The importance of LGBT research in Scotland

If political representation at Holyrood and Westminster serve as a barometer for the advances of lesbian, gay and bisexual people, the situation in Scotland looks quite good. Both the Scottish and UK parliaments include a diverse spectrum of sexual orientations among their parliamentarians and often work to advance issues that benefit the lives of LGB people.

However, this alone is not enough (as well as the absence of the T among MSPs and MPs – as of 2019, no representative in either parliament has identified as trans).

As demonstrated in two recent reports, further work is required to address the inequality experienced by LGBT people in Scotland and advance inclusion. In July 2018, Survation conducted a survey for Humanist Society Scotland which found that 12.5% of women and 28.4% of men in Scotland believed it is wrong for people of the same sex to have sexual relationships (findings based on a weighted sample of 1002 respondents).

Let that sink in – more than one quarter of men surveyed believed same-sex sexual relationships were wrong.

The report also presented data by age, geographical location, political party voted for in 2017, socioeconomic group and whether they voted Yes or No in the 2014 independence referendum (interestingly, 22.3% of No voters believed same-sex sexual relations were wrong, compared to 18.8% of Yes voters).

Digesting this data was difficult. LGB work in Scotland rightly promotes success stories, champions representation and a narrative that things are getting better. This is meaningful and effective work but it can make it easy to forget that everyone might not necessarily share my views on sexual orientation.

A gap continues to exist between tolerance and value – tolerating someone is different from valuing someone.

These worrying statistics are reflected in Stonewall Scotland’s recent study, LGBT in Scotland – Health Report. The research found that 49% of LGBT respondents had experienced depression in the past year. Among trans people, this figure rose to 72%.

It is easy to see how findings from these two pieces of work mirror each other: when a sizable proportion of the population believe your identity is wrong, it is no surprise that this has a negative impact on a person’s mental wellbeing.

Although much progress has undoubtedly been achieved, LGBT people in Scotland continue to live in a society that remains heteronormative. Outside the narrow contexts of perhaps gay clubs and gender studies classes, heterosexuality is always the default setting. Society’s heteronormativity can emerge in peculiar places (adults who ask young boys about future girlfriends, people on telephone bookings who assume your spouse is the opposite-sex etc). Fundamentally, a gap continues to exist between tolerance and value – tolerating someone is different from valuing someone.

Part of this problem comes from a lack of data about the existence of LGB people. In Scotland, proposals to introduce a voluntary question on sexual orientation in the 2021 census might help present a clearer idea of how the nation defines itself and make it easier to exclaim ‘We exist!’

Likewise, forthcoming publications, such as the edited collection Queer Words: We Were Always Here, will help disrupt an understanding of queer presence in Scotland as something recent.

When you consider that homosexuality among men was illegal until 1980, advances in LGB equality are comparatively recent and the social and psychological legacies of the past continue to permeate. The recent research from Humanist Society Scotland and Stonewall Scotland are helpful reminders that, although things have improved, much work is still required to advance LGB equality in Scotland.

Dr Kevin Guyan is an equality and diversity researcher based in Edinburgh. He is writing in a personal capacity.

Looking back on 2018

I started writing this blog in August 2018 to make sense, in my own head, of the contradictions and nuances found in the practice of equality, diversity and inclusion research. The end of the year presents an opportunity to reflect upon the ideas outlined in these posts and common threads running through this work.

Above all, I hope that my writing conveys the complexity and messiness of undertaking EDI research, often posing more questions than answers.

I hesitate to say there is a ‘right’ or a ‘wrong’ way to conduct EDI research. However, I have stressed the dangers of collapsing-together equality work and diversity work as this can create confusion about what exactly work aims to achieve.

Work that seeks to increase diversity is not necessarily the same as work that seeks to address inequalities. This difference is particularly important in the context of institutions, where the distribution of finite resources determine what work does and does not take place. Resourcing diversity work at the expense of equality work can be a dangerous decision.

Confusion around what exactly EDI work intends to achieve is also apparent in the misuse of EDI statistical data. Understanding changes to numerical data as a goal in itself, rather than as an indicator of change, can create a fixation with percentage changes at the expense of people’s lived experiences. This is particularly the case with pay gap reporting.

Across posts, I have stressed the value of putting people affected by EDI work at the centre of any project. As much as the terms are not ideal, the relationship between ‘researchers’ and ‘subjects’ has emerged as a recurring theme.

I have explored whether research methods, such as one-to-one interviews, can function as a form of EDI work in themselves when they provide opportunities for subjects to share personal narratives. Alongside potential benefits, one-to-one interviews present huge responsibilities for the researcher, who is granted intimate access into someone else’s world, to take action.

However, the blurring of the line between research and activism is problematic. In another post, I questioned whether EDI researchers should raise the awareness of subjects to inequalities when they do not personally perceive a problem. What should researchers do when there is a mismatch between subjects’ perceptions (‘I wholeheartedly believe my institution operates gender blind promotion policies’) and quantitative data (a disproportionate gap between the number of female applicants and the number of women offered positions)?

As with many of my posts, it is often easier to present questions rather than answers.

Lastly, a clear thread running through this work is the distribution of power and the legacy of unequal structures. Flipping on its head the notion of an equality dividend, this post asked what we learn by framing the problem as an inequality dividend, where we consider what we all gain – at different times and in different contexts – because of the disadvantage of others. Thinking about who directly or indirectly benefits from unequal structures turns the focus from those who have to work ‘twice as hard’, because of their identity characteristics, to those who have to work ‘half as hard’.

These difficult discussions bring to the fore issues of power, privilege and the need for positive action to fix past injustices.

Looking forward to 2019, I want to continue to write and adapt these early pieces into something bigger. My work-in-progress is a larger study of the practice of EDI research, its uses and misuses in modern day Scotland.

Thank you for reading and I look forward to sharing more work in the New Year.

Dr Kevin Guyan is an equality and diversity researcher based in Edinburgh. He is writing in a personal capacity.

The difference between ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ research

How often do we pause to consider what we actually mean when we talk about equality and diversity research? Although the terms ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ are often used interchangeably they have very different meanings and a failure to consider these differences can impede positive change.

A rush to overlook the definitions of equality and diversity often emerges from a rush to overlook your own motives as to why you are involved in equality or diversity work.

For me, the sole purpose of doing equality and diversity research is about gathering evidence to challenge unfair systems of power, which are often based on the remnants of historical structures. Perhaps it comes from my background in history but it is clear to me that there is nothing ‘natural’ about how power is distributed in society, it’s a product of what happened in the past.

A patriarchal system has impacted the career opportunities for women, racism has affected the life chances for minority ethnic people and homophobia has changed how LGBT people think about themselves and are perceived by others.

Equality and diversity research are not same thing. A diversity study might examine the proportion of women in senior leadership positions in your institution or the number of employees who disclosed as disabled. It can help paint a picture of the current situation and is a necessary step in making sense of the issues. However, in isolation, diversity research presents little guidance on how to change what it uncovers.

This is where equality research can pick-up the baton and examine the reasons behind any gaps identified using more complex quantitative methods (such as disaggregated statistical analysis) or qualitative methods (such as focus groups or interviews).

Fighting inequality cannot be achieved by diversity work alone.

As I’ve written about previously, institutional initiatives such as an assessment of the pay gap between male and female employees or the diversification of senior staff are valuable but must function as a step towards something bigger rather than an objective in their own right.

Diversity work can help foster a rich culture where people feel recognised, valued and part of something bigger. But fighting inequality cannot be achieved by diversity work alone. Diversity work does not have enough ammunition in its arsenal. Its strength comes from its openness and desire to bring people together. However, at some point, somebody needs to call out what is wrong with the current situation and fight against existing structures that make these problems exist in the first place. On its own, diversity work is like growing flowers on a piece of waste land without first pulling-out the weeds.

Bringing about change requires resources and, in any institution, resources are finite. There is a danger that doing diversity research in place of equality research presents an illusion of activity that has the potential to bring about limited change. Diversity research is dangerous when it pretends to be something it’s not. It is dangerous when it pretends to be equality work.

Equality and diversity research are strongest when both elements work in tandem. However, to ensure that finite resources support work that challenges unfair structures and systems of power we must all become literate in the difference between ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’ research.

Dr Kevin Guyan is an equality and diversity researcher based in Edinburgh. He is writing in a personal capacity.

Research interviews as a multi-directional method

People embark upon equality, diversity and inclusion research for many different reasons. For some, the work is an exploratory mission to identify key themes and write future research questions. For others, the purpose is diagnostic: where problems are known but underlying causes remain unclear.

The primary purpose of research is to answer questions. However, less discussed, is whether the practice of EDI research (the actual doing of the work) can bring any social or psychological benefits to the individuals involved. Is doing EDI research a form of EDI work in itself?

EDI research must do more than make researchers feel good about themselves but any potential positive effects on participants are worth exploring. We should therefore assess whether well-designed EDI research can operate as something multi-directional, in which researchers get answers to their questions while participants also take-away something meaningful from the encounter.

In some instances, material incentives (such as gift vouchers) can recognise a participant’s contributions and the unpaid time given to the project. But incentives might be something more than material, including social or psychological benefits for project participants.

Imagine a hypothetical research project that seeks to explore recruitment and promotion challenges experienced by disabled staff that work for a large insurance company. To explore this question, research involves one-to-one semi-structured interviews (a mix of specific questions and opportunities for participants to speak freely) with staff working across the organisation.

For Robert, who works in the Finance Department, this is the first time anyone has asked what it was like to navigate the company’s complex recruitment forms as someone with additional learning needs. The method of the semi-structured interview presents Robert an opportunity to tell his narrative with no pressure to present right or wrong answers. Nothing is right or wrong as it’s his perceptions and experiences.

When people participate in an EDI research project they give a piece of themselves to the work. They grant you access into their world.

He speaks from the heart and shares feelings that he had never previously spoken about. In this moment, the researcher is invited into someone else’s world. With this invitation comes responsibility, as it is the researcher’s role to tell Robert’s story accurately.

Participation in a one-to-one interview on EDI issues can also bring dangers. Participants might share perceptions and experiences never previously discussed. As the interview is likely recorded using a dictaphone, for a few months an audio recording of their thoughts and feelings will exist. Even with the guarantee of anonymity and measures to protect data security, there still exists a physical manifestation of something that might have previously only lived in their own head.

And what happens if nothing comes from the research findings? When people participate in an EDI research project they give a piece of themselves to the work. They grant you access into their world. This is an honour and privilege that should never be abused. By inviting participants to present their world, it becomes the responsibility of the researcher to act on the information shared. If the participants’ words lie in an unread or unactioned document it benefits nobody. Furthermore, it risks putting participants off ever sharing their stories again.

Taking part in a one-to-one interview is a unique and personal experience, for both researcher and participant. It goes beyond the borders of simply answering a research question and, when executed effectively, can present an opportunity for people to share personal perceptions and experiences in a way that can bring about change for wider society.

Dr Kevin Guyan is an equality and diversity researcher based in Edinburgh. He is writing in a personal capacity.