Imagine having to fill in your weight or your dress size when you sign up as a user for something? Or when you upload an application for a job.
It feels like unnecessarily personal information. Because it is.
Being asked to share your gender is also deeply personal. And even more so, if answering questions about your gender identity is associated with a fear of rejection or previous trauma. As it is for a lot of people who don’t identify with binary genders.
We recently went through a design process to create a gender selector that allows our users to self-identify when creating a Platypus Print.
In the process of doing user research for this, we were met with the following comment from a non-binary informant:
“Why do you even have to ask?”
In other words, our informant was telling us that simply being asked about their gender identity felt like an unwelcome reminder and as a first step towards being excluded.
An overwhelming body of research shows that transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, e.g. people who identify as genderqueer or non-binary, are subject to massive amounts of stress.
Apart from the stress of direct discrimination or violence, transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals are victims of the stress associated with (expected) exclusion and social rejection.
A survey from 2015, asking 27,715 trans individuals in the US, found that 77% had taken active steps to avoid mistreatment at work, such as concealing their gender identity or avoiding asking their employers to use their correct pronouns.
All of this is a brutal reminder that asking for information on gender is not indifferent and it can even be a potentially stressful and traumatic task for some users.
So why do we even have to ask? Couldn't we just remove this friction for users?
In reality, no.
We know that data on gender diversity is important to our clients.
That made the question of why we have to ask, central to our design process.
If we were to justify asking about gender, then we had to make sure that the data it produced would do more good than harm.
This is how we believe that it can.
In 2019 Caroline Criado Perez wrote the book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men and popularized research on how medications, crash test dummies, infra-structure, and much more was designed for men or the male body.
Perez showcased examples of products designed for how the male body works, how men’s daily lives are structured, and according to the social expectations of how men and women are allowed to behave.
The title, Invisible Women, reveals the bias causing the trouble.
You don’t build offices, protective gear, or toilets for people you forget exist.
You build them for the people and practices you are well aware of and have available data on.
And the same goes for all gender identities.
Without reliable data on the proportion of gender-nonconforming employees, it is all too easy to create policies that don't reflect the reality of how the workforce is composed
That’s why we feel that we can justify asking for data on genders.
With this data, HR departments and People Teams will have an always updated report on the gender diversity of the workforce.
You'll have data on the top priorities and cultural drivers for each group. Same as Platypus gives you for other metrics such as age or seniority.
You’ll know what initiatives it is most important to pay attention to in order to improve inclusion and belonging.
And you'll be able to ask employees directly how well the organization is doing on those key priorities - and get employees’ own suggestions for which levers to pull to improve.
If you have any feedback or comments on this, you can share it anonymously right here.