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A tricky one


I have a client who has to complete a monitoring form by asking their customers questions "face to face" or over the telephone.The customers range from 18 to 80 plus and are in the housing field.The questions cover sexual orientation and transgender questions.

It's non negotiable in the sense that all questions have to be asked AND the client won.t allow their customers simply to take away the form
Can anyone help?Any techniques? Many of the clients staff are apprehensive about asking customers such sensitive questions.
Jennifer Topping

6 Responses

  1. I’m not surprised
    Sorry but I don’t think you are on a winner here, I am assuming your client is public sector because otherwise they just need telling to leave this alone.

    I think the best bet for the telephone staff is to remind the clients that they are not legally required to give any information they don’t feel comfortable with and to admit that some of the questions could be considered intrusive and then to ask if they mind at each stage of the questionnaire.

    My personal life is my personal life, I share the details of it with those who need to know and I’ll be honest I would refuse to answer questions about my race, religion, sexuality or anything else to someone over the phone particularly if I was a client of their services.

    Sorry I can’t be more helpful but your client really needs to wake up and realise how insensitive they are being. And how easy it would be for clients to start claiming discrimination if you start monitoring this kind of thing…

  2. Thanks Nik
    Yes they are in the public sector but under new equality laws the public sector have a “duty” to promote equality AND that now applies to any private sector org with whom they contract.

    It’s not unlawful to ask for the information and any discrimination claim would fail.The only way anyone could take a case would be to prove that the monitoring information was not being kept separate from say recruitment decisions or a service was being withheld.

    The world is changing fast on the equality front.The opt out clause you suggest is standard good practice and recommended in the statutory codes of practice. Interestingly the 2011 Census will be asking these questions -with the opt out clause.All lawful.

    Thanks for your prompt response

  3. Not such a big deal
    >>>The questions cover sexual orientation and transgender questions.>>>>

    It may be that the staff are creating a mountain where one doesnt exist.

    In a paperwork based situation we are faced with these questions all the time and we either fill them out or refuse/ignore them. We dont immediately take offence, we dismiss them or comply.

    The same is true in F2F or telephone, coach the staff the ask the questions in a matter of fact manner and people will respond in the manner outlined above. The thing is not to make a big deal out of them. People comply,refuse, or make a fuss (rare) and you simply move on.

    Having interviewed many candidates for positions and asked questions relating to diversity it is surprising what people will be willing to tell you. I’ve had 16 y olds express their sexual orientation, 60+ y olds express it as well. There were many other elements of diversity they could have chosen but they chose to come out with sexuality.
    As for the transgendered again, be factual and matter of fact about it, statistically the odds are very slim on encountering transgendered. However most trandgendered I meet react the same as others, comply, refuse or make a fuss. Its easy to move on from it.

    Perhaps its all in the mind of your interviewers and their preconceptions – do they need some training or educating?

    I remember training some under 24year olds on the subject of life insurace. They were terribly concerned that people would take offence when being asked about death and making provision for their loved ones. When I explained that as we get older we want to think about these issues and (generally) we arent bothered about speaking about these issues their concerns were allayed and I was proved right when they started work.

  4. Still disagree…
    A duty to promote equality, doesn’t mean rifling through people’s personal business.

    I’m all in favour of equality, but when you start monitoring it then I start getting worried.

    There is no hard evidence (apart from perhaps Kinsey’s research) to measure the % of LGBT in the population and the oft quoted 10% looks reasonably suspect.

    Kinsey showed that about 5% of the population are absolutely gay or straight and pretty much everyone else falls at some point in between – even if they never act on it.

    But the label people choose is entirely different – so it doesn’t matter if you ask, the truth is likely to be completely at odds.

    So if you ask at 99/100 people say they are straight – are you discriminating or are they just lying to you?

    Promoting equality is a good thing, advertising services in a variety of media including those aimed at specific segments of the population I support.

    Intrusive questioning to try and prove something is not cool. And on the subject of the census, enough people claimed “jedi knight” as their religion last time (including me) for it to be officially recognised as a religion (more than 1% of the population) – have yet to meet any actual practicing jedi knights though.

    Intrusive government busy bodying will not cure the problem of discrimination nor will it ensure that a “diverse” audience is served. And frankly in the area of housing what should it matter who someone prefers to spend their time in the bedroom with or what sex they would like to be?

  5. Not my decision guv
    Fair enough Nik, you disagree with Gvnt policy and maybe we agree with you. The fact is that it is Gvnt policy to provide monitoring data on these metrics whether we agree with the policy or not.
    Often in L&D one has to comply with policies that one doesnt personally agree with.

    The arguments about diversity rage on and many disagree with Mr Phillips. One could argue that recent age discrimination legislation is simply a knee jerk reaction by the Gvnt to a increasingly aging population, trouble is the population make up the electorate, a fact of which I am sure the Gvnt is well aware. What next? Those With ginger hair or baldness, those below 5ft 9″ feel discriminated against?

    >>>And frankly in the area of housing what should it matter who someone prefers to spend their time in the bedroom with or what sex they would like to be? >>>

    It matters if your staff are actively not offering property to those who are homosexual purely on that basis – or conversely not offering to heterosexual – thats discrimination. The matter is very much in the news as religiously funded housing associations are having to revisit their rental criteria .

    I disagree that the questioning is trying to prove anything, its trying to monitor it, what other broad based evidence can we rely on? occasional anecdotes? occassional complaints?

  6. Juliet is right
    It’s the law Nik and many people are not aware of the huge changes in equality laws now underway.It’s a shift away from relying on individuals to win cases to organisations having to prove beyond pink and fluffy tick boxes that they are addressing these issues.The burden of proof has changed

    Housing is most certainly affected and the private sector.But if you want to bring yourself up to speed on these issues I can signpost you towards one of the UK’s top trainers in this field. He’s openly bi and whilst being sensitive to your concerns,recognises that the law has to change.And we all have to bow before the law – trainers or not. I am sure he would raise your awareness across this key specialist subject of his.

    I do understand all you say but the world is moving on.There are in fact 333,000 knights of the j around!

    All good wishes



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