Higher Education Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) data

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2018 Higher Education Service Group Conference
21 September 2017

Conference notes that good data is an important element in driving equality change. Data on its own is just information – it changes nothing. But it can provide evidence of failure and success and of change over time. For example, robust data has been vital in UNISON’s work, through the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES), to end the gender pay gap.

Conference further notes that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) must return staff data to the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA) on gender, age, disability and ethnicity on an annual basis. HEIs are not currently required to either collect or return data on sexual orientation, despite it being a protected characteristic in the 2010 Equality Act.

Although it is voluntary, some HEIs do collect and return sexual orientation data and numbers doing this are increasing year on year. However the national picture is that for 70% of staff, this data is ‘unknown’. This is in addition to the proportion of staff who intentionally decline to answer the question. Reasons for this high number of ‘unknowns’ include:

1)Staff not being asked the question by their HEI;

2)Staff only being asked when they joined that HEI, which for many people will be before HESA started collecting sexual orientation information at all.

Conference also notes that HESA’s steps to collect information on trans staff and students have already gone through a number of changes, reflecting widespread confusion about the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ and because of the need to protect the confidentiality of people’s gender history. Conference welcomes UNISON’s involvement in working with the sector to get this right.

Conference acknowledges that as laws and social attitudes to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have slowly changed from persecution towards equality, it has taken a long time to build people’s confidence in being open about their LGBT identity. UNISON itself has only collected LGBT monitoring information on the RMS since November 2015, via My UNISON, and our own data is very incomplete.

Conference calls on the Higher Education Service Group Executive (HESGE) to work with national LGBT committee to push for improved LGBT data collection by HESA. Amongst other benefits, this will enable work to progress on examining the impact of intersectionality on the pay gap.

Conference also calls on the Service Group Executive to urge Higher Education branches to encourage members to complete both staff monitoring data and UNISON membership data on sexual orientation and trans identity/history.