Gender Data Limitations of M / F: How to Address Them with Five Steps


Given the myriad of options that have their own limitations or pose additional challenges (as described in a previous blog), how do companies steer their way clear through the cacophony? 

In 2017, TransFocus worked with the registrars across British Columbia’s 30 post-secondary institutions to adopt expanded gender categories within student information systems. The solution was informed by a rigorous research effort that included interviews, focus groups, and surveys to inform an understanding of the issues as well as to explore the viability of six potential options. Consideration was given to a variety of different stakeholder needs and often competing objectives. 

The careful deliberation that BC’s registrars undertook was supported by an innovative structured decision-making process (Figure 1) that allowed for a transparent way through the complex trade-offs in order to maximize benefits and reduce limitations across stakeholders. The integrated results of this process underscored the importance and value of a careful and deliberate process related to expanding gender categories. 

Figure 1. Phases of the Structured-Decision Making Process


Through this process, TransFocus helped registrars arrive at a measured balance between inclusion objectives and operational realities with consideration for government reporting requirements and software capabilities. We highlighted the difference between student needs 1) to be seen and recognized in their lived gender identities through respectful interactions (including their chosen names and pronouns), and 2) to be counted within gender data aggregates to track trends and drive institutional decision-making over time. 

Similarly, companies will need to consider different department or team needs for gender data and how best to position this information to maximize customer and employee engagements. 

Now that we understand some of the complexities, how do we undertake this sort of deliberation to surface clear and decisive direction on gender data collection?  I recommend a systems approach to develop gender data solutions that are specific to your organization’s unique needs and software capabilities. This effort can be scaled to your organization’s size and needs using the following five steps:

1. Determine the rationale for the data collection effort:

Where are you currently using gender data outputs and what else could you use the data for (e.g., government reporting requirements or internal equity and inclusion objectives)? What assumptions are you making about what the gender data represent? 

2. Map the current data flow:

What other data are dependent on gender data? What departments rely on these data? 

3. Use a Structured Decision-making Process to sift through options:

a.) Choose three or more options for expanded categories
b) determine key stakeholders providing, relying on, or involved in gender data
c) define their objectives and needs, and
d) rate and rank the options based on the objectives of stakeholders.

4. Determine the preferred option:

Make a decision to adopt the option with the least limitations and the most benefit across interested stakeholders. Once you have a preferred option, it becomes important to explain these changes and their rationale to relevant parts of the organization to allow for a smooth and coordinated implementation process.

5. Pilot the preferred option:

It’s important to test the preferred option to determine if it is functioning the way you expected and/or need. In this way you can determine its value and make necessary adjustments along the way.

Following these steps allow you to consider complex factors and dimensions of gender data collection and application unique to your organization to yield successful systems changes that will include transgender and non-binary people with more accurate data to drive your bottom line and broader diversity and inclusion goals.   

Gender Data, GeneralAnita Cheung