The Equality Act 2010 extended the number of protected characteristics to cover new areas including sexual orientation, gender reassignment and religion or belief. Many higher education institutions have been working to extend their monitoring categories and build up disclosure rates.
Consult with key stakeholders
The majority of staff and students are likely to be comfortable with the addition of new categories to the diversity monitoring process. However, particular individuals or groups may feel differently. For example, some international staff or students may come from countries where diversity monitoring does not occur (or may even be illegal), or where the experience of social categorisation has not been positive. Other people may have personal experience of discrimination and may be anxious that disclosure will leave them vulnerable to further negative treatment.
It may be useful to do some targeted work with particular groups to ensure engagement with staff across the spectrum of opinion. This will help you to determine whether the time is right to introduce new monitoring categories or whether more needs to be done to create a safe and supportive environment and develop trust before staff will be willing to participate. Understanding the perceptions of staff and students about monitoring and addressing any concerns will increase the likelihood of people feeling reassured about disclosure.
Key stakeholders might include student unions, trade unions, staff networks, and specialist staff who may be responsible for managing internal and external communications such as press officers and HR advisers. Senior management support is also important and should be sought at an early stage.
Communicate the relevance of the information
People may not consider that some of the newer categories are relevant to their work or study. It is important to communicate why the information is relevant, and the benefits to all staff and service users of gathering monitoring data. Stonewall have produced a leaflet that might be useful: What’s it got to do with you: 10 reasons why you should fill in those funny box things at the end of forms.
Equip staff supporting the monitoring exercise
It is important that the staff who will be responsible for implementing or supporting the monitoring exercise understand its purpose and desired outcomes and are able to deal with the range of questions and concerns that staff may bring to them. Briefing HR and IT specialists, line managers, diversity champions, chaplains and faith advisers will ensure that advice is consistent across the institution and that staff feel confident in the process. Enlisting the chaplaincy or faith advisers, trade unions and staff networks to promote participation can help encourage disclosure.