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Pride Month: 5 Keys to Advancing LGBTQ+ Equity with Data

Jun 15, 2023
By D.J. Murphy, Senior Editor, Digital Content for Data Universe

Pride Month is a time to both celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and take a hard look at the challenges ahead in achieving equity remaining. Consider: the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign, recently declared for the first time in its 40-year history that LGBTQ+ people are living in a “state of emergency,” citing 77 discriminatory bills at the state level that have been signed into law in 2023.

Within this context, the organization Out Leadership determined in its State LGBTQ+ Business Climate Index that the overall average growth in corporate investment to improve LGBTQ+ rights dropped, which has not happened in the five years it has been conducting research to inform the index.  

Yet the business case for diversity, equity and inclusion has never been stronger. A McKinsey report tracking hundreds of businesses found companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than organizations in the fourth quartile—up from previous years.

Both of these realities are true simultaneously. What businesses need next to address these problems and embrace the opportunities DEI presents includes more comprehensive data to better understand the inequities.

Below are five keys to leveraging data to advance equity:

1. Begin with a clear goal

The Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report last year detailing best practices when collecting data about LGBTQ+ people. The report highlights the differences in the types of data that can be obtained in various types of surveys (i.e., general population vs. community-based). Regardless of a survey’s design, research is far more effective if it has an objective.

According to the report’s authors: “Entities collecting demographic data, including data related to SOGI, do so with a specific and well-defined goal, such as collecting statistics on health experiences or understanding the performance of a government benefit program.” Specific goals, of course, will vary among enterprises but the need to establish them at the outset of LGBTQ equity initiatives will not.

2. Collect data consistently

While some organizations have already made progress. experts agree the persistent lack of routine data collection on sexual orientation, gender identity, and variations in sex characteristics (SOGI) is a substantial barrier for people and organizations.

Healthcare providers, for example, could be one source of much-needed basic SOGI demographic data especially in identifying inequities in health outcomes. A recent article in STAT noted that a National Library of Medicine study that found most people are comfortable providing SOGI information in a healthcare setting. As this trend continues, and with additional federal guidance, it could be collected by other industries organizations for use in research and policymaking.

3. Properly train staff

Once an organization has recognized the need and made a case for collecting SOGI data, managing the process can be daunting. Making sure the staff that will be conducting interviews or gathering the data is properly trained to do so is vital. In a “nuts and bolts” guide on collecting SOGI data, NORC at the University of Chicago, a non-partisan research organization, notes that staff should be trained not only on LGBTQ+ terminology and how to proceed in a culturally competent manner, but also why collecting the data is important and how to respond to concerns about confidentiality.

According to the guide, “many health care organizations that are implementing SOGI data collection noted that training was very important, not just for helping staff navigate patient discomfort, but more so to help staff navigate their own discomfort around asking the questions.”

4. Use the data appropriately

Once data is collected, organizations should have a plan in place putting that data to work in a secure and effective manner. The ability to stratify outcomes by demographic factors is obviously valuable to organizations charged with providing various services. According to NORC, when applying SOGI data to those outcomes, it becomes easier to identify disparities in the quality of your offering and areas of improvement. It’s important, however, to consider sexual orientation and gender identity separately in any analysis because those attributes exist separately in individuals.

Appropriate use of SOGI data must also consider privacy. A recent White House report providing a roadmap for federal agencies creating SOGI Data Action Plans noted that while any demographic data collected by the federal government is subject to existing privacy laws, agencies should consider where existing policies and practices are insufficient to protect LGBTQ+ people.

“Steps to minimize privacy risk are important to reduce the likelihood of reidentification or mishandling of this information, and they may differ depending on the circumstances,” the report said.

5. Establish diversity as an imperative

With goals established, staff trained, data collection improved and the information being used appropriately, organizations will be positioned to expand by creating a broader culture of DEI across more areas of the enterprise. 

“Maintaining a collaborative culture is an ongoing challenge for many companies,” according to a report from the Anita Borg Institute. “To institute real change in the workplace, employees throughout the organization need to understand that including people with a broad range of perspective, background and gender is a business imperative.”

Conclusion: The risk of not leveraging data

The World Bank, acknowledging a SOGI-based “data gap,” said evidence illustrates that “LGBTQ+ people suffer lower education outcomes due to discrimination, bullying and violence; higher unemployment rates; and a lack of access to adequate housing and health services and financial services."

Driving changes to address that data gap and positively impact the lives of people in the LGBTQ+ community will require organizations to responsibly collect, analyze and report critical data As authors of the CAP report above said: “Failing to collect these data can create harms by hindering the ability of researchers, policymakers, service providers, and advocates to understand the experiences of LGBTQ+ communities, identify disparities, generate policies that promote equity, and evaluate the effectiveness of those policies.”