How to improve gender inclusivity for survey participants in market research

Industry Trends
Market Research
Thought Leadership

Broadly speaking, the purpose of market research is to learn more about people. Traditional research practices tend to categorize different groups to gain a clearer picture of demographic data. In fact, it’s almost a requirement of the job – the goal is often to understand what X demographic feels about Y topic.

But what happens when people don’t fit into the categories we’ve come to rely on? And what happens when people don’t fit into the gender categories we’ve created, with gender being one of the most common data points that researchers use?

The world’s perception of gender is changing

As Whitney Dunlap (Insights in Color) writes in her article Why No One Listens When We Tell Them Who We Are, “The state of identity in America and across the world is in flux and no one seems completely sure what to do about it, or how to handle it.” Gender identity is evolving rapidly, yet market research standards are hardly keeping pace.

Nonbinary gender identity (people who do not identify as male or female) has gained more visibility worldwide, and different sectors have refined their practices to be more inclusive. For example, many states have added “nonbinary” as a gender option on birth certificates and state ID cards to more accurately reflect the gender spectrum. The world is changing and, as industry leaders, it is our responsibility to be proactive and intentionally inclusive in market research.

Where gender inclusivity is lacking in market research

Like many other industries, research is reflecting on its current practices and identifying areas of improvement. One key area we’ve found is around survey qualifying questions and how survey participants are asked to state their gender identity.

Market research (and most other demographic research) has traditionally defaulted to the demographic definitions used by the US Census in order to understand personal identity.

As has become abundantly clear, some of these “traditional” labels do not represent the current US population in every scenario, and they were never meant to understand the dynamic and complex nature of human identity.

Note: Thus far we’ve focused on the US, but we look forward to rolling out additional updates in other markets as well.

The benefits of inclusive gender representation

Changing the way we ask respondents to align with a gender identity benefits everyone involved –  survey respondents, researchers, and end-clients.

From the perspective of a survey respondent, this is a critical moment to build positive relationships with them in the very first questions of the survey. Building that connection can give the respondent the safety to answer honestly throughout the rest of the survey. Additionally, forcing a respondent into a category they don’t fit in (a “male” or “female” gender identity) on the very first question could turn the respondent off from online surveys forever.

From a sampling perspective, we are freeing ourselves from an inaccurate understanding and bias of what it means to be “census representative.” As we update our language to be more inclusive and dynamic, we can hope to gain more representative viewpoints from real and properly identified people. If we maintain a false understanding of those categories, we accidentally bias our data, which leaves major gaps in research that is used to make important decisions.

Long story short, respondents will thank us for it, and so will business decision makers who will gain a deeper understanding of who their target markets are.

Steps we are taking to expand gender inclusivity

Lucid (a Cint Group company) is taking this moment to push ourselves and our industry to move past the historic tradition of forcing people into boxes that they don’t relate to. We instead aspire to allow users (People) to identify themselves as they see fit.

After working together with Insights in Color and ThinkNow Research to better understand best practices and modern identity traits, we are changing the way we ask these demographic identity questions: Ethnicity, Sexual Orientation, and Gender. Read the detailed updates and the context around them by downloading this PDF from Insights in Color. You can also learn more in this podcast episode with ThinkNow.

These changes may seem small, but represent a large shift in mindset on how we interact with our respondents. We encourage you to share this with your industry partners, implement as much as you can, and give us feedback on what we’re missing. Like identity and language itself, these definitions continually evolve so we look forward to continuing the conversation.