Asking Gender in Surveys — doing it right

When taking surveys or registering for events I often get annoyed by the “gender-question”. It's pretty easy to do it properly but people still come up with surprisingly many ways of doing it wrong. So here I want to present you how not to do it and how to do it.

Let's start with the worst form that you can probably find:

Gender: * Male

This form has only two options and is mandatory (as indicated by the *). That's awful and no one in the 21st century should do this. If you never heard about non-binaries or intersexuality you should look those terms up now. With a question like this, you will force people to either stop filling out your survey or deny their gender identity. Making the question optional is just slightly better. Having one gender preselected (of course it's always the male one) is so ridiculously stupid, that you can only wonder why anyone would ever think that's a good idea.

A somewhat better — but still bad — far spread option is the following:

Gender: * Male
Other / won't state

This allows for people who don't identify as male nor female as well as people valuing their privacy to choose an alternative option. Why may this still discriminate people? Intersexuals and (other) people who identify as non-binary have to fight a lot for gaining attention in our society. A big part of our society is still not aware of their existence or underestimate the number of people not fitting into the binary categories of male/female. Even worse there are people who actively deny their existence or their right to identify them self as neither male nor female. This option throws them in one box with people who fear about their privacy or don't want to specify their gender for any other reason. This way you “hide” other genders in the statistics and make it easier for people to forget or deny their existence. Having no separate option for non-binaries will also send a signal to people that you don't care about their gender if it's not male nor female. It signals that you will have a look at the differences between what males and females answered in the other questions but don't care about the answers from people of other genders, since you either don't consider them real, or important or wide spread enough in the first place. For that reason I strongly discourage to join these two completely different things in one answer.

Another mistake that I saw multiple times already is the following:

Gender: * Male
Prefer not to say

This version is more inclusive for non-binaries and offers more options but in it's phrasing there's a message hidden that will hurt trans* people: By listing Transmale as well as Male you are implying that trans males are not “real” males and analogous for trans females. If you need to know if a person is trans or not you should add a separate question asking the person whether they identify as trans1.

After these three bad examples here is finally an example of how to properly ask for gender in a survey or registration form:

What is your Gender? * Male
Prefer not to say

In this version everyone can state their gender as precise as they want and no one is forced to specify more than they want. I also changed the question to actually be a real question, since I think that's nicer in general — but that might be a matter of taste, so is the exact framing of the question and options.

When publishing the results of your survey you should think twice about whether someone can be deanonymised by their gender or if someones gender can be figured out by the published results. But that is a topic for another blog post…

Some people might be tempted to not ask the gender at all in a survey, arguing “you can't ask wrong if you don't ask at all” — please don't do this! Without asking the gender you will never have a chance to find out if…

Gender is an important demographic key. If you do a survey, a registration form or something similar, ask for the gender — but do it the proper way! No one will be mad at you for not using their favorite terms, but please avoid the mentioned mistakes. Let me summarize the important points:

It's not that hard — is it?

en LGBTQIA+ gender surverys

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