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Ask the panel

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

'I work for a small institution. The gender duty gives transgender people legal protection from discrimination in employment and training. Am I legally obliged to monitor for transgender and is it in the interests of the transgender person to do so? If I do not monitor for transgender, how can I offer protection to any individuals who may be in my organisation?'

* A spokesman for the Equality Challenge Unit says: "There is no legal requirement on institutions to monitor for transgender, and there may be certain pitfalls in doing so. Press for Change, the organisation campaigning for transgender rights, gives useful advice about monitoring for transgender, including guidelines for structuring the monitoring where an institution chooses to monitor transgender staff ( www.pfc.org.uk ). The main points to consider are:

* Monitoring is not advisable where it can lead to the identification of individuals

* Data should be managed in such a way that the individual cannot be identified

* The purpose of collecting data should be clarified and monitoring should not be at the recruitment stage. Any transgender person who is in doubt about how data will be used may be unlikely to disclose their status

* The institution should have in place a strong anti-harassment policy in advance of taking this step

* If an organisation decides to monitor, it is recommended that a sensitive way of phrasing questions is adopted. For example: 'Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were assigned at birth?'; 'Do you live and work full time in the gender role opposite to that assigned at birth?'; 'Do you feel able to discuss your gender identity with colleagues at work?'

"Where an organisation does not monitor, transgender individuals have protection from harassment and discrimination under the Gender Equality Duty. If a transgender individual voluntarily chooses to disclose their status, this disclosure should be treated in the same way as any other personal disclosures.

"Managers and human resources professionals who are aware of a transgender employee who is experiencing difficulties with colleagues (before, during or after their transition) should discuss with this member of staff how they would like to address the issues they are facing.

"They can also seek guidance from professional organisations such as Press for Change, The Gender Trust ( www.gendertrust.org.uk ) or TheGender Identity and Research Education Society ( www.gires.org.uk )."

* A spokesman for the University and College Union says: "The monitoring of transgender people is not a legal requirement and, where undertaken, has certain pitfalls that need to be avoided and concepts thatneed to be understood.

"Before implementing any sort of monitoring, an organisation must already have in place a full equality and anti-harassment policy that specifically includes protection from discrimination and harassment orbullying on the grounds of gender identity or gender presentation.

Without such a policy, transgender people will not have the confidence to answer questions on the most intimate aspects of their lives.

"Monitoring should only becarried out where there is a clearpurpose to the data collection.

"Transgender people will not 'out' themselves unless they can see some demonstrablebenefit to themselves and their peers.

"Monitoring should be carried out on a regular basis in order to observe trends.

"It must also be clear how the information is to be stored and reported. Data must not be stored in personnel files or in any other way that identifies the individual. Reporting, for example, that an organisation of 5,000 staff includes two transgender people would be fine, but reporting that this broke down to include one in a particular department would put their privacy at risk.

"Further useful guidance from the TUC is available at www.tuc.org.uk/equality/tuc-9303-f0.cfm ."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, Research Councils UK and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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