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A gradual UX approach to design gender-inclusive forms

According to the LGBT+ Pride Global Survey of 27 countries conducted in 2021, 1% of the worldwide population defines itself as transgender, non-binary, non-conforming, gender fluid, or in another way rather than male and female. With this statistic reaching 4% for Gen Z (those born during or since 1997), this percentage of the global population is expected to grow exponentially. And the share could be even higher among users of certain products — at Welcome to the Jungle, for instance, 45% of our users are from Gen Z, which means that a significant part of our audience is sensitive to gender issues. Unsurprisingly, therefore, product designers have a key role to play in ensuring this minority is recognized and accepted, as they need to make sure that any gender-related questions are asked in a thoughtful and respectful way. But this doesn’t mean everything in our product needs to be reworked: Small changes can be enough to show acceptance and recognition. In this article, we will focus on the design changes that can be made on forms to make them gender inclusive.

Is it a designer’s responsibility?

Why do we need to care about gender issues as product designers? Because part of our job is to improve the inclusiveness of user experiences! It’s our role to consider the experience of all our users, not just the majority. And it’s our duty to make all users comfortable when we’re designing a product that is advertised as “for everyone.”

Mike Monteiro, the co-founder and design director of the San Francisco-based interactive design studio Mule Design, explained it well in his book Ruined by Design: “When you decide who you’re designing for, you’re making an implicit statement about who you’re not designing for. For years we referred to people who weren’t crucial to our products’ success as ‘edge cases.’ We were marginalizing people. And we were making a decision that there were people in the world whose problems weren’t worth solving.”

This statement is not only relevant to new products. It also applies when someone before us has not taken something into consideration during the initial design of a product. It’s important to keep in mind that design is an infinite process and improving a product is as big a job as creating it from scratch.

Sex or gender?

That is the second question to ask yourself as a product designer. The World Health Organization defines sex as the “different biological and physiological characteristics of males and females,” whereas it explains gender as referring to “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men.”

With that in mind, we can easily understand that gender designates something more complex, more personal, and less obvious than sex. Especially as gender identity may differ from gender expression for a person — the former being the personal sense of one’s own gender, and the latter being the person’s behavior, mannerisms, interests, and appearance that are associated with gender in a particular cultural context.

Being aware of the difference between sex and gender as a product designer will help you decide which data is most relevant for your product. For this article’s purpose, we will now focus on gender.

Why ask about gender?

Companies often try to get as much data as possible from their forms because they want to analyze users’ behaviors per segmented population. But is all of this data meaningful? Probably not, especially regarding gender.

It is important for product teams to be conscious and intentional about why and how they use the data they’re asking for. Is your users’ behavior different depending on their gender? Is your users’ gender going to affect their experience within the product? If the answer to either of these is different from an absolute yes, you might need to consider not asking for gender in your forms.

At Welcome to the Jungle, we asked ourselves this question and concluded that gender information is key for our clients as it provides them with a better understanding of their employer brand attractiveness per type of gender.

A gradual UX approach

If you’re sure that knowing your users’ gender is crucial to understanding your product’s audience, then here’s a gradual visual guide to building the most appropriate gender-inclusive form.

The confusing option

If you are intending to ask for the gender to be completed on your form, the options listed in this example are definitely not the right ones to offer. The terms “Male” and “Female” are exclusively used when talking about someone’s sex, so the labels here are not relevant to the information you are looking for.

The binary option

This option does display gender labels, but the issue here is that since gender is a non-binary social construct, there need to be many more options if the form is going to be exhaustive.

The excluding option

Even though this form seems better because the user can choose between two genders and also has the option not to disclose their gender, we are still missing a lot of options. Therefore the suggestion is that some users’ identities are not as important as “Man” and “Woman”.

The non-exhaustive option

It’s impossible to include every gender on a form as the list would be very long. For instance, it would need to include non-binary, intersex, transgender, agender, genderqueer and gender non-conforming identities, among others. And gender identities specific to your area would also need to be added, such as two-spirit for Native Americans. By mentioning only some of them on your form, you are suggesting that those genders not displayed are not as important. So this form does not demonstrate best practice either.

The “Let me type” button option

Adding a “Let me type” field definitely makes the form more inclusive. Indeed, it’s crucial to include this option. And you should avoid using the word “Other” — firstly, it would not be obvious that this option will give the user the chance to type, but also it’s never nice to feel as though you are an afterthought.

The “Let me type” checkbox option

An even better practice would be to let people choose several options. Unfortunately, though, depending on the tracking process — in other words, the way the data is collected — this type of information can be harder to organize and analyze later.

The explanatory “Let me type” button option

We believe this is the best way to make your forms gender inclusive. As mentioned before, companies need to be transparent with people about why they are asking for such personal and sensitive information, especially if the field is mandatory. Disclosing how it will affect their experience is definitely the best practice, but keep in mind that not everyone is comfortable about giving away this information.

Asking for pronouns can be a good alternative in some cases, but remember that as well as she/he/they, there are also neopronouns such as ae, ey, fae, xe, and ze. So a “Let me type” option would be needed in any case. In our example, users don’t interact with one another so third-person speech is never used, therefore pronouns are not necessary.

Is it enough though?

If applying those UX best practices makes your forms more gender inclusive, does it follow that users will have full gender equality? Unfortunately the answer is “not necessarily.”

You need to remember that gender-related questions in your products can lead to discrimination from the people who will use the data, especially when it comes to sending applicants’ data to recruiters, which is what we do at Welcome to the Jungle. According to a study led by CIPHR in the UK in 2021, gender is the second most common reason for discrimination, with 4.7% of respondents reporting they have been refused a job because of this.

So if gender equality is really your goal as a product designer, you should consider this risk of discrimination and weigh up the pros and cons before adding gender-related questions to your forms. Will that data lead to better recognition of the needs of all users or will it create more inequality? Put another way, is gender recognition the right way to reach gender equality or is gender blindness the only gender equality? These are definitely the questions to ask yourself both as a designer and as a human being the next time you design a form.

Written by Erica Scolaro, Product designer @ WTTJ

Edited by Anne-Laure Civeyrac

Illustration by Myriam Wares

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This is the Welcome to the Jungle tech blog, where you’ll find articles about the machinery behind our Elixir/React applications and how we come up with our most creative designs, details of the latest releases of our open-source libraries, and much more!

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