Inclusion row | Data watchdog criticised over workplace guidance on gender identity

Data watchdog criticised over workplace guidance on gender identity

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has come under criticism from conservative public figures for stating in workplace guidance that staff should think of transgender colleagues as the gender they identify as.

In the workplace guidance set out by the data watchdog, the organisation outlines that staff can support trans colleagues by "thinking of the person as being the gender that they want you to think of them as”.

The organisation outlines in its ‘trans policy and guidance’ document that its main objectives are to provide support for those staff members who are transgender or non-binary, provide guidance for people managers, and provide guidance for staff handling cases containing protected information. But it says its policy relates to all ICO staff, stakeholders and customers.

This guidance, and specifically the use of the word ‘think’ in its expression, has been focused on and criticised by some conservative public figures.

The director of the Free Speech Union, Toby Young, scrutinised the ICO’s legitimacy in protecting public data privacy, and likened the guidance to “something out of (George Orwell’s) 1984, telling people they must not commit thought crime. The ICO is supposed to be responsible for protecting people's privacy,” he said.

“How can it be taken seriously in that role if it's dictating to its employees what they can and can't think?”

Lia Nici, a Conservative MP, also added to the discourse: “Why do we need organisations like the ICO to produce guidance to tell people what they should be thinking? We already have protection for everyone in the workplace since the Equality Act was introduced in 2010.”

An ICO spokesperson said: "Treating everyone with dignity, respect and compassion is fundamental to the ICO's work to uphold and protect information rights.

"Our policies and guidance reflect this commitment to inclusivity for employees in our workplace and to all those we serve."

Gender in the workplace

Gender has been a main subject in many recent employment tribunals, particularly employers don't yet know how to approach discussions and attitudes in the workplace towards trans and non-binary employees.

Because discourse around gender theory is so polarising today, creating policies and guidance on how staff should approach this contentious subject provides clarity on how workers should behave within the workplace, and gives a clear signal on where an employer stands in the ‘debate’.

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However, because this subject is so contentious, even creating policies around what attitudes in the workplace are expected can lead to high levels of scrutiny.

Employers must then decide on how to approach this in the workplace, as having policies around gender discourse enables managers, and HR leaders, to know what to do in the face of a grievance. This could be a way of avoiding disputes or costly tribunals.

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