GDS adds gender non-binary options to employee records

Digital agency claims that gathering more data will help ensure greater diversity in hiring new recruits and career progression of existing staff

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Employee records of the Government Digital Service will now allow staff to record non-binary gender identities. 

The digital agency claimed that providing a greater range of options will allow for the collection of better data – which, in turn, will enable the organisation to improve the diversity of its recruitment and promotion of staff.

In a recently published blog post, GDS said that feedback provided in a staff survey conducted in October 2021 indicated that “the options to record gender identity for employee records [were] too narrow… [and] allowed staff to record their gender as ‘male’ or ‘female’, but didn’t cater to those who identified any other way”.

“People felt that the lack of options restricted them and made it more likely that they would not provide information at all,” GDS added.

The organisation’s group for LGBT+ staff “worked with other parts of the Cabinet Office to explore what questions or options could be added into our data recording system [and] how these could be implemented”.

Feedback on proposed changes to employee records was sought from LGBT+ employees before, in March 2002, GDS “secured an option to add and recognise gender identity in our recording system, which was added in March 2022”.

Staff completing their employee records are now asked, in the first instance, whether or not they “identity with the sex they were assigned at birth” – or if they would prefer not to say. If an answer of ‘no’ is given, they are then provided with a free text box in which they describe their gender identity in their own words.

The organisation described the updated records as “a major step forward in helping… people feel valued and understood”.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the results of this change reflected in our quarterly data during 2022/23 and hope to share some more information about this in a future update,” GDS said.

It added: “As well as adding this option to our data recording, GDS has also encouraged people to fill out spaces in our internal communications tools to record their preferred pronouns and people are also encouraged to include these in their email signatures.”

PublicTechnology contacted the Cabinet Office to ask whether Civil Service HR could clarify whether any other parts of government currently provided gender non-binary options for employee records, and whether the centralised HR function would welcome and encourage the collection of this data going forward.

The department declined to comment.

‘Improved outputs’
For its part, GDS said that gathering more complete data on gender identity would allow it to better understand – and thereby improve – the diversity of its appointments of both new recruits and promotions to more senior roles.

“Diversity information, and particularly gender and sexual identity, is very personal information, but it is also complex and broad information about a person,” the blog post said. “Diversity data matters because it can help us understand the impact of our working practices and policies. By tracking diversity data and cross-referencing it with recruitment, retention, learning, development and progression, we can work to make sure that both recruitment processes and career progression are more diverse. It allows us to see how far we have come and how far we have to go.”

It added that cultivating a more diverse organisation would allow it to deliver better services for citizens.

“At the Government Digital Service, ensuring the diversity of our team is key,” it said. “Located at the very centre of government, our role in supporting the government to build brilliant services for everyone means that we, more than ever, are working to ensure diversity of thought and representation of the country that we serve.”

GDS added: “Establishing teams with differing perspectives, experiences and insight is integral to tackling complex problems, and there is a clear correlation between diversity and organisational performance; enabling better attraction of top talent, improvement of employee satisfaction and decision-making, which leads to improved outputs.”


Sam Trendall

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