Workplace Guides: Monitoring Sexual Orientation

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What to do next

Once and organisation has implemented sexual orientation monitoring, next steps include:

Interpreting the data

Stonewall research shows that being able to demonstrate positive changes as a result of sexual orientation monitoring encourages increased response rates in future exercises. This ensures valuable information continues to be captured, and used, for future developments and benchmarking.

Expect a lower response rate to the sexual orientation question the first time it is introduced, compared with more established monitoring questions. Treat this data with caution: do not impose rapid solutions based on potentially false findings. LGB staff may be initially cautious about disclosure, but this should improve as trust in the organisation’s commitment to tackling discrimination increases.

Due to the lack of national and local data on LGB populations for comparison, most organisations initially focus on evidence of experiences, progress and distribution, rather than actual numbers and targets. Government actuaries estimate six per cent of the UK population to be LGB, although this proportion will inevitably vary by location. Research suggests that an internal benchmark of an accurate number of LGB staff may be set after monitoring has been
carried out for at least three to five years.

When interpreting sexual orientation data, bear in mind the following points:

  • Do not assume that staff who tick ‘Prefer not to say’ or ‘Other’ are LGB.
  • Information should not be given on behalf of anyone else. It is inappropriate for anyone to try and identify another person’s sexual orientation.
  • Make the distinction between men and women, rather than assuming that LGB people are a homogenous group – only ask ‘Are you lesbian/gay’ as a single question if it can be cross-referenced with a question on gender.
  • Examine differences between, as well as a lack of response from, LGB people according to other aspects of their identity, such as their ethnicity, disability and age.
  • Facetious responses, such as male employees ticking ‘Lesbian’, can happen when sexual orientation monitoring is still a novelty. Educate staff about the importance of monitoring – ensure they know why it is happening.
  • Offensive remarks or the defacing of forms are an indication that homophobia is an issue in the workplace, which by law needs to be tackled. Equalities training should be undertaken.

The Greater London Authority (GLA) acknowledged concerns about the impact of low numbers responding to the LGBT Staff Survey: Gaining some statistical knowledge of the approximate number of LGBT people both in employment and applying for posts is important. In doing so, there is at least a quantitative figure from which future direction and lead can be taken with respect to assessing targets for LGBT employees.

In order to validate the results and improve the monitoring process, Nottinghamshire County Council follows its Equality and Diversity Survey with a series of focus groups. Respondents can indicate an interest in participating by including their details on the survey, or by sending back a separate form

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Reporting back

Most organisations will have structures in place for internal reporting on equal opportunities monitoring. Detailed reports will generally go to management and those with an equalities remit. Summaries and main findings should be made available to all staff,for example through intranet systems and newsletters. Organisations should aim to give feedback specifically to their LGB staff, for example through the LGB staff network.

With sexual orientation data, however, it is essential that no individuals can be identified. Detailed analysis must not be made available beyond the limited personnel who have access to the raw data. Findings from small numbers should be omitted from public reports, or be combined with other data to protect confidentiality. Exposing an individual’s identity could constitute harassment, which is unlawful. It will also have repercussions in terms of organisational
reputation and employee relations.
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The purpose of monitoring sexual orientation is to be able to take action to increase workplace inclusion, which can improve the productivity of the organisation as a whole. It is important to demonstrate that responding to surveys will have positive, practical outputs.

These might include:

  • Improving access to bullying and harassment reporting mechanisms, as a result of survey findings indicating that LGB staff do not feel able to report incidents
  • Ensuring managers support staff attendance at LGB staff network meetings, following indications that some LGB staff feel dissuaded from participating
  • Promoting the organisation’s diversity agenda with equal reference to LGB equality and other groups, following suggestions that new recruits are not confident coming out at work
  • Considering participation in LGB events and advertising in the pink media to increase the number of job applications from LGB people
  • Removing barriers preventing LGB applicants from being shortlisted or appointed, for example by training managers or HR staff in equalities and employment law
  • Developing comprehensive sexual orientation equalities training for all staff, following comments that LGB issues are not relevant to the workplace

Nottinghamshire County Council promotes the positive changes made through its anonymous Equality and Diversity Survey:

  • The results provide a benchmark for future planning and will be used to monitor whether or not we are making the improvements you need and want in your working environment. Last year, the information you provided was used to improve services to you and inform policy changes:

  • We improved our business/equality planning to allow us to respond faster to the concerns of self-managed staff groups

  • We started a programme of mandatory equality and diversity training for all staff we are planning to extend our mediation service for staff.

In Nacro’s first equality and diversity survey, staff were asked if they wanted an LGB employee network group. Response was positive and ‘Pride at Nacro’ was formed.

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Future sexual orientation monitoring

In the long term, the comprehensive collection of sexual orientation data will have a positive impact on business performance and the working environment. Organisations already monitoring are excited about the data they can generate to inform business plans and diversity strategies. In turn, this helps to ensure they get the most from their staff and provide the best service possible to customers and clients.

Plans for future sexual orientation monitoring might include:

  • Benchmarking
  • Diversity impact assessments to include sexual orientation
  • Positive action programmes to encourage the recruitment, retention and progression of talented LGB staff (in addition to race and gender initiatives)
  • Programmes to develop a more diverse senior workforce
  • Monitoring service users
  • Targeted marketing and new business objectives.

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