Principles for Inclusive Gender Inputs: How League went Beyond Binaries

Demi
Demi
Jan 23, 2019 · 6 min read

This research project started with one form field:

Photo Description: Gender form field with two radio button options; Female and Male.

For cisgender individuals like myself, little thought goes into filling out this age-old field. The option I’ve chosen for the past 20 odd years is there, and it makes sense for how I identify. Box checked, radio button clicked, easy peasy.

But this isn’t the case for an ever-growing population of people who don’t fall into these two very binary, very confining categories of lived experience.

“I feel like I’m a person that doesn’t get reflected in forms. It’s invalidating.”

- Non-Binary Research Participant

As Product Designers, it’s our job to ensure our users are having an optimal experience interacting with our product. The aforementioned form field, along with a few others that were highlighted by our research participants, was doing the opposite.

Through our research, we found that certain fields within our forms were creating feelings of mistrust and invalidation. We weren’t creating safe environments for our users. Our first attempts at creating ‘inclusive paths’ in our existing forms (like adding a field for gender pronouns, for example) fell flat. In fact, we heard responses like these:

“You’re creating a dichotomy between non-binary and cisgender folks. It comes off as ‘we’ll do our best to be as inclusive as we can but sometimes it’s just not possible.’”

— Non-Binary Research Participant

The Research

How else would our product team create the right experience, without being informed by those who are affected by our choices?

We talked to 18 people throughout Canada and the U.S. across a range of identities:

  • Non-Binary
  • Genderqueer
  • Transgender
  • Nonconforming
  • Cisgender

We conducted 30-minute usability tests with each participant where we ran through a prototype of our profile form, which incorporated a new identity section.

Our objective for this research was to better understand how we could create a safe experience for all of our users.

We learned a lot.

The Space

Being in this space gets real personal, real fast. The health insurance providers we partner with require a lot of personal information from our users (lovingly referred to as ‘Members’) so they can administer their benefits (sex, smoking status, residency status etc). Again, it’s our job to figure out how to request this information in a way that makes them feel safe and respected.

The Takeaways

1. Female/Male ≠ Gender

Photo Description: Two form fields with a radio button option of Female and Male. One form field has ‘Sex’ as the title and the other has ‘Gender’ as the title. League recommends using the form field with ‘Sex’ as the title.

“Gender is how you move through the world, but sex is more related to your organs.”

— Transgender/GNC participant

Takeaway: First of all, ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary for you to know someone’s legal sex (typically this is only necessary within the health space, government institutions, and on passport applications).

If this is something you need to know, we found that gender as the form field title isn’t the best approach, and that sex makes more sense. In our study, 93% of our participants were adamant that gender is a spectrum and should never be used to describe a field that only has Male and Female as the options.

If you don’t need to know someones legal sex, consider using a Gender form field similar to the one outlined in the next takeaway.

2. The human experience doesn’t fit into a checkbox

Photo Description: Two ‘Gender Identity’ dropdown examples shown side by side. The drop-down on the left only allows the user to select one option, the drop-down on the right allows the user to select multiple identities or add a custom option. League recommends allowing the user to select multiple options and/or add a custom option.

“Instead of ‘here are the five options that you can be…’ Tell us who you are.”

— Non-Binary Participant

Takeaway: A big point of contention marginalized users face is having someone else decide their options for them. This makes it especially hard on these users when you’re asking them about their identity, and they don’t see themselves within the options.

When it comes to asking users about how they identify, multiple selections and allowing for custom responses provides your users the opportunity to correctly identify themselves.

3. Why are we asking?

Photo Description: A sex form field with two radio button options; Female and Male. There’s also a “Why are we asking” tooltip link.

“The first thing I noticed is this [Why are we asking?] link. I’m always asking myself this in forms.”

— Cisgender Participant

Takeaway: Think of this as common courtesy on the Interwebs… Users are giving you their data – the least you can do is tell them why you need it.

Creating these tooltips is also a great exercise to see if you even know why you’re asking for this information and to question whether the form field you’re adding is necessary. Participants really enjoyed these tooltips and wished more forms had them.

4. Preferred is not preferred

Photo Description: Two form fields shown side by side. The form field on the left is titled “Preferred Name” and the form field on the right is titled “What should we call you?”. League recommends not using ‘Preferred Name’.

“This is the name I use. Not what I prefer”

— Transgender Participant

Takeaway: In our original solution we had a “Preferred Name” field and a “Preferred Pronouns” field. Countless users let us know that Preferred doesn’t work for them.

Their name and pronouns aren’t just a preference, it’s who they are.

We are now using “What should we call you?” when asking users if they use a different name than their legal name. And simply “Pronouns” as the title for our pronouns field.

5. Cisgender folks had no problem filling out their identities and pronouns

Photo Description: League’s new identity section with a gender identity form field with “Woman” selected and a pronoun form field with “She/Her/Hers” selected. The title reads “League supports gender identity and expression. This information will not be shared with your employer”.

“It’s hard to get used to living your whole life in a certain way. I might not understand it fully yet, but I’m open to it.”

— Cisgender Participant

Takeaway: Although a few participants didn’t feel the need to add their identity and pronouns, all cisgender participants were able to add their identity and pronouns without fail.

83% of the cisgender participants also stated that seeing this section would positively reinforce their opinion of a company, because it shows they are keeping marginalized groups top of mind.

What’s next?

Check out our roadmap for this project! It helps put into perspective what we accomplished and what we still have to do.

This is a space that deserves attention and there’s still so much to learn. If you have feedback or questions about the research, please reach out! We’d love to hear from you. We’re eager to keep this conversation going and to see how we can continue to be better.

If you’re interested in learning more, here are some resources that might help you gain a more in-depth understanding of this space.

P.s. League is hiring! We get to work on really cool stuff like this identity project every day. If this is interesting to you, check out the open opportunities on our careers page (there’s a lot of them!).

Inside League

The real-time story of a Toronto based start up focused on making people healthy and happy.

Thanks to Ned Schwartz

Demi

Written by

Demi

Product Designer @ League | Human enthusiast, amateur sourdough bread baker, she/her.

Inside League

The real-time story of a Toronto based start up focused on making people healthy and happy.

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