I got a great question the other day from a former student. I thought I would post both the question and my response here…but looking for more opinions!
Questionnaires & Sex (yes, this was the question)
In recent years, it has become apparent that gender is not as easy as “male” and “female,” but rather as a spectrum, with transgender people and those who identify as male or female even thought their genitalia may not match to what we’ve traditionally associated with boys and girls.
Has the marketing community agreed upon any appropriate way to ask the sex question on surveys?
Should it be?
– identify as male
– identify as female
– prefer not to say
Have you seen any better categories that make more sense?
Perhaps a related question is “does it matter?” and whether we should be asking it at all. It’s good news that Toys ‘R Us no longer segregates their stores based on sex, and perhaps the rest of the marketing world should follow suit?
In all questionnaires, the first question should be “what would I do with this data if I got it?” And if the answer is “don’t know” or “I’ll figure it out later” then drop that collection of data. A related and equally important evaluation should be “really? Are we sure we’re not using outdated thinking here or hanging on to outdated models?” Then reconsider whether or not the data needs to be collected.
This is best explained as an example. We will consider marketing books and bras.
Is gender information necessary in research concerning books? The general answer will be yes. Books fall into genres which often align with gender – romance with women, business with men…but wait. Business with men? On what planet is that an appropriate way to think books? So maybe I’m back to romance and women? But wait there too. Arguably if a few more “lovers of women” read “how women imagine being loved well looks like” books, the world might be a better place. Conclusion: helpful perhaps, essential no.
Is gender information necessary in research concerning bras? More likely this is helpful here. Its an anatomical issue. And an association issue. If you are a male biologically at this point but identify as a women, you likely use a bra or dream about using a bra. So you’re part of the target for “identify as”. An “identify as” solution doesn’t work for men who identify as men but enjoy cross-dressing. It is possible that target may be small enough to not mess up the research in a meaningful way.
Most traditional media sources are purchased in part by gender. This is the most compelling reason today to collect gender data. As we move to more one-on-one and social communication, the need for gender identification is reduced.
Most historical research has asked gender identification. To the extent that trended data assists in building the brand, this data may make some sense for now to collect.
Therefore, it is likely short/mid term important to collect.
As to how, I think my student’s recommendation is pretty sound. I’d make one minor change, below:
- identify as male
- identify as female
- neither of those terms works well for me
- prefer not to answer this question
There is an additional consideration: how about those who will find this framing of the question offensive, off-putting or concerning? Only the marketer knows the flexibility of the audience for their brand. If that new approach has a high likelihood of damaging the brand or responses to the survey, revert for now back to a more conventional approach. An example is provided below:
- Conventional terms don’t work for me
- Prefer not to answer the question