Something I’ve been ruminating on for a long time is our lack of gender options when users register for products and services. I’m not the first one to notice this, but it’s still happening, and it’s more prevalent than we realize. While I personally identify as a cisgender female, I still care about this issue because it affects many good people, including the ones I care about.
Max Masure wrote a great article on why cisgender people should be normalizing pronoun usage that I would recommend for other cisgender people to help educate themselves. In this article, they mention how cisgender people can normalize gender diversity by including pronouns in their email, LinkedIn, website, etc. I think designers can take it a step further by adding more gender inclusion to the products we work on. Gender inclusion in our products is a small action that can have considerable impact. As designers, we advocate for the people we are serving, and so many of us say we are empathetic. Shouldn’t a cisgender designer’s empathy also extend to gender identity?
The most common places that users identify their gender is in an onboarding experience or their user profile. In many cases, this is the first impression that someone gets from your product. It’s essential that it’s minimal and, yes, inclusive. Users can, and will, leave an onboarding experience if they determine they don’t like it or aren’t comfortable with the questions asked.
Similarly, people will delete their accounts with products if those products can’t meet their needs. Gender inclusivity is especially relevant for companies that specialize in social media, health, finance, insurance, etc. Anywhere where gender data is gathered by an organization, you have an opportunity to do better. So let’s talk about how to be gender inclusive in your design processes.
Don’t ask for gender unless you need to
In any onboarding experience or any experience in which you request information from people, you should be asking yourself, “Is this question necessary?” We’ve all experienced the horrors of filling out lengthy forms. Forms are often considered an annoying experience, so much so that autofill is a thing. The same logic applies to asking for gender information. Honestly, while researching apps I have on my phone, I found a lot of them keep my gender information. In many instances, it makes sense. Each experience is different, and I know that gender plays a big part in marketing campaigns, but if you don’t really need gender information, try not to ask.
If your gender field is necessary, let people understand why
One emerging trend in onboarding experiences is explanatory text associated with form fields. Offering information to users in this way cultivates a trusting relationship from the moment a user begins interacting with your product. Spoiler alert: gaining a user’s trust is invaluable. It can make all of the difference in transforming casual users to evangelical.
Provide more gender options and let people change their gender at any time
Gender and sexuality in humans is fluid. You can Google “how many genders are there” and get a myriad of answers. There is so much more to gender and sexuality than a simple form can contain, so this is why I recommend allowing for multiple gender options, or even a custom gender selection. Facebook is one product that currently allows users to do both. They also allow people to change their gender at any time in their profile settings. These features are Facebook’s way of embracing a world that is not binary, allowing people to change and transition as they discover their gender identity. These are especially valuable when presented in the context of social media so that people can be socially seen in the same way they identify.
Let people pick their pronouns
In the same breath, allowing people to select their pronouns is also essential. It helps to clarify how someone identifies with their family and friends, or in something as simple as an email. This customization can make all of the difference to people who deal with gender dysphoria. Facebook also allows people to select their pronouns and will change the content that users interact with based on that selection. This small change can mean a significantly more positive experience for many of your users.