Asking about Sex / Gender Identity
Asking questions about sex or gender identity in the right way sends a powerful signal to our LGBT colleagues, helping us to create an inclusive environment and meet our commitments as part of the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index.
Queen’s is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming community where all staff and students are enabled to meet their full potential and are treated as individuals. This includes:
- all transgender (trans) people;
- gender non-conforming people;
- those questioning their gender identity who may be:
- considering transitioning
- actively planning to transition
- are in the process of transitioning
- have transitioned
- those who choose not to transition; and
- those who are unable to transition.
On many forms, questions are asked about gender often as standard and as if it is a neutral piece of information, but the way individuals are asked about their sex and gender identity is exceptionally important.
As such, think carefully about which questions you need to ask, how you ask them and how responses are reported.
It is recommended that current forms are reviewed to ensure that questions about gender are necessary and are worded appropriately.
Best Practice - Asking about Sex and Gender Identity
Often expressed in terms of masculinity and femininity, gender is largely culturally determined and is assumed from the sex assigned at birth.
Assigned to a person on the basis of primary sex characteristics (genitalia) and reproductive functions. Sometimes the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are interchanged to mean ‘male’ or ‘female’.
Trans is an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth.
Gender identity refers to a person’s deeply held sense of their own gender (Stonewall). For trans and non-binary people, their own sense of who they are does not match the sex that society assigns to them when they are born.
Collecting data on employees’ gender identity must be done sensitively. Trans and non-binary people may not feel comfortable disclosing this information because of concerns about data security and you should be aware that some individuals may not wish to disclose if they are not openly trans.
Most importantly, you must consider your reasons for asking any questions about sex or gender identity in any survey of form since such questions may be problematic for some people.
In line with GDPR, there must be a justifiable need to ask questions about sex or gender identity. For example, if you are monitoring the uptake of services, a programme or event by a specific gender.
It should be made clear on the survey or form why information is being collected and how the data will be used, as well as how long the information will be retained for. For examples, please see the University’s Privacy Notices which outline how you can this provide information for each of the respondents.
If you are unsure or require further information, you can contact the Diversity and Inclusion Unit.
Good Practice Guidelines – Asking about Sex or Gender Identity
- Data on an individual’s gender identity should only be collected if there is a justifiable reason to ask questions about sex or gender, and that the data will be stored and reported on securely.
- Including a clear definition of what is meant by transgender (trans) will ensure that individuals are clear about how to answer the question.
- Questions must enable respondents to understand what they are being asked and should make them feel comfortable to answer the question.
- Inappropriate language may deter people from answering the questions, lead people to answer questions inaccurately or cause offence.
- It is not appropriate to offer a choice between identifying as Male, Female, or ‘other’.
- Trans and non-binary people may describe their gender identity in different ways. Respondents should be able to describe their gender in their own words. This signals an understanding that gender is a wider spectrum than female and male and allows you to capture data on respondents that do not identify as trans but also do not identify as female or male. Offering the option for individuals to self-identify via a free text option is advised.
- Consider whether you need to ask for someone’s title (e.g. Miss, Mrs or Mr). If you do, ensure that you provide gender neutral options such as Mx to respondents.
- A ‘prefer not to say’ option should also generally be offered.
When a question on 'sex' is asked, questions should not simultaneously be asked on 'gender' as this may inadvertently out trans people as for many people, sex assigned at birth does not align with gender.
Best Practice Questions – Asking about Sex or Gender Identity
The following questions enable individuals to collect data on gender identity in an inclusive way, in line with Stonewall UK guidance.
Advice and further information are available from the Diversity and Inclusion Unit.
e.g. ‘What best describes your gender?
- Prefer to self-describe: __________
- Prefer not to say’
In some circumstances, it is not possible to follow Queen’s best practice due to the nature of the data requirements of external agencies. In these cases, being clear why questions on sex or gender identity have been asked in a particular way, or why limited options are available to the respondent, should be made clear.
You may wish to use alternative questions to supplement the less inclusive or restricted questions required by the external agency.
Alternative questions might include:
‘Do you identify as trans?
- Prefer not to say’
‘Is your gender identity the same as the sex you were assigned at birth?
- Prefer not to say’