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International Women’s Day 2024: Inspire Inclusion

By Sharmila Peake, Content Creator at the UK Data Service

International Women’s Day 2024 centres around the theme “Inspire Inclusion”; so how does the work of the UK Data Service and our partners support inclusivity?

Last year the UK Data Service spoke to Professor Meena Kumari, the Director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) as she presented at our Health Studies User Conference.

Professor Kumari began her career in biological sciences, carrying out laboratory-based research into the biology of stress and the biology of pregnancy. She then secured a role at UCL where she investigated the role of biomarkers of stress and the impact of social differences in health. “I realised that it was difficult to measure the biology of stress in large scale studies. I managed the collection of a stress hormone, cortisol, in a large scale study and became an expert on the collection of biomarkers more generally in large scale social surveys. I am now the associate director for health, biomarker and genetics in Understanding Society.”

Understanding Society; a survey with inclusivity at heart

ISER is home to a number of key longitudinal survey studies, including Understanding Society. Understanding Society is the UK Household Longitudinal Study and launched in 2009 (building on the work of its predecessor, the British Household Panel Survey, which ran yearly from 1991).

Understanding Society interviews around 40,000 households every year, with a focus on family and community behaviour, and helps researchers explore what has changed – and what remains the same – over the course of many years. The datasets are available via the UK Data Service.

Inclusivity is built into the foundation of Understanding Society. “Social science research has always been interested in the population as a whole, so the experiences of everyone – women and men – are important. Understanding Society asks questions to everyone in a household and being able to look at the different life experiences people have over time is one of the greatest strengths of the study.”

Professor Kumari also observed how the Understanding Society survey evolves to reflect changes across society: “We’ve always been careful to phrase our survey questions so that they are inclusive, but we do make small changes to reflect how society is changing. For example, we now ask about people who are co-parenting in different households and have questions for grandparents who are the primary carer for their grandchildren.”

Understanding Society has also developed its survey methodology, adopting a more inclusive approach: “One thing that has changed is the inclusion of survey participants in planning survey questions – we see participants as part of our research team, not people who have research ‘done to them’. “

Revealing on-going inequalities between men and women

Longitudinal survey studies such as Understanding Society gather data every year, and so are able to demonstrate short- and long-term changes in people’s lives. In terms of a more inclusive society however, Understanding Society has revealed that while women are now more likely to take up paid employment, the burden of childcare and housework still falls disproportionately on them: “There’s evidence to show that this negatively impacts on their physical and mental health and their employment choices. Our data shows that women are still more likely to make career choices that prioritise family care needs over career progression and take lower paid jobs. The gender pay gap is still evident between women and men from their early twenties and widens over time.”

As International Women’s Day 2024 pushes forward the agenda for wider and more meaningful inclusion of women, Professor Kumari outlines her hopes for how the recent Understanding Society findings might improve women’s quality of life: “Our mission is to make sure that policy-makers and employers understand the evidence and women’s working conditions. It is clear that there are steps to be made to make the workplace more inclusive. The data we have collected provides the evidence for policymakers looking to improve the life experiences of all women in the UK.”

In this video from the Health Studies User Conference, Professor Kumari talks about her work on Understanding Society, and in the spirit of “inspiring inclusion” emphasises the importance of making social sciences data widely available and as easy to use as possible.

Further survey studies to inspire inclusion for International Women’s Day 2024

Understanding Society

The Understanding Society study, or the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), which began in 2009, is conducted by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), at the University of Essex.

(University of Essex, Institute for Social and Economic Research. (2023). Understanding Society. [data series]. 11th Release. UK Data Service. SN: 2000053, DOI:

British Social Attitudes Survey

The British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey series asks a representative sample of the population for their views on life in Britain. It gathers data on a wide variety of topics, covering everything from gender, family, sexuality, class identity, the workplace, generational differences, morality and politics. Last year BSA celebrated its 40th anniversary and there was widespread media coverage of its findings around the changing perception of women’s place in society.

(NatCen Social Research. (2023). British Social Attitudes Survey. [data series]. 3rd Release. UK Data Service. SN: 200006, DOI:

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey

The Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey launched in 1999, following the advent of devolution. It has similar objectives to the BSA survey, as it aims to capture public opinion and inform the development of public policy in Scotland.

(ScotCen Social Research. (2019). Scottish Social Attitudes Survey. [data series]. 2nd Release. UK Data Service. SN: 2000049, DOI:

Evidence for Equality National Survey (EVENS)

EVENS is the biggest ever UK research survey into the lived experiences of ethnic minorities throughout Britain. The survey covers a wide range of social science research and policy questions. Respondents can choose from the most comprehensive range of racial, ethnic and religious identities offered by any UK population study to date. This level of detail enables deeper insight into the lives of people from a variety of ethnic minority groups within the UK. The study should yield further interest when it comes to the responses of ethnic minority women.

Last year Dharmi Kapadia, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Manchester and one of the research team behind EVENS, was interviewed in an exclusive podcast with the UK Data Service.

(Finney, N., Nazroo, J., Shlomo, N., Kapadia, D., Becares, L., Byrne, B. (2023). Evidence for Equality National Survey: a Survey of Ethnic Minorities During the COVID-19 Pandemic, 2021. [data collection]. UK Data Service. SN: 9116, DOI:

Labour Force Survey

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) is a study of employment within the UK population. It provides the official measures of employment and unemployment and collects other related data such as types of occupation, training, hours of work and personal characteristics of household members aged 16 years and over. LFS is a valuable resource in terms of researching inclusion in the workplace.

(Office for National Statistics. (2024). Labour Force Survey. [data series]. 10th Release. UK Data Service. SN: 2000026, DOI:

Research and Innovation Workforce Survey

The Research and Innovation Workforce Survey aimed to help the Department for Science Innovation and Technology (DSIT) improve strategic analysis of current and future research and innovation policies. It was designed to develop talent and skills, attract people to the UK research and innovation workforce and ensure that the working environment is diverse and inclusive.

(Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. (2024). Research and Innovation Workforce Survey, 2022: Secure Access. [data collection]. UK Data Service. SN: 9205, DOI:

Short-Term Employment Surveys, 2020-2023

Another useful tool in terms of measuring inclusion in the workplace – the Short-Term Employment Surveys (STES) are three statutory, quarterly surveys of private sector businesses. The surveys ask businesses for their number of employees (male/female/full-time/part-time) on a specified date. Online questionnaires are sent to a sample of approximately 37,000 businesses each quarter.

(Office for National Statistics. (2024). Short-Term Employment Surveys, 2020-2023: Secure Access. [data collection]. 9th Edition. UK Data Service. SN: 8912, DOI: