October 3, 2019

Dear SSWR members,

We are writing on behalf of the SSWR Board of Directors and the Membership Committee to share important SSWR member news as we continue to implement SSWR’s Strategic Plan 2018-2022.

We have received valuable feedback from a number of individual members concerning two recent issues. First, we have received queries and comments related to the newly developed gender identity and sexual orientation questions on our membership forms—particularly why we ask these questions and for what the information collected will be used. Second, concerns have been raised related to the abstract submission process for the 2020 SSWR Annual Conference.

We would like to take this opportunity to respond to your concerns, addressing each issue individually.

Issue 1: The New Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Questions

The Why and The What. To implement SSWR’s Strategic Plan 2018-2022, SSWR has undertaken efforts to increase the diversity and inclusivity within the membership and to enhance member engagement and member satisfaction through programming and other opportunities. SSWR has identified a number of aspects of diversity that it needs to focus on in order to promote the diversity and inclusivity of our membership—gender identity and sexual orientation are two of these aspects.

Upon reviewing SSWR’s membership database, it was clear that the existing questions on the membership forms provided insufficient understanding of the gender and sexual diversity of our membership, and were not reflective or inclusive of contemporary terminology used in LGBTQIA2S+ communities. Collecting accurate data on gender identity and sexual orientation is important. Such data can help accurately reflect the membership SSWR serves, provide a baseline and measure of progress regarding recruitment and retention of diverse members, and allow us to champion the inclusion of all gender identities and sexual orientations in a meaningful way within SSWR.

Response from SSWR. To address the limitations of the existing questions on gender identity and sexual orientation, the Membership Committee took the initiative in Summer 2018 and revised these questions on the membership forms. The draft revised questions were generated through Committee discussions, review of existing literature, and expert consultation.

The revised draft questions were then circulated to the SSWR Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity (SO&GI) Cluster Co-Chairs, and feedback was requested. Feedback was also publicly solicited from the Social Work LGBTQ Caucus (Q-Caucus), with prior approval from their Executive Committee, June 24th – July 8th 2018. Feedback received was then incorporated, resulting in the current version of the questions. The Board approved these new demographic questions in Fall 2018, and the questions were subsequently integrated in our membership and other registration forms.

As with any other demographic data collected by SSWR, members’ gender identity and sexual orientation data are kept confidential and only presented in aggregate.

Next Steps. We will strengthen our member communications. For example, the intent and implementation process of future changes in demographic questions will be communicated with members in advance of those changes being rolled-out.

Additionally, the SSWR Board recognizes that gender identity and sexual orientation are not the only aspects of diversity for which SSWR needs to reconsider its approach to measurement in order to promote the diversity and inclusivity of the membership. To that end, the Membership Committee’s next steps will include a review of how other demographic questions (for example, race and ethnicity) are currently asked. Steps will be taken to revise these items if necessary and appropriate, with community consultation and feedback solicited. We welcome recommendations on this process from any member (please email to and include “member recommendations” in the subject line).

Issue 2: Concerns Related to the Abstract Submissions for the 2020 Annual Conference

The Why and The What. As some of you experienced, the individual who went through the process of submitting an abstract was required to enter the demographic information of their co-presenters and/or co-authors. Additionally, it may have been possible for authors’ demographic responses to be seen by co-presenters and/or co-authors on their conference proposals. These issues occurred due to an oversight by SSWR when we requested demographic information as part of the abstract submission process. We sincerely apologize for our error, and any discomfort or difficulties that it may have caused.

Response from SSWR and Next Steps. Upon a close examination, we have decided that only essential contact information is needed at the time of conference abstract submission. Individuals will only be asked to provide their demographic information when they join or renew their SSWR membership or register for the conference. Moving forward, SSWR is also looking to improve our membership and registration processes so that an individual would only need to enter their demographic information one time.

We would like to thank those of you who brought these questions and concerns to us. Through this experience, and based upon your feedback, we have also recognized the importance of enhancing member communications. As we continue to implement the strategic plan and improve member engagement and experiences, we strive to enhance member understanding of and engagement with the process, and ultimately generate outcomes that will benefit all of our members and SSWR as an organization.

We encourage all members to attend the annual SSWR Membership Business Meeting which will be held Saturday, January 18, 2020, 5:45 – 6:15 pm, at the SSWR 2020 Annual Conference “Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality,” in Washington, DC. The Membership Business Meeting provides an opportunity to hear updates from the SSWR Board of Directors, as well as, an opportunity to give in person feedback.

We look forward to seeing you at SSWR 2020.


Ruth E. Dunkle, President
Lin Fang, Chair, Membership Committee

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