FEATURE2 March 2021

‘Keep listening and take a stand': research with trans people

Features Trends UK

Expensive sample is just one of the challenges facing the sector when it comes to market research with transgender people – but it is incumbent on researchers and brands to be inclusive, according to speakers at a recent MRS Pride event.

Tetris blocks

The virtual summit on 18th February focused on trans insights and explored the issues facing trans people as well as how to conduct inclusive research, including challenges around sampling, recruitment and balancing inclusion with representation. 

Presenting the results of research conducted with Outvertising to understand the trans experience, Michael Brown, chair of MRSpride and partner, insight & cross-culture, UM, flagged the methodological challenge associated with carrying out research with seldom-heard audiences.

“It has not been easy research: neither from an analytical perspective, as we found many worrying and saddening insights, nor from a methodological perspective, as transgender research participants are really hard to come by.

“That’s because of the trans community’s modest incidence in society, but it’s also due to exorbitant premiums that panel companies tend to attach to conducting surveys, which prevents a lot of trans research from happening,” Brown said.

There was another challenge – some participants, particularly for the focus group stage of the research, told researchers they felt “too weary” or unwell to take part, sometimes at short notice. Brown explained: “This is an insight in itself, which points to the current position and perhaps state of mind of some parts of the trans community.”

The trans research is one part of the forthcoming LGBTQ census currently being produced by UM and YouGov. Global Butterflies, which helps to bring awareness of trans and non-binary issues, aided the researchers by sharing the survey link in trans communities, helping the project obtain a sample of 197 people, added Brown. “197 may seem modest at first sight, but in the context of trans research, it’s really substantial.”

The research found that transphobia and insensitive treatment are the biggest issues facing trans people, with 81% of those surveyed reporting that they fear violence and risks to their personal safety.

During a panel session, Mon Kowalczyk, co-chair of Ipsos Mori Pride, discussed the issue of balancing inclusion and representation.

“In the research sector, increasingly our clients ask for proof that we are truly inclusive of underrepresented groups. Hopefully, all agencies now have a diversity and inclusion programme and goals, and not just for internal practices but external practices with clients,” they said. “The challenge is that we do not operate in a vacuum or utopia. The understanding of trans issues is still pretty low in the wider context.”

The market research industry also needs to establish how to “push for change and stand by trans communities”, added Kowalczyk, while ensuring it delivers research “that is representative of the wider population to eventually provide better insights for clients”.

The panel discussion also touched on the topic of asking about gender in surveys. The census in England and Wales, taking place on 21st March, will include a voluntary question on gender identity for the first time.

Josephine Shaw, founder of The Josephine Shaw partnership, said: “Someone should ask the trans and non-binary community how they would like it to be done. It’s not rocket science. One thing the ONS did do is they piloted it.”

She added: “Some of the concepts we are dealing with here are antithetical to coding. They’re about individuality – while the ‘packaging’ that’s been around for a while is fine for most people, it isn’t for some people. The notion that you’ll have a screener with six questions and you’ve got everybody is always going to be a challenge. [Researchers] need to keep listening to people but also keep it under review.”

Market researchers should consider asking when gender is “relevant”, and whether it’s necessary to collect data on gender at all, said Kowalczyk.

“If you’re doing commercial research project and you want to discuss the product use, do you actually need to know what percentage of men, women and non-binary people like strawberry toothpaste?

“When we have new commercial research, do we actually need to ask this question? Can we challenge our client here – do they actually need to know this? Is it really relevant?”

Shaw called on the research industry to be inclusive of and vocal in its support for trans people. “Organisations are made of people, and people have values. As research organisations, we are as much a shaper of society as a recorder of society.

“We have an obligation to be human and listen and respect people. That means walking the walk. It means saying you respect trans identities and non-binary identities – all minority identities – and being prepared to stand by it. Some of the currents in society might be trying to push back against that, as they are, and a principle isn’t a principle until it costs you something.”

Failure to include trans people risks missing out not just on their experience but a wider set of people, according to Lui Asquith, director of legal, policy and operations at Mermaids.

In a keynote address, they said: “We, as a society, have to start listening. The trans experience is just a human experience.

“If you don’t include trans people in your work, you’re eradicating around 1% of the population, but also a larger amount of allies.”

Brown, in summarising the LGBTQ census trans research, also called on brands and organisations to be supportive.

“Our research found there is an unacceptable outlook for the trans community. Trans people face a series of serious challenges in day to day life, undermining their freedom and safety.”

Brown added: “It’s time for action – brands and business are in a unique position to take a stand on behalf of trans people.”