that everyone knows why a question on sexual orientation is being added to equal opportunities monitoring.

Communication on sexual orientation monitoring should:

  • Explain its purpose
  • Demonstrate the commitment of senior management
  • Describe what will be done with the data
  • Identify who will have access to the data
  • Give a named contact for further information
  • Stress the usefulness of taking part
  • Emphasise where positive change has happened as a result of monitoring

It is important to ensure that on-going communications about monitoring reach staff at all levels of the organisation, including part-time staff and those who do not have access to some forms of communication, such as e-mail or a staff intranet. Staff newsletters, posters, payslips and staff briefings can help to communicate key messages to all staff.

Communications on sexual orientation monitoring should always reiterate how monitoring can help to develop a more inclusive workplace. Sexual orientation is an equalities issue; it is paramount that all staff understand and are familiar with this concept.

Stonewall research has found that good communication and education will ensure that the overall response rate to existing surveys will not be adversely affected by the inclusion of questions on sexual orientation.

Other ways to encourage a good response include:

  • Sensitive timing – do not attempt to monitor during a holiday period or during a time of redundancy
  • Using managers to encourage staff participation

Staff at Nacro receive training on equality and diversity policy and practice including sexual orientation monitoring, and information is available on the organisation’s intranet. Equality and diversity issues are also covered at staff induction days and information on staff networks is given to all new staff. Articles, including some written by the Chief Executive, have appeared in the organisation’s equality and diversity newsletter, covering key events and issues. A summary of the Equality and Diversity Audit findings is also communicated in the newsletter along with a review of equality work over the year.

Staffordshire Police Authority set up a facility on the force’s intranet to enable staff to post anonymous questions about monitoring, which are answered by the Diversity Steering Group.

The Home Office and its LGBT network, Spectrum, have developed a series of Frequently Asked Questions on monitoring, including questions on sexual orientation, which are available to all staff on the intranet.


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