Gender is a common data collection point that an organization may ask for when they are adding biographical information about a person to their database. You may collect this information because your system is set up to determine a person’s Title or Pronoun based on their gender selection. Or you may simply be asking if someone is male or female because that is how it has always been done. This gender binary approach to data collection can alienate persons who are non-binary right from the start of their relationship with your organization.
Gender inclusiveness is not a new concept but it is something that has been slow to evolve on data collection forms and how we store this information within our databases. Changing your approach to gender identity can go a long way in building better relationships with your constituents
Before you overhaul your donation forms or other data collection forms it is important to review why you’ve been asking for gender in the first place. If it isn’t a valuable piece of information then removing the question from your data collection forms might be your next step. If the information is valuable then you want to look at your approach to collecting this information and the changes that you can make to be more inclusive.
A simple change that you can make without a lot of effort is to let people know why you are collecting gender information and how it is utilized. Providing transparency around how the information is utilized can go a long way to making someone more comfortable with providing the information. Next, allow for someone to provide options beyond male/female and allow someone to decline to answer. A list could include Female, Male, Other, Prefer not to say.
If you are asking for gender to determine other pieces of information, make the change to ask the questions that you are really looking for. Instead of using gender to force a title prefix or pronouns onto someone, ask them for those specific pieces of information instead.
You may ask someone for their preferred prefix with a list of options. Below is a good example of this in action taken from The White House website contact form. The list allows for several options including Mx which is a common honorific that does not indicate gender. By including Other they allow people to indicate other gender neutral titles such as Ind. or Misc.
In addition to allowing people to tell you their preferred title, you can also allow them to tell the pronouns that they use to identify themselves. Asking someone the pronouns that they use can help you properly communicate with them in your outreach efforts.
Collecting this information may be a challenge if your database is setup using binary logic. You may have to store information in customized tables or as a personal attribute instead of utilizing an out of the box field for the information. Making the change will also require training your staff on where to find the information, how to use it, and the importance of why you are collecting it.