How I ask about gender

Another week, another disappointing survey that asks “What is your gender? Female/Male.”

This may be old news to people who read my blog, but if not: gender isn’t a binary. There are plenty of people who identify as non-binary or agender or have some other gender identity that doesn’t fit neatly into one of those two buckets. If you need to ask about gender (and really, do you need to know?), you should be looking beyond offering binary choices.

At a minimum, I think a survey should offer choices for folks who don’t fit the typical F/M binary, and folks who don’t want to tell you. In most cases, you don’t absolutely need to know gender, and you should allow people not to tell you.

This is my current favourite set of choices:

I find the phrase “prefer to self-describe” is less impersonal than “other”, which is often used for the third field. It’s also easier than trying to come up with a cover-all label for “not in female/male”. There’s a bit more work in normalising the free text responses, but I think it’s worth the effort.

I also like having an explicit “prefer not to say” choice, even if it’s not a required question on the survey. It’s good to be absolutely clear that this is an optional question.

This is far from the only way to ask this question — a Google search will turn up lots of advice for asking about gender, and lots of alternative wordings. Use mine, use somebody else’s, or make up your own — just please don’t fall back to “Female/Male”.