Publication - Consultation paper

Sex and Gender in Data Working Group - data collection: draft guidance

Last updated: 2 Nov 2021 - see all updates
Published: 9 Dec 2020

Draft guidance on collecting data on sex and gender created for the purpose of seeking stakeholder feedback.

9 Dec 2020
Sex and Gender in Data Working Group - data collection: draft guidance
This is a draft only. Please use the final version of the sex and gender data collection guidance published in September 2021.

Aim of this engagement

The objective of this engagement is to share a draft version of guidance to be issued by the Chief Statistician to Scottish public bodies with regard to the collection, disaggregation and use of data on sex and gender.


The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People asked Scotland’s Chief Statistician to put together guidance to support public bodies collect and present data on sex and gender.

This was in response to concerns raised during proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act in Scotland, about how data on men and women is currently collected, disaggregated and reported.

The work of the sex and gender in data working group has been carried out in a spirit of Open Government, publishing papers, producing a public blog on emerging thinking and holding public events.

The working group have already engaged with a number of stakeholder groups and hosted two public engagement events to hear a range of views and evidence about data on sex and gender. This has been an important part of the group’s work to make sure that any proposals are informed by those with an interest in, and lived experience of, the matters being discussed.

The aim of this engagement is to seek views on the key messages within the draft guidance, and the questions that are being proposed to collect data on sex and gender identity. The feedback received will be considered by the Chief Statistician and working group on sex and gender in data before the guidance is finalised and presented to Scottish Public Bodies.

Overview of proposals

The stakeholder and public engagement to date has explored a number of areas, in particular discussion of examples where data on sex, on gender, and on the trans population is specifically needed or would be helpful. We have talked about where people have seen this data collection done well or not so well. We also discussed the issues that someone collecting data about sex and gender needs to consider in practice.
There were some consistent themes across this engagement, including:

  • it is important for public bodies to be clear about the purpose of collecting the data and how it will be used
  • the need for clear definitions, simple language, and standardised questions
  • collecting disaggregated data in order to highlight if there are inequalities between men and women generally which need to be tackled
  • that there are circumstances where information on sex, gender, and the trans population is needed by different public sector bodies
  • in seeking this information, it is important to ask this in ways that are respectful, where people are adequately trained in how to ask questions sensitively. This helps respondents answer the questions and avoid situations where organisations are concerned about collecting the data and therefore avoid doing so
  • key is maximising the utility of the data whilst providing assurances around confidentiality and privacy

Overview of key messages in the guidance

The guidance currently contains the following sections:

  • underpinning statistical principles
  • definitions used
  • considerations when deciding what data to collect
  • data standards
  • information to accompany data collection
  • analysing, disaggregating and publishing data that has been collected
  • intersectionality
  • harmonisation
  • disclosure control
  • how to present data on non-binary groups
  • data on sex and gender key questions checklist
  • the guidance aims to highlight the importance of collecting and using data about a person’s demographic characteristics, and emphasise that collecting this data should be guided by an organisation’s needs
  • what’s important is that this data, once collected, is disaggregated between men and women and used regardless of whether the question asked was about sex or gender identity
  • where possible, an intersectional approach should be taken so that information on a range of demographic characteristics is combined and analysed collectively to build an enhanced understanding of society and the people within it to help tackle discrimination.
  • when information about a person’s sex, gender identity or trans status is required, the guidance sets out recommended questions to use when asking for this information, either in a survey or on an administrative system

Proposed recommended questions

  • the recommended question on gender identity is already used in the Scottish Household survey, and the question on trans status is similar to the question
  • planned for use in Scotland’s Census 2022. The proposed question on sex in this draft guidance refers to legal sex.
  • preparing this draft guidance was not straightforward. In most cases this draft guidance suggests data should be collected on the basis of gender identity rather than sex.
  • however, in some cases data on sex may be needed
  • in these cases, having considered the feedback from the discussions with members of the working group, stakeholders and at the public engagement events, and aiming to balance these different views, the current proposal in this draft of the guidance is to recommend a legal sex question i.e. a person’s sex registered at birth or for people with a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), their acquired sex. It also includes a ‘prefer not to say’ response.

Consultation Responses

The working group received 76 responses to the draft guidance, of which 64 have been published in full or anonymised format here. An analysis of the consultation responses is available here.

First published: 9 Dec 2020 Last updated: 2 Nov 2021 -