When Female/Male Isn’t Enough: Gender Inclusivity and Questionnaires

Terms like “nonbinary” and “cisgender” may be unfamiliar to some, but the world is changing and those of us that work in data capture have to change right along with it. We should ensure that the questions we ask consumers incorporate the language and perspective of today. It’s only fair to them and the businesses and brands we represent.


In the interest of best practices, our team has been paying attention to language changes going on around us. Washington, D.C., New York, California and Maine, Oregon, Minnesota, Washington and working-on-it-Vermont have moved to allow a third gender choice, “X,” on legal documents, such as driver’s licenses and birth certificates. This gives an option for people that don’t fit into the traditional female/male construct. So, if the DMV, that bastion of societal change, is doing it, we need to look at stepping up our game.


A few things to consider:
  • Not all surveys, sample groups or clients are created the same, so traditional gender questions may still be very well-suited for your audience(s).
  • Let’s not get too complicated. A survey of young people conducted in the U.K. contained 25 gender options*. While the intent was inclusiveness, that’s way too many options to be actionable, not to mention that it’s not at all respondent friendly.
  • Do you even need to ask a gender question? If it’s not crucial learning and unlikely to impact action steps, think about skipping it altogether. Mind-blowing, I know!
What might a new approach look like? Here’s an option for you:

What is your gender?

  1. Female
  2. Male
  3. Non-binary/third gender/X
  4. Prefer to self-describe/Other
  5. Prefer not to say


This is very similar to a question wording recommended by the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) and isn’t hard to put into practice.


All we ask is that you ponder this as you embark on your next research project and reach out to us with any questions or suggestions.


* The Sun, 1.28.16