From the World Health Organization: What do we mean by sex and gender?

If possible, omit the gender and/or sex question entirely.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the information needed “gender” (i.e., “gender” refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate) or “sex” (i.e., “sex” refers to biological and physiological characteristics)? (These definitions are pulled from The World Health Organization.)
  • Is data about gender and/or sex truly necessary?
    • What information are you ultimately trying to gather? Is it gender and/or sex in and of itself, or can you ask for the desired information more directly?
      • For instance: “What should precede your name? Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.”; or “What is your preferred gender pronoun?”
    • If data about gender and/or sex is not absolutely necessary, removing the question simplifies our data output, avoids the sensitivity of the question, and makes it easier for the user to complete the form.

If it is not possible to omit the gender and/or sex question:

  • If gender and/or sex information is strongly desired but not critical, consider making the gender and/or sex question optional.
  • If gender information is necessary but it is not necessary for the data to be sortable by gender, consider an open-ended question such as “Gender: _______” (with an open text box).
    • Consider adding some language about why the question is being asked and how the information will be used.
  • If gender information is necessary and it is necessary for the data to be sortable by gender (though less desirable than an open text box), consider adding selections for “decline to state” and/or “nonbinary” in addition to “man” and “woman.”
  • If sex information is necessary, then we recommend rewording the question to ask specifically about sex and changing the answer options to be restricted to male or female. We also recommend considering adding some language about why the question is being asked (e.g., required by the government) and what definition of sex you are using (e.g., what appears on the individual’s birth certificate).
    • Sample text, as used on the Common Application: “Federal guidelines mandate that we collect data on the legal sex of all applicants. Please report the sex currently listed on your birth certificate.”

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