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TUC Equality Audit 2018

Report type
Research and reports
Issue date
Section C - Monitoring membership and union structures
For a union to determine whether its structures are representative of the diversity of its membership, it needs statistics.

To collect such data, unions need to monitor their composition with statistics broken down by equality strand (disaggregation) for their membership and their various democratic structures. This section looks at the number of unions that monitor the diversity of their membership and union structures (such as union reps, health and safety reps, branch officers etc).

Monitoring membership

Many unions continue to collect data on women in their membership, including 89 per cent (34) of those responding to the audit, and 68 per cent (26) of unions provided actual figures. Among those unions providing data, the proportion of women in their membership ranged from 4 per cent to 81 per cent.

More than half of the 38 unions responding to the audit (22 unions) said they collected data on the proportion of people from a BME background in their membership. Among these unions, the BME population made up between 0.3 per cent and 17 per cent of their membership. This largely reflects the proportions in the sectors and occupations where unions organise.

Monitoring disability can be more difficult than monitoring by gender, age or ethnicity. Some individuals, for example, may not want to disclose a disability. The audit found that 42 per cent of unions (16) responding carry out disability monitoring of their membership, and 10 unions (26 per cent) provided figures.

Among the unions that provided data in the audit, the proportion of members who

considered themselves disabled varied from less than one per cent to 10 per cent. This is some way behind the proportion of disabled union members according to the Labour Force Survey. However, the unions’ figures may be imprecise as the information has only been collected for a small proportion of the membership.

There has been an increase in the proportion of unions monitoring the LGBT+ status of their members, to 39 per cent. But only seven (18 per cent) unions responding provided actual figures on LGBT+ membership. Among these unions, the proportion of the membership identifying as LGBT+ varied from less than one per cent to 4 per cent. Again, these figures are often imprecise as the information has only been collected for a small proportion of the membership.

More than half of unions responding to the audit (22 unions) said they kept statistics on the number of young people in their membership (each by their own definition of “young”). Unions’ cut-off age for ‘young’ ranges between 17 and 35. Sixteen unions (42 per cent of audit respondents) provided figures on young membership, and the proportion ranged from 2 per cent to 31 per cent.

These trends are all shown in Chart 4. 

Chart 4: Unions monitoring membership by protected characteristics (%)

Chart 4: Unions monitoring membership by protected characteristics (%)
Base: All unions responding to the audits (36 in 2014, 38 in 2018)

Whether unions use disaggregated monitoring of their membership mainly depends on the size of the union: while just 85 per cent of small unions monitor membership by gender, for example, 92 per cent of medium unions and 100 per cent of large ones do so. 

Yet even some of the large unions seem not to monitor all categories: just four of the six record, in each case, ethnic background, disability and LGBT+ status, and five of the six monitor young membership. Indeed, a higher proportion of medium-sized unions (nine of the 12, or 75 per cent) monitor BME membership. 

Monitoring stewards and workplace reps

Overall, 25 of the unions responding to the audit (66 per cent) monitor the number of stewards or workplace reps who are women. For the role of branch officials, 17 of the unions responding to the audit (45 per cent) gather figures on the number of branch officers who are women.

The monitoring suggests that women are still under-represented in union roles and structures compared with their proportion in membership. The limited data provided to the audit indicates that women are often under-represented in the roles of steward or workplace rep, health and safety rep and branch official or officer and as delegates to union conferences and TUC Congress.

Women are more likely to be proportionately or over-represented in learning rep and equality rep roles. In half the 14 unions providing figures on learning reps, women were more than proportionately represented in this role.

Unite launched a Step Up campaign at its national women’s conference to encourage women to stand as union reps and branch officers. The focus is on member-to-member conversations about empowering women members to step up to the leadership roles of workplace, equality, learner, health and safety or environment rep, or branch officer.

In addition, Unite’s West Midlands region has run training sessions – one for women members and one for BAEM members – to encourage members to become reps. This was designed to build their confidence and give them practical tools to develop their involvement. The region has been organising a 100-strong training conference event, again aimed at women and BAEM members who are thinking of becoming shop stewards or reps.

The NASUWT has updated its working assertively training course for women, which teaches assertiveness skills in the context of school, college and within the union and can help those seeking to hold union office. In addition, its regional equalities networks (see p19) include organised networking and training events for women. The union adds that its earlier introduction of a ‘workplace contact’ category of activists has encouraged predominantly women members to job-share representative roles.

Seventeen unions (45 per cent) collect data on BME stewards and workplace reps and 14 unions (37 per cent) monitor BME branch officer roles. Only a small number of unions were able to provide sufficient data on the proportion of BME members to assess how well they are represented in union structures. From the figures that are available, it is evident that BME members are likely to be proportionately under-represented among stewards, safety reps, branch officials and executive members. They are more likely to be proportionately represented as conference and TUC Congress delegates and as equality officers.

The UCU ran a campaign entitled Witness in 2015 which detailed UCU’s BME members’ experiences of everyday racism, which were identified through a member survey. Among other things, the union holds an annual day of action against workplace racism along with a scheme of work for branches to follow to raise awareness about workplace racism and how to challenge it. Members follow a specific theme identified by the UCU Black members’ standing committee. This work has helped to recruit new members and to encourage existing members to become more active within the union and its structures.

Photo: © Ideal Insight |

CSP monitoring shows that in one year (2016–17), BME participation in steward and safety rep roles rose from 4.2 per cent to 5.8 per cent, while in student rep roles BME participation went from 8.1 per cent to 9.5 per cent.

A recent rule change in the CWU requiring branches to have a BAME officer has helped engage many new representatives, the vast majority of whom are BAME. Now 75 branches have a BAME officer in post, and 110 have a women’s officer.

Sixteen unions (42 per cent) record the number of stewards and workplace reps who are disabled. The data from unions suggests that, where information is available, disabled members are well represented or over- represented in all union positions. Twelve unions (32 per cent) monitor the disability status of their branch officials.

Unite successfully recruited members in the finance sector when a Unite rep (who is also on the union’s disabled members’ committee) set about encouraging people with hidden disabilities to get involved with the union. This action resulted in a significant rise in membership.

In 2016 the TSSA held a successful recruitment month themed around its neurodiversity programme: membership increased in workplaces that had run activities. There was also an increase in members getting active, becoming equality reps and being trained as neurodiversity specialists.

Twelve unions (32 per cent) monitor the LGBT+ status of stewards and workplace reps and 9 (24 per cent) monitor the LGBT+ status of branch officials. There is very limited comparable data to indicate how well LGBT+ members are represented in union structures, and what is available shows a very mixed picture.

The BECTU section of Prospect has established an LGBT+ webpage, Facebook and Twitter pages and a WhatsApp group since the last equality audit. BECTU’s merger partner, Prospect, has also created an LGBT+ webpage providing a single place for LGBT+ materials and an online facility for joining. In addition, the union has developed branch- based LGBT+ networks and has also been working with employers to encourage people to get involved.

Sixteen unions (42 per cent) monitor the number of young stewards and workplace reps and 12 (32 per cent) monitor the number of young branch officials and officers. Unions were also able to provide some data on the representation of young workers in their membership and structures. This showed almost universally that young members were under-represented in all union positions. A notable exception was the NUJ, where young members formed a disproportionately high percentage of activists at every level.

The CWU’s Building Tomorrow Together initiative, designed to recruit more women and young workers, includes an action month in October as well as specific materials to encourage these two groups to join. The union’s figures show that under-30s have grown as a proportion of new joiners and of overall membership since 2014.

Smaller unions are less likely to carry out monitoring than larger unions So, for example, whereas 100 per cent of large unions (six) conduct gender monitoring of stewards and workplace reps, only 67 per cent of medium- size unions (eight) and 55 per cent of small unions (11) do so. This pattern is repeated for each equality strand.

The proportion of unions monitoring branch officers is also lower the smaller the union. And the difference between large, medium and small unions monitoring these officers is even wider than for stewards and workplace reps for all equality strands.

Large unions are also more likely to monitor shop stewards and workplace reps. The proportion of stewards and reps of all respondent unions who are covered by monitoring is 91 per cent for gender monitoring; 71 per cent for ethnic background monitoring; 69 per cent for disability status; 65 per cent for LGBT+ status; and 78 per cent for young reps.

There has been very little progress by unions in this area since 2014. There have been improvements in disaggregated monitoring at the level of stewards and workplace reps for some strands, and for disabled and LGBT+ members among learning and health and safety reps. But there have been falls, or at least no increase, in the proportion of unions collecting disaggregated statistics for branch officials, branch and workplace equality reps, conference delegates, TUC Congress delegates and national executive members.

Equality officers and reps

In this section of the report we will be providing examples of actions unions have taken in the past four years to ensure their branch and workplace representatives reflect the membership.

Equality officers play an important role in achieving equality for all. The main

responsibility of an equality officer is to lead on overall equality at a national level. The audit shows that 27 unions (71 per cent) have at least one member of staff at national level. Seven (18 per cent) have a member of staff whose main responsibility is equality for young members, and five (13 per cent) have separate officers responsible for individual strands of members.

The audit findings show a drop in the number of unions saying they have equality officers covering individual strands since 2014, as Chart 5 shows.

Chart 5: Unions employing equality officers at national level (%)

Chart 5: Unions employing equality officers at national level (%)
Base: All unions responding to the audits (36 in 2014, 38 in 2018)

All 18 large and medium unions had at least one overall equality officer, though in 11 cases these officers also had other responsibilities. Three of the large unions, but only two of the medium ones, had officers for most of the individual strands.

Just nine of the 20 small unions employ equality officers (all for overall equality) of which only the officer in one union (ASLEF) is working solely on that role. None of the small unions had officers for the individual strands.

In total, of the 27 unions with overall equality officers, two-thirds (18 unions) say these equality officers also have other responsibilities. This spread of duties is more common with the individual-strand equality officers, except for LGBT+ officers. All but one of the five unions with LGBT+ officers say that the member of staff is dedicated solely to that role.

The 35 unions completing the main questionnaire were asked if they employed any equality staff at regional, group or sectoral level. Sixteen unions (43 per cent) had overall equality officers at these sub-national levels and four unions (11 per cent) had sub-national officers with clear responsibility for one strand – women, BME, disabled, LGBT+ or young members. In all cases these post-holders also had other responsibilities.

The NEU (NUT section) has introduced senior organising officers for equality, who the union says, “have made a significant difference in organising members in the equality areas”. They have focused on increasing participation in conferences and building local networks for members in those groups.

To give a focus throughout the union, the PFA has introduced equality executives within its coaching, community and education departments, on top of its core equalities staff.

Equality reps at workplace or branch level

Equality reps in the workplace can help ensure that equality is properly considered as part of all workplace consultation and bargaining activities. Equality reps also help to prevent discrimination.

Fifty-eight per cent of the unions responding to the audit (22) had a rule or practice on workplace or branch overall equality reps. This was much more common among the large unions than the small and medium-size unions. Five unions (83 per cent) had such a rule or practice compared with seven (58 per cent) of medium unions and 10 (50 per cent) of small unions.

In total, 84 per cent of members of unions who responded were in unions with a rule or practice on overall equality reps, as Chart 6 shows. ASLEF has adopted a new rule providing a job description for the role of branch equality rep (BER). The union has also run campaigns in some regions to increase the number of BERs and has managed to do so by 50 per cent in some areas. ASLEF has also made particular efforts to engage with elected BERs through regional newsletters, customised training events and, for the first time, an equalities weekend school.

Chart 6: Proportion of members who are in unions with overall equality reps (%)

Chart 6: Proportion of members who are in unions with overall equality reps (%)
Base: Total number of members of unions responding to the 2018 audit (5.38 million)

Again, 18 per cent of unions (seven) had a rule or practice for appointing reps with responsibility for BME members, including 50 per cent of large unions (three), 17 per cent of medium ones (two) and 10 per cent of small ones (two). Overall, 62 per cent of members of unions responding to the audit were in unions with BME members’ reps.

Just 11 per cent of unions (four) had a rule or practice for appointing reps with responsibility for disabled members, including 50 per cent of large unions (three) and 8 per cent of medium unions (one). Overall, 59 per cent of members of unions responding to the audit were in unions with disabled members’ reps.

Thirteen per cent of unions (five) have a rule or practice for appointing reps with responsibility for LGBT+ members. They included 67 per cent of large unions (four) and 8 per cent of medium unions (one). Overall, 65 per cent of members of unions responding to the audit were in unions with LGBT+ reps.

Eighteen per cent of unions (seven) had a rule or practice for appointing reps with responsibility for young members, including 50 per cent of large unions (three), 25 per cent of medium unions (three) and 5 per cent of small unions (one). Overall, 65 per cent of members of unions responding to the audit were in unions with young members’ reps.

The GMB had previously recommended that all branches elect a branch equality officer whose role was to cover all equality strands. They are now also encouraged to elect youth officers and race officers, so that the union “can highlight and change anything that acts as an obstacle to branch members’ inclusion and participation”.

The NEU (NUT section) and NASUWT both say they have seen an increase in the number of local equality officers in post, but other unions have had a harder time. For example, Prospect reports that, because of cuts in facility time, the role is now usually held by committee members with other responsibilities. Community also says that the lack of facility time allocated to the role, as well as the fact that the union operates in many non-recognised areas, act as barriers to expansion in this area.

Equality committees

The main audit questionnaire was changed slightly in 2018 from 2014’s: unions were asked both if they had any formal committees for equality or for individual strands and also if they had any inf ormal networks or groups.

Twenty (57 per cent) of the unions completing the main questionnaire have a formal national overall equality committee (see Chart 7). Seventeen (49 per cent) have a formal body for women, and the same number do for BME members. Sixteen (46 per cent) have formal bodies for LGBT+ members and for disabled members and 14 (40 per cent) do so for young members (see Chart 7).

The RMT have had a rule change since the 2014 audit to create a disabled members’ advisory committee and annual conference on the same basis as the other equality groups. Community has had a disabled members group for many years but is now in the early stages of developing groups for women, BME, LGBT+ and young members.

The CSP dissolved its equality and diversity group, with equality work now carried out by a number of other committees and the CSP council (its executive), but there is now a requirement for the council to demonstrate a “rigorous equality impact assessment” of its decisions.

Increasingly union members are creating less formal networks. Of the unions completing the main audit questionnaire, more than one in three had an informal overall equality network or group. In addition, a significant minority of unions had informal networks for individual strands: 46 per cent had an informal group or network for women, 40 per cent had one for LGBT+ members, 37 per cent in each case for BME members and disabled members and 29 per cent had one for young members (see Chart 7).

Chart 7: Unions with formal and informal equality groups (%)

Chart 7: Unions with formal and informal equality groups (%)
Base: Unions completing main questionnaire of the 2018 audit (35)

Informal networks are not necessarily replacements for formal committees, and in many cases unions have both. Ten of the 35 unions completing the main questionnaire (29 per cent) have both formal and informal overall equality groups, and this group includes three large unions, four medium unions and three small ones. Twelve unions (34 per cent) have formal and informal women’s groups, 10 (29 per cent) do so for BME members, 11 (31 per cent) for disabled members, nine (26 per cent) for LGBT+ members and eight (23 per cent) for young members.

The NEU (NUT) has replaced its former advisory committees for the equality strands with national organising forums, which are elected through regional councils. The focus of these is on lay activists carrying out organising work in their region, supported by the union’s senior equality organisers. In some regions they have set up equality networks in the various strands, and the union reports some very strong lay-led networks operating in London for BME, women and LGBT+ teachers. Trans teachers and disabled teachers have digital networks and are exploring other ways of bringing members together through social media and other electronic means. Meanwhile, the all-NEU trans teachers network held its first face-to- face meeting in January 2018.

While Unite has had a full range of formal committees for most of the strands for some time, several informal social media groups have also been established, including among young and LGBT+ members. Similarly, the UCU has both committees and active digital networks for all equality groups. And the NASUWT, which has a formal committee for each category, also hosts specific sections within its social media programmes for each of the strands, including NASUWT Facebook pages.

ASLEF also has informal networks that operate via Facebook, as does the CSP, on top of its national networks for BME, disabled and LGBT+ members, which hold twice-yearly meetings. It has been piloting a young members forum following an executive committee decision, and rule changes will be proposed at the 2018 annual conference to establish this as part of the union’s rulebook.

The PFA has developed various specific committees in recent years and now also has networks for LGBT+ football practitioners and for mental health practitioners (to address stigma around mental health in football). UNISON added a new network in 2016 following the Brexit vote for European Union workers. Its previous Polish workers group has merged with this.

The AUE is currently building informal networks for general equality, with an aim to move on to specific groups, and the SCP is looking to develop networks in the future.

Networks can also be the prelude to more formal activity. The BDA set up virtual equality networks for each strand using social media, which the union hopes will develop into meetings or events in the future.

Some unions have also been facing difficulties in maintaining their equality groups and committees. Napo formed informal networks covering women and BME members after the last audit, but the Napo Black network, which has held two events, has been hindered from further activity by funding constraints.

Accord has ended its LGBT+ and BME advisory committees because they duplicated its main employers’ networks, which made it difficult to maintain interest among members.

Meanwhile the CWU national advisory committees have been cut in frequency and length to help manage costs, and the PCS is having to rebuild some of its established equality structures after check-off and facility time were withdrawn.

Some unions raised issues around inactivity among some groups, leading to changes in how they operate. The TSSA said that while its previous LGBT self-organised group saw limited activity, a vibrant new network had been formed in 2016 which works with outside LGBT+ campaigns.

How the TSSA re-established LGBT+ organisation

The TSSA’s LGBT+ Network was established in 2016, about 18 months after its original LGBT self-organised group disbanded.

To help establish the network, after the shooting dead of 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando in the US, the TSSA’s general secretary wrote an open letter to members inviting them to attend a seminar, LGBT+ in the Workplace, one aim of which was to explore setting up a new network and what that might achieve.

Stonewall gave a presentation on its work to the seminar, and the meeting came up with a list of issues for a network to address.

In February 2017 the TSSA became the first union to officially join Stonewall and its diversity champions programme. This was promoted to the union’s membership, which resulted in more LGBT+ members coming forward to get involved in the network.

The network set a plan of action including recruitment and campaigning goals. This led to the launching of the union’s
#NoBystanders campaign. A further LGBT+ in the Workplace seminar has been held, and in February 2018 the network ran various campaign activities as part of LGBT History Month. This has built more momentum for the #NoBystanders campaign.


Equality conferences and seminars

Unions were asked if they held regular national conferences either for overall equality or for specific strands of members.

Since 2014 there has been a decline in national conferences for individual equality strands as is shown in Chart 8. Just over a third of unions responding to the audit (34 per cent) hold a regular national women’s conference or seminar, and 29 per cent hold one for LGBT+ members. Twenty-six per cent hold one in each case for BME, disabled and young members. There has been a small rise in the overall equality conferences.

Chart 8: Unions holding equality conferences or seminars at national level (%)

Chart 8: Unions holding equality conferences or seminars at national level (%)
Base: All unions responding to the audits (36 in 2014, 38 in 2018)

Not surprisingly, large unions are more likely than others to hold all types of equality conference, especially those for individual strands. A hundred per cent of large unions (six) hold young members conferences, for example, compared with 33 per cent of medium unions and no small ones. And 83 per cent (five) of large unions hold women’s conferences compared with 58 per cent of medium unions (seven) and just 10 per cent (two) of small ones.

A third of the unions completing the main questionnaire (31 per cent) said they hold conferences or seminars on overall equality at sub-national level. (This question was not asked of those completing the small- unions questionnaire.) A small number of unions held sub-national events for individual equality strands: 29 per cent of unions held conferences for women; 23 per cent for BME members; 20 per cent for disabled members; 20 per cent for LGBT+ members; and 31 per cent for young members.

GMB taskforce targets women’s activism

In 2013, the GMB established a national women’s taskforce to identify and eradicate hurdles preventing women from becoming more active in their union.

The taskforce undertook this work from 2013 until 2017, during which it submitted recommendations and an annual report to the GMB’s congress.

This work resulted in new processes to give a basis for election to regional equality forums. This was done via the national equality officer and senior management team in consultation with the regions, and was approved by GMB’s Central Executive Committee (CEC)

The national women’s taskforce ultimately came to what the union describes as “a natural conclusion” with the establishment of the GMB’s first women’s conference. This is now an annual event.


Developments in Wales and Scotland

A number of unions reported progress in equality work specifically in Wales and Scotland since the last audit.

Since 2015, NASUWT has established equalities committees and held equalities conferences in the devolved nations. Following the introduction of the equalities development courses in 2016 and the success of the Scotland equalities conferences, NASUWT set up the Scotland equalities advisory group. The group will operate through virtual contact – allowing for quick access and response – and will also meet occasionally.

TUC Congress monitoring

At the 2016 TUC Congress, equality monitoring of delegates was carried out online for the first time. The overall level of returns was 75 per cent of delegates.9

TUC data showed that 49 per cent of delegates were women. This compares to 44 per cent in 2015. Forty-six per cent of delegate speakers were women, the highest rate ever recorded, and a significant increase on the previous high of 40 per cent in 2011.

The monitoring questionnaire responses included answers to the question on ethnicity from 401 delegates. According to these responses, 11.7 per cent of delegates identified as Black, an increase on the 10.5 per cent recorded in 2015; 2.2 per cent of delegates identified as Asian, 3.5 per cent as African Caribbean, 0.8 per cent as African and 5.2 per cent as other within the Black category.

Of the 395 delegates who answered the question on disability, 15.2 per cent considered themselves disabled, up from 9.7 per cent in 2015.

There were 386 responses to the question on sexuality. This question had the lowest response rate, significantly down on the 415 delegates responding in 2015. In 2016, 7.8 per cent of delegates identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, a similar proportion to 2015.

There were 393 delegates answering the separate question on gender identity which was introduced in 2013 on the advice of the TUC’s LGBT committee. Sixteen delegates (4 per cent) identified as trans, up from 10 delegates in 2015. In addition, three delegates ticked the “prefer not to say” box, significantly fewer than the 15 delegates who selected this option in 2015.

Four hundred delegates answered the question on age, a higher response rate than in previous years. There was a slight increase in the proportion of delegates under 35, with 7.1 per cent of delegates in this category compared with 6.3 per cent in 2015. The proportion of delegates aged over 55 had also increased to 44.5 per cent, compared with 37.1 per cent in 2015.

Reserved seats

All unions responding to the survey were asked about reserved seats on national executives, conference delegations and TUC Congress delegations. Several unions have rules on reserving seats on some bodies and delegations. These rules seek to ensure a certain level of representation for groups that have traditionally been under-represented.

The most likely body to have reserved seats is a union’s national executive body (NEC). BME members have reserved seats on 26 per cent of unions’ executive bodies, as Chart 9 shows. 21 per cent of unions have reserved seats for women, while 16 per cent of unions have seats for disabled members. Only eight per cent have reserved seats for young members and five per cent for LGBT+ members. There has not been much change in these proportions compared with four years ago.

Chart 9: Unions with reserved seats on national executives (%)

  • 9. There was a low overall return for monitoring at the 2017 TUC Congress because of difficulties implementing an online system. As a result, we cannot make a meaningful comparison with the result of monitoring exercises in the last audit in 2014
Chart 9: Unions with reserved seats on national executives (%)
Base: All unions responding to the audits (36 in 2014, 38 in 2018)

The eight unions who have reserved seats for women comprise two large unions, two medium ones and four small ones. Overall,
37 per cent of members of unions responding to the audit are in unions with reserved seats for women.

The 10 unions with reserved seats for BME members consist of three large ones, five medium ones and two small ones. The result is that 60 per cent of members of unions responding to the audit are in unions with reserved seats for BME members.

The six unions with reserved seats for disabled members comprise two large ones and four medium ones. This means that 33 per cent of members of unions responding to the audit are in unions with reserved seats for disabled members.

Just one large and one medium union have reserved seats for LGBT+ members, accounting for eight per cent of members of unions responding to the audit.

The three unions with reserved seats for young members are two large ones and a small one. But they account for 46 per cent of all union members.

Since the 2014 audit, UNISON has increased its NEC by three seats to include two reserved seats for disabled members – one male and one female – and one additional seat for young members, so that group now has two seats.

Photo © Jess Hurd/

Unite’s efforts to embed equality in its industrial work have included introducing a new rule to ensure that each regional
women’s, BAEM, disabled member and LGBT+ committee is directly represented on the regional industrial sector committees. This is in addition to the existing requirement on these committees to have ‘minimum proportionality’
– to include as a minimum the proportion of women BAEM members covered by the committee.

The NEU (ATL section) took steps to improve BME representation on its E&D committee. It advertised for two BME members, but so many wished to take the seats that a ballot was required.