check the box

Should Employers Be Asking Staffers Whether They’re Gay Or Trans? Yup

The giant financial media company Thomson Reuters is asking employees in a new survey whether they’re gay or straight or bi or trans or whatever. The Newspaper Guild of New York, where the company employees hundreds, thinks this is a disgusting invasion of privacy. They are wrong.

Some Guild members were “shocked” when they spotted the question, which many saw to be an invasion of privacy. It wasn’t.

While the question was certainly of a personal nature, there was the option not to tell the company about which group you identify with — a perfectly reasonable response. But collecting data on employees’ sexual orientation and gender identity is important for the same reason they should collect data about ethnicities and gender: to ensure a diverse workplace, and to ensure employees are adequately protected from discrimination. And that includes in important areas like health benefits. With data on whether their staffers are gay or trans, Thomson Reuters can adequately adjust health care benefit policies (although I’d argue companies should offer equal health benefits whether they have hard data to show they have queer employees or not.)

The Newspaper Guild writes on its blog: “But the question remains, why ask? Why ask employees to divulge something that’s irrelevant to their work, none of the company’s business and can become a ticking time bomb for discrimination in the future?”

Because the information is relevant to creating a more equitable work place. And, for a company in the business of journalism, it’s an asset to be certain you have people representing all demographics when you’re charged with reporting on the world. Collecting this data on a voluntary (and anonymous) basis is the only way to accomplish it.

The Guild further writes:

The question was particularly jarring in light of an e-mail sent to all staff from CEO Tom Glocer (the same guy who’s against income inequity, except when it comes to cutting Guild members’ compensation). On October 11, Glocer urged TR employees to “speak out against prejudice and discrimination” after recent anti-gay violence in New York, New Jersey and Belgrade:

“Fortunately, the Thomson Reuters community is too enlightened and civilized for such violence to occur within our own company. However, subtler forms of discrimination and harassment may exist against gay, lesbian and other colleagues. I call on each of us to stand up for our colleagues and denounce prejudice and discrimination in its many forms, violent or subtle, whether directed on the basis of sexual orientation, religion, race, national origin or otherwise.”

Tom, consider this a denouncement of a subtle form of prejudice in the company survey.

Sexuality wasn’t the only area where the survey got way too personal. Employees were also asked about disabilities and long-term health conditions, like depression, diabetes, arthritis, dyslexia and other physical impairments that “may not be readily apparent.”

Again, health conditions that “may not be readily apparently” (like sexuality!) force the company to ask about them in order to ensure health plans satisfactorily cover those conditions. I’m not sure why the Guild has such a problem with Thomson Reuters collecting data about its staffers, when that data can be used to make the company a better place to work. Anyone care to offer suggestions?

It might go along way for Thomson Reuters to assure employees the data is collected in aggregate and cannot be used to personally identify anybody, and explain why such information is worth collecting. But gathering this information is necessary for the same reasons we want the U.S. Census Bureau to start doing it: otherwise, we might as well be invisible.

UPDATE: As commenter Bob points out, one flaw in the survey is the grouping of sexual orientation and gender identity as an either/or option. The solution: Ditch the web survey’s radio buttons (where users can select only one option) in favor of check boxes (where multiple options may be selected) to account for, say, trans employees who identify as straight.

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  • kevin

    Because it’s anonymous I have no problem.

  • Tyler

    I don’t know why we need to be collecting gender/ethnicity/sexual orientation data in the first place. We’re all humans, and any form of discrimination shouldn’t be tolerated.

  • ron

    @Tyler: I agree. I think it is wrong to ask.

  • CJ

    If it’s anonymous and optional (BOTH), then I have much less of a problem with it. Otherwise, it’s a clear invasion of privacy.

    As had already been said, we’re also all humans and shouldn’t permit any sort of discrimination. Just hire the person best suited for the position and put discrimination to rest. The more we focus on our differences the more we create division. We’ve got enough of that already. We don’t need more.

  • Bob

    I’m fine with them collecting since it’s optional. But, “transgender” is not a sexual orientation. Are trans people who decide to respond to the question supposed to determine whether they report their gender or their sexual orientation? I don’t see why it can’t be 2 questions or a “check all that apply”.

  • Tori

    @Bob: THank you,it seems to escape people that trans people can be gay,straight or bi as well as trans.

  • Derek

    I agree with 1 through 5. This kind of data may serve a purpose, but it should be done anonymously.

  • Evan

    No problem with the question on an anonymous survey.

    But how freaking hard is it to split it into two questions, instead of forcing LGB trans people to decide whether we feel more trans or more gay today?

  • j

    @Tori: Also agree with this, found it rather perplexing.

  • [email protected]

    What I just wish they would ask is this: “Are you an evil shit, or a collegial co-worker?”

    Its all that should ever matter.

  • McMike

    They need another option of “Could be talked into it”.

  • Ran

    It’s an interesting question. In CA I don’t believe businesses are allowed to ask. I really believe fairness and equality. So if every policy is equal for any group or everyone then there really isn’t a need to ask. If you want to hire someone who might work best with say, religion, or GLBT issues or government or whatever would the HR people doing the hiring be able to make a selection by the candidates interview and credentials?

    Still, even though I’m unsure if it’s necessary for business (I think the government census is a different issue), I’m okay with an anonymous questionnaire but one that clears up their transgender/sexuality error with transgender/heterosexual, transgender/gay, transgender/lesbian.

  • Michael

    @Tyler: All human of course, but keep in mind where this all started. America is a big place, and we have a lot of different groups advancing their causes for a bigger piece of the rapidly diminishing pie. As long as data is being used to ensure some semblance of equal sharing across all groups – regardless of membership by the numbers, there is good in this. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are trying to be treated just like everybody else – human. Hiding can only produce selfish benefits, if any at all.

  • Chipsy

    How can we constantly moan about marriage equality and DADT and then freak out when someone asks us to state our sexual orientation?

    This question is no more an invasion of privacy than asking employees to state whether they are married, single or divorced.

  • Mark212

    I like the idea. We want to be counted and represented so when a company tries to diuversify their workplace I’m all for it. I have been out at work for years. I have often wondered what percentage of the work force is GLBT. This could work in our favor. Once employers see the work performance of the the gays compared to the straighs you could see more demand for gay employees.

  • robert in nyc

    In the survey, does it actually include “straight” or “heterosexual” to be checked off? If it does, then I’m fine with it. A corporation using these surveys I don’t think would try to use it against people knowing the ramifications if they do, huge lawsuits and bad publicity, bad for business.

  • A. Non

    What hasn’t been mentioned is the fact that “rather not say” is akin to saying “Hey, I’m queer but I don’t want you to know it”…what hetero ever chooses anything but hetero? So if you choose “rather not say” it’s basically saying you’re not hetero but you are one of the others.

    Also, I want to expand on McMike’s suggestion and say that “Depends how many drinks I have had…give me enough booze and I could tick any of these boxes” is obviously also missing from the list.

  • toyotabedzrock

    DO NOT ANSWER THE QUESTIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    This is likely a way for insurance companies to jack up the rates of those who are gay!!!

    It’s even worse since putting no answer will make people question if you are.

  • JackBear

    Anyone who believes a company, any company, collects data about health and illness for legitimate reasons is a moron. Companies in no way are looking to protect the employees because employees are a cost. How do you maximize profits for the shareholders? You minimize cost. Until we are all shareholders there will be no representation of the employee.

  • TR Insider

    We were told that the survey was anonymous but then some staffers who didn’t fill it out were told by their managers to fill it out. In personally addressed emails. So if the company can figure out who has and hasn’t responded, I think it’s fair to say that the survey isn’t really anonymous.

  • Another TR Insider

    I work for TR and was totally fine with filling-in this information. However, in my case, everyone knows I am gay and it has never been a problem. There are many openly LGBT people working for TR and I have never heard of anyone being singled-out for their sexual orientation. TR has provided domestic partner health coverage for about 5 years which has showed that they support diversity.

  • Julie Phineas

    Unfortunately invisibility has been the problem our community has faced for centuries. Although this takes us out of our comfort zone, it does bring more visibility to the community so it’s a positive in my eyes and I view it as similar to asking your ethnicity. I think answering the question documents and reinforces that I’m here, I’m queer, so get used to it!

  • Ted B. (Charging Rhino)

    In New Jersey, for an employer to ask such a question is illegal.

Comments are closed.