A Word on Monitoring

I’ve seen a couple of organizations recently make a fairly bad mistake on their demographic monitoring in surveys. (One has apologized profusely and is fixing it, the other I haven’t had a chance to talk to yet). As this is clearly something people are confused about I thought it might be useful to write something.

The mistake that people make is to have a “gender” question with the options: male/female/trans.

This is going to get you bad data. Large numbers of binary-identified trans people (myself included) will opt for either male or female, so you will miss counting them.

Many non-binary people, for a variety of reasons, do not identify as trans, so they’ll probably get angry about being erased.

And binary-identified trans people will be angry too, because by phrasing the question in that way you are suggesting that we can never be accepted as male or female.

Phrasing the question in that way, therefore, gets you bad data and a whole lot of angry people.

The thing to remember is that being trans is not a gender. Being trans is a condition of not identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth. So giving gender options of male/female/trans is a bit like asking whether your food is meat, vegetable or cooked. That confuses categories with a process, which makes no sense.

Before anyone starts, I do not recommend having 71 different options for gender. The trouble with trying to include every option is that you will inevitably leave out some that you have not heard of. The more options that are available, the more hurtful it is for those who are left out.

A good starting point is to use: male/female/non-binary. That way at least all of the things you are comparing are genders of a sort. Non-binary is, of course, an umbrella term encompassing many genders, so it is useful to have a text box that people can write in. It is generally helpful to have options for Other and Prefer Not To Say.

If you want to get a sense of the size of the trans population responding to your survey you should ask a supplementary question of: Is your gender the same as you were assigned at birth? (Again with a Prefer Not To Say option.)

This isn’t rocket science. Plenty of people get it right, and plenty of organizations give this advice. The fact that so many people still get it wrong shows just how many people still get their information about trans people from the mass media rather than anyone who knows what they are talking about and wants to give you a good answer.

3 thoughts on “A Word on Monitoring

  1. A company I once worked for tracked people as male or female and claimed to do it for pension and medical insurance requirements (how much they needed to put aside to cover costs based on actuarial tables etc… women living longer on average etc..) and I wondered how being trans or non binary affected this. The HR department didn’t track gender for work related purposes but for these accounting purposes but it bothered me. And I don’t know what the correction should have been. If I see it again what should I be pointing them to?

    1. These are two separate things.

      On the medical side, there is almost zero research on trans people’s long-term health. We have no idea whether transition results in acquiring the life expectancy of the gender you transitioned to, or reduces life expectancy, or increases it. However, if the company is providing health insurance, and the insurance company requires gender data, then the company will have to collect it.

      Pension eligibility is a matter of legal gender, which is a very different thing from social gender. UK law only recognizes two genders, and the only way to change your gender is via the Gender Recognition Act. Only a small proportion of UK trans people have done that. The good news here is that the government is changing the pension rules so that people of all genders become eligible at the same age (which, if the Tories win the election, will probably be Never) so there will be no need for companies to collect legal gender data.

      By the way, I have had reports of some organizations asking for legal gender in monitoring. This is very bad. If you see anyone doing this, beat them over the head with a clue stick.

  2. Cool.

    Good to know. I wasn’t sure what the situation was but their processes mostly ok (to a cis woman’s eye) except in these areas where I knew I didn’t have a clue. Now at least I have a clue (if small since these topics aren’t my area of expertise)


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