Christin Milloy:

Rise up and seize equality

Should Gender Be a Non-Required Field?


This article first appeared in Slate Magazine’s “Outward” Blog.

Imagine you are filling out a form. You begin by inputting your name, and date of birth, but then you come across this:

Please select your species.*
Turtle  Duck
*Required Field

Neither of these options applies to you, but … it’s a required field. What do you do? You need to submit the form in order to continue, but neither of the available choices accurately reflects your identity. Whatever person designed this form obviously seems to think that every person is either a turtle, or a duck.

Maybe you would just pick one, in order to continue. You might choose randomly or perhaps decide you feel more like one than like the other. If the answers are nonsense, then the question can’t be that important, right?

Actually, no. If you happen to be applying to the government, or to a bank, or for credit, you’ll likely be confronted by this: It is a crime to knowingly submit false information. This would be a pretty major problem for anyone who is neither a turtle nor a duck. Lobsters and Squirrels need not apply. Is the service only open to turtles and ducks?

This situation might seem silly to you. Most people never run into a problem like this. However, a growing segment of the population must deal with it almost every day of their lives.

When a form asks you to specify gender, M and F are almost always the only options given. Try to imagine what that must be like for somebody who lives with a gender identity that falls outside male and female; it’s painful. It’s discriminatory. Fortunately, there is a very easy and inexpensive solution to this problem.

What if, wherever Gender or Sex appears on a form, whether in print or online, it were designated Not a Required Field?

closesup of a Social Insurance application form which has "sex" as one of the fields.This one simple change will let businesses completely eliminate a potential human rights discrimination issue and help to ensure that processes and organizations remain inclusive of persons of any gender identity (and not just the two most common ones).

“OK,” you might say, “-but I’m a marketer, and gender is my most valuable demographic segmentation.”
This is a common reaction among marketers, and understandably so. Consumer information is a commodity, and records are more valuable when they are more complete. If you, or your clients, execute gender-segmented marketing campaigns, then any consumer record without a gender designation is one fewer target. Ultimately, this translates into fewer leads—or so goes common wisdom.

On the other hand, consider the types of consumers who would actually choose to opt-out of Gender collection if the option is given. Such consumers fall into two categories:

1) Privacy-minded consumers, who only ever give the minimum information required when registering. These consumers are defined by their tendency not to respond favourably to direct marketing, and after receiving your campaign, will commonly exercize their right to opt out of future communications. By omitting these people from your Gender-segmented campaigns, you are saving on postage without harming your response rate at all—in fact your response rate percentage will rise, and so will your return on investment.

2) Transgender and gender-variant consumers. While it is fair to say that most people are completely comfortable with choosing either M or F on a form, there are some consumers who are alienated by the nature of the question. Transgender persons who are still in transition might identify between M and F, or might just prefer not to specify. For genderqueer persons, who might identify completely outside M and F, there is no appropriate box to select here. Such consumers will either decline to enroll in your program, in which case you lose out on the consumer record entirely, or they will begrudgingly select a Gender designation that does not accurately reflect their identity. In addition to generating ill will toward your brand, this leads to wasted expenditure, because you’re including people in your Gender-segmented direct marketing campaigns who will not respond favourably.

By treating gender as an optional field, you will capture additional consumers whom you had missed previously. Furthermore, you will improve your response rates to gender-segmented marketing campaigns by gaining a method to exclude a segment who wouldn’t respond. Simultaneously, you will build your brand reputation with LGBTQ communities. And of course, even those consumers who opt-out of gender designation will still qualify for marketing campaigns that are not gender-segmented. It’s a win-win proposition.

Next, read How-To: Three Simple Ways to “Upgrade” Gender in Forms and Data Collection.

3 Comments

  1. alex
    Tuesday, 2014.08.19 at 20:41

    Maybe also add a third field like gender nonconformist or something that could maybe apply? or…

    maybe why not? add more options?

    Like
    queer
    transgender from mnan to female
    or something lik,e that?

    I mean in any case an identity card does have expiration because we all change through time

    • noah
      Friday, 2014.08.29 at 23:57

      if there were a third option, it might invite violence or discrimination against people who have such a designation, especially since our society doesn’t generally acknowledge trans narratives or any gender other than male or female. in this case, it makes more sense to have it be optional or to get rid of it completely than to categorize anyone who doesn’t want to answer into a separate option.

      • Christin Scarlett Milloy
        Friday, 2014.09.05 at 11:31

        Well obviously the best thing to do, to advance that sort of acceptance, would be to have the other options present but even then still allow the designation to be totally voluntary (e.g. also have “unspecified”).

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Christin Milloy