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Extending diversity monitoring for staff

The equality and diversity committee of a university proposes the expansion of its staff monitoring process to include religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender identity. The aim of this is to:

  • accurately assess the impact of the institution’s diversity strategy
  • demonstrate how it is meeting the public sector equality duty

The equality adviser is asked to work with colleague in HR to ensure that this is carried out.

Consultation exercise

Staff networks and trade unions: The equality adviser contacts the chairs of the staff diversity networks and trade unions to inform them of the proposal and offers to meet with any that wishes to discuss it further. A number of meetings are held, during which concerns are raised about how the monitoring information will be used and whether LGBT staff in particular feel comfortable enough in the workplace to participate in the exercise. Reference is made to the negative experience that a member of staff had when undergoing gender reassignment which damaged confidence in employment processes generally. There is also a useful discussion about how monitoring is perceived by some international staff.

Staff consultation: The equality adviser puts an article in the staff newsletter describing the proposal and asking for comments from staff. She does not receive many responses but those who do reply ask questions about who will have access to the data, whether line managers will know how individual members of staff define themselves, and whether there will be an option to choose not to disclose. A small number of staff say that they feel that sexual orientation and religion and belief are private matters and not relevant to employment.

Logistics for implementation

The equality adviser, HR and IT colleagues agree that an online exercise is the most practical solution. A paper exercise will be needed for staff who do not regularly use computers. The format of the exercise is designed and timescales worked out.

The equality adviser takes the results of the consultation exercise back to the equality and diversity committee, together with information about what other HEIs are doing in relation to monitoring, advice from ECU, and advice from an external organisation that supports transgendered people.

She proposes that a commitment be made to introducing diversity monitoring for all three categories, with a staggered timetable to introduce monitoring of religion and belief and sexual orientation first. Gender identity monitoring will be introduced after the institution has done more to build staff awareness and confidence, including the development of a process for supporting staff who transition at work. The committee approves the proposal.

Preparing for monitoring

The first monitoring exercise will take place immediately after the university’s diversity festival. Part of the festival will focus on current progress towards greater inclusivity and accessibility, and the role of monitoring in this progress.

The faculty and departmental diversity champions are asked to think about how they might contribute to raising awareness of the value of monitoring, as a result of which a group of drama students develop a play called ‘Tick the box’ examining issues of social classification, which is performed as part of the festival. The head of learning resources organises an artwork for the foyer of the library which contains photos and quotes about identity from a number of well-known people – including senior managers at the university.

In the week before the monitoring exercise is launched, the vice-chancellor sends an email to all staff explaining its purpose, outlining the benefits to staff and to the university and encouraging them to participate. This includes a list of frequently asked questions which addresses the issues raised by staff. In a separate email, the head of HR asks line managers to promote the exercise among their staff and advises them on how to respond to staff who are reluctant to engage.

The monitoring exercise

The monitoring exercise runs for three weeks. The online monitoring form appears each time staff log on to their computers until they complete it (they can click the ‘remind me later’ button and the form then reappears next time they log on). Paper forms are posted to those members of staff who do not have regular access to computers, with returned forms going to a designated HR adviser. At the end of each week the equality adviser reviews progress and asks those faculties and departments with low return rates to encourage staff to participate.

After the monitoring exercise

At the end of the exercise, the data is collated and analysed. Return rates are good although the analysis shows that a significant number of staff have chosen to tick the ‘prefer not to say’ option, particularly in relation to sexual orientation.

The equality adviser publishes an article in the next staff newsletter thanking staff for their participation, giving the results of the exercise, discussing how the monitoring information will be used, and reminding staff that they will have an opportunity to add or amend their records when the new self-service HR system is introduced later that year.

At the next meeting of the equality and diversity committee the results of the exercise are discussed. It is decided that more work needs to be done to raise staff confidence in the university’s commitment to tackling harassment and bullying, and creating an inclusive environment in order to encourage disclosure in future. A programme of activity is commissioned.

HR staff also begin work on the gender reassignment policy and use learning points from the monitoring exercise to improve the process for collecting monitoring information from job applicants. The committee sets itself the objective of increasing disclosure rates when the new HR system is introduced and asks the equality adviser to draw up a plan to make this happen.