How to collect gender data
So you are writing a form or building a website where you’re collecting data from your users, you want to add in a gender field. Why???
Before you continue reading the rest of this post, ask yourself:
Why do I need to know my users’ gender?
In most cases you just don’t.
Asking for someone’s gender may be for a variety of purposes, but it is more accurate to ask for what you need rather than trying to infer it. For example: If you want someone’s title and pronouns ask for their title and pronouns.
You can use the data they’ve already given you and refer to them, using their name/username and they/them pronouns.
If you want to collect it for analytic reasons, think about whether that data will benefit what you’re doing and if it’s worth making your sign up process longer.
Some guides will recommend to use something like this when asking for gender.
This is bad for a few reasons, firstly it ignores anyone who is neither male or female, who want to give you their gender, eg. genderqueer, agender, non binary people etc. It doesn’t say why you are collecting the data or how you’re going to use it.
If you are collecting gender for statistical reasons use an open text field and let the user type in whatever they want.
If you’re doing it so you can address someone then it is better to ask for their title or pronouns, which may not reflect their gender. Instead of using a title you can just use their name, username or use the pronouns they/them when referring to them.
Twitter uses the users display name instead of pronouns.
If you are need something more robust; you can check out OKCupid who give the user 20+ gender options to pick from, allowing for multiple options to be selected. This makes sense in the context of a dating site where knowing gender is useful so it can match people together.
Please note that transgender is not a gender in itself and you should not make a form that says Male, Female, Transgender, unless you are including a large variety of labels and let users select multiple options like the image above.
What does a good gender field look like?
If you need to ask gender, an open text box is the best way of doing it, it lets users put down whatever they feel comfortable with.
If you need something which gives you categorised results you could use something like this:
If you really need to collect gender data then something like above works well, it’s taken from this guide on gender UX by Kylie Jack. I would highly recommend reading it, it looks at different scenarios and gives examples of forms for each. Both the images above come from this site.
For more fun reading about data collection on the web check what Skylar MacDonald learnt after changing their name and see what not to do when collecting and managing names.
Next time you make a system, page or form to collect users info you now how to collect gender data in a useful way, if at all.
Have any questions? Leave a comment here or contact me on Twitter