Inclusive Gender Options for Surveys
When it comes to survey questions, people often shy away from asking anything about gender or sexuality. This can be for a variety of reasons, whether that’s due to worry about using the incorrect term or saying the wrong thing, to inadvertently offending someone.
Whatever the reason, these are understandable concerns given the complexities around the topic of gender and how different people view themselves. However, as with many other questions based on demographics such as age, they can help you gather essential background information about a survey participant. From here you’re able to slice and dice information, which in some cases can help you to explain why some groups may have answered something in a particular way.
However, the reasons for asking gender questions in surveys are often a bit more detailed than that, which we will go onto look at next, before looking at inclusive gender options for surveys.
When to ask about gender in surveys
While you should now have a better idea about how and where gender questions can benefit you, given their sensitivity, you still need to be clear about your own use of gender survey questions, reviewing them on a case-by-case basis.
Quite often gender questions are asked because businesses feel like they should ask them, as they’re seen as a ‘standard’ demographic question, rather than something best used to help some other process such as cross-tabulation.
Subsequently, organisation’s such as the Centre for Equalities and Inclusion suggest taking your time before coming to a decision over their use. This is particularly relevant for employers when considering whether they really need the demographic information they typically ask for in staff satisfaction and employee engagement surveys.
To help become better informed about your own purpose for using these questions, consider asking yourself the following questions:
- Is there a strong valid reason why our survey needs to collect information around gender, sex and/or sexual orientation?
- How would we use the information we collect?
- Would this data be broken down by category or used for cross tabulation purposes?
- How would we make it clear to respondents, our reasons for wanting to collect this data?
If the answers you get to most of these questions are compelling, it should make it a lot clearer to you about your own justifications for using gender questions.
The rationale for using gender questions will vary depending on your company and its mission.
For example, the justification for charitable organisation Stonewall in gathering data on gender questions is that it provides them with a strong tool for championing LGBT equality and inclusion. In addition, the organisation encourages employers to use this data to measure their own success in promoting inclusion and improving their understanding about what strategies work well and which don’t.
Understanding the gender terms you need to use
Besides thinking about whether you really need to ask questions on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), you also need to fully understand all the key terms associated with it, otherwise you could risk causing confusion or worse still offending someone.
Here are some explanations of the key terms, as defined by the Council of Europe.
Gender identity refers to our deep-felt individual experience of gender, which may or may not correspond with the sex that was assigned to us at birth. It also encompasses our own personal sense of our body and gender expressions involving dress, speech and mannerisms.
Our biological and physiological characteristics are what differentiates men and women. The sex of a person is determined at birth and becomes a social and legal fact from there onwards.
Sexual orientation refers to a person’s capacity for emotional and sexual attraction, and intimate and sexual relations with individuals of a different gender (heterosexual), the same gender (homosexual, lesbian, gay), or more than one gender (bisexual).
Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe an individual who has a gender identity which is different to the one that was assigned to them at birth and who wishes to portray their gender identity in a different way from their gender at birth.
How to ask about gender in surveys
Having justified your own reasons for asking gender questions in surveys, you’ll want to know what’s the best way to ask them and how to make them as inclusive as possible.
Here’s a handy checklist of considerations to help you:
Having read through this blog, we hope you will feel more comfortable about when and how to ask gender questions in surveys, including how to make your options more inclusive for respondents answering them.
There’s no need to be shy when it comes to asking gender identity and sexual orientation questions. As long as you’ve worded them in the right way and made them sufficiently inclusive, they should add value to your survey, both in terms of improving your response rate and the quality of data you get back.