Why the Gender Question Matters

I’ve invited Maureen Ladley of Ladley & Associates to share her recent blog on the importance of understanding audience demographics. While Maureen’s expertise is surveys and focus groups, content creators need to care, too. After all, if you want your audience to hear you, you need to understand who they are and  what’s important to them.

I thought Maureen did such a good job of explaining the issue that I re-posted it here. With her permission, of course.

Take it away, Maureen.

Surveys and forms often ask the elemental gender question, but with a shift in how people in the US define their gender, businesses need to give special focus on customer definition.

In a 2019 report on gender identity, the Pew Research Center found about four-in-ten Americans (42%) say forms and profiles should include options other than man or woman (in ages 18-29 it’s 53%). In a related study, the Pew Research Center reports one-in-five Americans (20%) say they personally know someone who prefers personal pronouns other than “he” or “she,” (in ages 18-29, it’s 32%).
 
Whether you are designing customer profiles or research, here are a few reasons to consider how you are asking the gender question.

Customer experience and expectations

Our clients invest in research to  better align with their customers. The goal is to foster stronger relationships, design the right product or service, and gain a customer’s business. We do not want to alienate the audience while seeking to understand them better. If your customers are better served by a broader gender definition, provide it. How we ask questions affects the research respondent experience.

Confirming research recruiting goals, comparing results

Research looks for patterns and differences. In addition to confirming we hit research recruiting goals, use the gender demographic question to look for important insights from the research.
 
At Ladley & Associates, we use “male,” “female,” “prefer to self-describe,” and “prefer not to say” in our demographic question. However, we will continue to evolve the options to best serve our clients and research goals.

Matching research design to databases

The US Census is changing how they ask questions around sex, gender, and sexual identity. If it’s important to match up your own database, research or profile results to external databases drawn from US Census data, it will be helpful to understand how questions in this area are evolving.

Do your own research

This topic continues to evolve. According to the Insights Association IDEA Council, “The way people in the United States define their gender identity is shifting and changing, and gender is often a key demographic question used in sample design. The definition of gender has become more fluid, especially among younger generations who do not necessarily find that they fall into the traditional binary gender categories.”
 
I encourage you to be aware and make conscious choices around this question as we strive to understand customers better.

More reading

About four-in-ten US adults say forms should offer more than two gender options.
 
About one-in-five US adults know someone who goes by a gender-neutral pronoun.

About Maureen Ladley

A strategic marketer, Maureen found herself drawn to consumer research. How well do companies really understand their customers? Are we asking the right questions? Have we ignored key findings?

As the Principal of Ladley & Associates, she leads a consumer research firm that is innovative and disciplined, insightful and results-driven, and tailored to the needs of clients who were once in her position.