By separating the data we collect by gender, we can uncover new and important insights that give us a deeper understanding of how each gender experiences a particular issue or process and can better guide our decision making. A classic example of the importance of this is the fact that for many years, we did not collect gender-disaggregated data on car crash injuries and deaths. Once that data began to be disaggregated, it was discovered by the University of Virginia that women were 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash. This difference was due to the fact that crash test dummies were developed in the likeness of the male physique and therefore car safety was designed to keep men safe without taking into consideration how a woman’s physique may require different safety features. With gender-disaggregated data, we can uncover potential inequalities and ensure that the needs of all genders are adequately met.
When asking for gender in surveys, there are a few things to consider:
Know why you are asking and communicate this. Is it to tailor a particular product/service for a certain gender? Or in our case, to better understand and respond to the unique needs of your diverse customers? Explaining what you will be doing with the information will help people feel confident providing it.
Know what you are asking for. Do you need to know biological sex (male/female), or their gender identity (woman, man, transgender man/woman, other)? If you are collecting data on potential customers for a company that sells sanitary products, you will likely be asking for biological sex. As an Accelerator or Incubator on the other hand, you are likely more interested in your founder’s gender identity.
These distinctions from American University’s Center for Diversity & Inclusion may be helpful in determining what you should be asking for and how:
Sex refers to the biological make up in terms of chromosomes, hormones, and primary and secondary sex characteristics. When asking about sex as a category, words like male, female and intersex should be used.
Gender identity refers to the internal/psychological sense of self, regardless of what sex a person was assigned at birth. When asking about gender as a category, words like woman, man, and trans* should be used.
Sexual orientation refers to a person’s emotional, physical, and sexual attraction to other people. When asking about sexual orientation as a category, words like gay/lesbian, bisexual/pansexual, and heterosexual should be used. Please note that homosexual is not recommended as it is often used in a pejorative tone.
Include the option ‘prefer not to say’. Not everyone will feel comfortable providing their gender and your survey should offer an option to refrain from answering.
Consider your local context and audience. If you run a program for only women, you may not ask for gender at all, or may want to understand whether the women participating are cisgender (a female who identifies as a woman) or transgender woman (a male who identifies as a woman). Alternatively, your local language may not even recognise ‘gender’ and only recognise biological sex as is the case in Cambodia.