She, he, they? Gender inclusivity within the Third Sector

She, he, they? Gender inclusivity within the Third Sector

It has been a significant time for the trans community in recent months. In light of recent events Ruby Kwong, a Research Assistant with nfpSynergy, discusses how the charity sector can better embrace gender diversity and why it is urgent that we act now.

Ruby Kwong

The past few months have been a particularly significant time for the trans community, and debates about transgender identity have been both high-profile and widespread. Last month held Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR), a day to honour the memory of transgender people around the world who have lost their lives in acts of anti-trans violence, taking place in the middle of Trans Awareness Week, whilst October saw the end of the government’s public consultation on the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), a review of how to reform the process of legally recognising transgender people’s acquired gender.

This therefore felt like an appropriate time to revisit nfpSynergy’s 2016 commitment to welcome gender diversity to our surveys, but with an additional follow-up question: is the charity sector embracing gender diversity?

Of course, this is an incredibly broad question, and to answer it would require far more time and space than we have here. What this blog attempts to do, however, is give a brief overview of the significance of the charity sector’s need to stay up to date with the changing landscape of gender, and suggest ways in which it might begin that journey.

The debates that surrounded the government consultation this year have been fierce, and have brought many of the fears that the public hold about transgender people, as well as the barriers to inclusion that transgender people face, to the fore.

The ferocity of these debates has highlighted the fact that the trans community and gender diversity in general are becoming increasingly visible, particularly amongst younger generations. The strength of the response to the government’s consultation proved this: over 50,000 people submitted responses – so many that the consultation’s deadline was extended. And whilst there is a (fairly concerning) lack of good statistical data on trans people in the UK, it is estimated that 200,000 to 500,000 people in the UK identify as transgender. For this group- myself included- trans issues are not merely an academic debate – they are about our daily lives, and our entitlement to live them with safety, dignity and respect.

What is also clear is that trans people remain a deeply vulnerable group. Stonewall’s 2017 LGBT in Britain Trans Report found that one in four trans people have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives, and that two in five trans people and three in ten non-binary people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months.


What does the Third Sector have to do with it?

Discussion about gender inequality in the charity sector (as well as the workplace in general) tends to focus on one particular issue: the gender pay gap. This issue is undoubtedly of great importance – but when we speak of gender issues and only focus on disparities between men and women, we silently ignore the struggles faced by transgender people.

As a sector that prides itself on supporting people who are vulnerable and marginalised, it is vital that charities remain responsive to the changing faces of social and material inequality. And when one in eight trans employees are being physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the workplace[1], it is hard to ignore the fact that being trans is a daily struggle.

This is not to say that the difficulties and barriers faced by the trans community are new; rather, they are simply more visible now than ever – and so this is the time to get on board. If we are not willing to get up to speed on matters of gender diversity now, when will we be?


Where to start?

Back to basics: language. Language can be a subtle but powerful tool for alienating audiences. When asking about your supporters’ or beneficiaries’ gender, do you only offer the options of male and female? Do you require that they use gendered titles such as Miss or Mr (which carries the additional offence of demanding that women declare their marital status)?

Using language that excludes people or disrespects their identity is an unnecessarily harmful practice. It’s also just quite annoying. As someone who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, I can testify that filling out forms that ask if you are either male or female is a pain – because essentially, you are being asked to lie (looking at you, ASOS). No, ASOS aren’t necessarily any worse than other major retailers – I just tried to buy a pair of shoes from them last week. At checkout I was offered three gender options: “guy”, “girl” and “prefer not to say”. “Prefer not to say” is emphatically not the kind of ‘diversity’ I’m looking for. It’s a way of avoiding talking about difference, rather than embracing it.


The charity sector has to work harder to engage young people

Big brands like ASOS can just about get away with this kind of narrow thinking (though of course, they shouldn’t), because they will always attract young people. But the charity sector, with its aging supporter base, must work twice as hard to engage and remain relevant to young people if it is to expect them to become the next generation of supporters – and that requires staying up to date on the language with which people identify themselves. Girlguiding have been an excellent example of this. Their commitment to including all young girls – not just those who were “born” girls – and their robust defence of this commitment in the face of intense media scrutiny demonstrated the kind of radical inclusivity that charities must strive towards if they are to continue engaging a younger population with decreasing interest in a traditional view of gender.

The upside though, is that language can also be a powerful tool for good. Instead of sticking to a narrow set of categorisations that excludes a significant proportion of the population, think of how you can empower your supporters to define themselves as they see fit. This was an important consideration for us when reconsidering the ways in which we ask people about their gender. We agreed with the Market Research Society when they noted that ‘all research participants need to feel equally valued and satisfied that their personal preferences are being respected in terms of how they wish to describe and categorise themselves[2] – and so we made sure that the language that we used when asking people about their gender reflected the diversity of ways in which people see their identity.

Using gender-inclusive language is not just a matter for those scripting questionnaires or interview guides. It needs to permeate the everyday, from email signatures to service delivery – and charities are ideally placed to start making this kind of change.

If you want to find out more about our surveys with charity supporters, including your own supporter base, check out our briefing pack here: There’s a lot that matters beyond gender when it comes to understanding donors.

Or if you want to learn more about our surveys with the general public, have a look at Charity Awareness Monitor here: or our Brand Attributes Monitor here:

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