“Collecting gender and sexual orientation data is discriminatory.” (Actually, not collecting that data is much more likely to infringe on human rights.)
“Asking those kinds of questions is invasive and disrespectful.” (It’s not any more offensive than asking someone if they are married, divorced, widowed, or single.)
“I’m afraid my request for sensitive information will be misconstrued or offensive.” (Ignoring the need to collect gender and sexual orientation data is just as offensive.)
Now that we’ve covered why it’s important to collect gender and sexual orientation data, let’s move on to the how. In case you’re just joining us, this is the third post in our series on the importance of social identity data.
Embracing the “Other” Option
In order to collect accurate social identity data, it’s important for organizations to ask respondents their place on a big continuum of experiences — binary options just don’t cut it. While I think most of our readers probably understand this, here’s a really great example I heard recently of why offering only male and female as options when collecting gender and sexual orientation data doesn’t work.
In Canada, we have two national languages: English and French. This is the result of some of our country’s complex history but doesn’t really reflect the glorious diversity that has made our nation what it is today. Imagine if, when completing your census form, the only options you had for ethnic background were English or French.
- But I was born in another country!
- I only sound French, but I’m not!
- Neither of those labels adequately conveys who I am!
For many of us, our ethnic background and heritage is a huge part of our identity — it’s who we are. And we want the freedom to identify ourselves accurately… see where I’m going with this?
Transgender individuals (those who identify as or express genders other than those assigned to them at birth, a characteristic that is entirely distinct from sexual orientation) are often overlooked when collecting gender and sexual orientation data, despite the importance of recognizing this group.
Including the Overlooked
Currently, transgender identities are not explicitly included in either the Canadian census or Stats Canada surveys. But things are improving. Studies being conducted by the US Health Department, and some Canadian hospitals are piloting new data collection programs. If successful, these could open the door to more inclusive national health surveys. Some groups are even making the case for removing gender from birth documentation altogether, freeing people from the constraints of having to change their legal gender.
But unfortunately, none of these efforts solve the riddle of how to best assess transgender survey participants. This can be especially challenging when collecting data on young people, whose gender and sexual identity can be at the height of fluidity.
Improving Gender and Sexual Orientation Data Collection
So how can we improve the way we collect gender and sexual orientation data?
Here are a few resources and suggestions:
Child Trends is doing some excellent work on understanding the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, promoting their healthy development, and creating safe and supportive environments. They’ve developed a great report that details the tools they used — which can be applied to youth as well as adults.
We’ve already talked about the first steps in collecting socioeconomic data in a previous post, but here are some more specific suggestions to help you start collecting gender and sexual orientation data:
- Identify the purpose of the data collection. (Are you trying to measure the population? Understand trends? Adjust projects to work more equitably?)
- Review the legislation in the setting where you will be working. (Sensitivity and respect are important, but staying on the right side of the law is crucial as well.)
- Research best practices for collecting the data you need both within and without your specific context.
- Plan your approach. (Determine what level of data you need, consult with other organizations working with the same groups.)
- Test your approach with relevant communities. (Watch for consistent answers, responses clustering around specific options, or unexplained patterns.)
- Review your approach. (Did your test yield the data you need? Can you make changes to improve results?)
- Collect the data.
- Analyze the data with appropriate techniques.
At Datassist, we believe that the most meaningful change begins with data. If you’d like help collecting, analyzing, or using social identity data in your organization, our team is here to support you. Get in touch with us today to discuss your project.