Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Different Approach to Diversity Monitoring is Needed

The Daily Mail carried an interesting article yesterday , February 9th, headed Fury as firms asked: Are your staff LGBTs?

I don't often agree with the Daily Mail, but on this occasion I do think that the London Development Agency is wrong to be asking businesses applying for a slice of their £400 million pot of government funding questions like "Is your organisation mostly owned or led by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) people?" and "What is the percentage of LGBT staff in your workforce?".

These are all part of a diversity monitoring form which government departments are obsessed with trying to get completed regarding all six diversity strands (race, faith, age, gender, disability and sexual orientation). The problem is that when it come to sexual orientation and gender identity, that is personal and more often than not confidential information.

In fact disclosing this information regarding trans people could easily lead to acompany being in breach of section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act. Past gender information must be sealed and only accessed by authorised people. If a trans person's identity is disclosed, it can lead to a fine of up to £5000 but, more importantly, cause untold personal distress. If a company discloses on its monitoring form that there are one or two trans employees, the chances of them being identified, or people being suspected of being trans being harassed are high.

Instead of this kind of monitoring there is a much more important monitoring process public sector organisation should be addressing.

Any organisation delivering service to or on behalf of any public sector body is required to comply with a General Equality Duty. This means they are obligated to take positive action to prevent discrimination and harassment on the grounds of race, disability and gender including gender reassignment. These equality duties are not being enforced by public sector government procurement departments.

You can find more information about the Gender Equality Duty here - detail of the race and disability duties are on the same site.

By asking any organisation applying for as bid what procedures they have in place to ensure that discrimination is identified and prevented, agencies would be achieving a much better objective. Rather than simply monitoring equality, they would be monitoring anti discrimination action and also preventing any company that does not take action to prevent discrimination from accessing government contracts.

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