New campaign urges New Zealand businesses to consider need to record gender of customers

Bode, a non-binary person
The process can leave those who don't identify as a man or woman disenfranchised. Photo credit: Spark / Bode

When most people encounter a gender or sex option in an online form, it's unlikely they give it a second thought.

But that's not always the case and asking for that information - particularly when it's not really needed - can cause a sense of disenfranchisement as well as negative feelings about the organisation for non-binary and transgender people.

To try and get businesses to consider the necessity of asking such questions and the impact of doing so, telecommunications company Spark has created the Beyond Binary Code with OutLine Aotearoa and non-binary communities.

Bode, who is non-binary, told Newshub that what many may consider a simple act can be anxiety-inducing and leave trans and non-binary people feeling like they're not being appropriately represented.

"I spend quite a lot of my time just emailing companies and asking 'Hey, I've noticed that the gender field when you sign up is binary. There's only two options male or female and it's not optional'.

"Depending on the company, sometimes I ask: 'Do you need to be collecting your users' gender data at all?'," they said.

Bode said they were "pleasantly surprised" by the number of companies that were receptive to their request, but ideally the gender/sex field would only be there when absolutely necessary.

"Of course, there's a social justice angle to it, right? Like I want to be represented as a non-binary person. But also sometimes it's just impractical or not clear," Bode said.

"If you're requiring binary options what should I put down because my situation right now, and every non binary person is different, is some of my IDs say female and some of them say non-binary or X."

That can lead to confusion, they said.

"I get read as male a lot and I don't really want a scenario where I show up at the front desk and the person has my gender down as female and they look at me and they just don't believe I'm that person," Bode told Newshub.

"It might stop me from accessing my bank account. I want to be able to access things as easily as other people."

Trans people can also have that issue, particularly when using hormones. That can lead to people on the other end of the phone not believing them when they say they're the account holder.

"They have to go in and basically out themselves as trans and fill out a ton of paperwork," Bode said.

"There's just so many hoops that we have to jump through to just be able to access the basic standard spheres of life that cisgender people don't necessarily have to."

Not all situations are serious, Bode said, and there are instances when it can be funny.

"A website will think I'm one gender and start advertising a very specific product to me. I'm like 'Oh wow, this feels like it's from the 1970s'. 'You're a female? Here's a pink one-speed upright bike with a flower basket'."


They also understand there are times when recording gender information is necessary to ensure a proper service is received, particularly when it comes to medical information.

Bode said most trans people have a story of being asked to come in for a cervix swab when they don't have one, or maybe a prostate check. It could even have potentially deadly consequences.

"If you get an x-ray and there's any chance you're pregnant, it can be really dangerous for the baby," they said.

"If you don't know that and someone just reads you as male and doesn't ask you that question they could be putting your unborn child's life at risk.

"There are very tangible reasons why assuming someone's gender or sex can be dangerous."

Companies don't even need to make a big deal of it, Bode said. That just means asking themselves whether the information is needed and what is done with it when it's recorded.

"I just like the idea of companies quietly taking gender or sex checkboxes off their forms. Awesome. I don't need to worry about what I'm putting down and if it matches some of my data in some database somewhere," they said.

Bode's experience is backed up by data.

In a gender data survey of non-binary participants conducted by Spark and OutLine Aotearoa, 84 percent of respondents in the panel of 104 people felt often or always misrepresented when sharing their gender information online.

OutLine Aotearoa is an all-ages mental health organisation providing support to the rainbow community, their friends and whānau in New Zealand.

Spark New Zealand CEO Jolie Hodson said data can play "a valuable role" in helping businesses better serve their customers.


"But for Kiwis who are beyond the gender binary of male and female, when that data isn't collected or used correctly it can create deeply negative experiences on a daily basis," they said.

"Our new Beyond Binary Code combines these objectives by providing businesses with a trusted source to improve their gender data collection practices and in turn help them build more inclusive, gender-friendly online experiences for their employees and customers."

Spark says if a business determines gender data is necessary, implementing the code will mean having options in its online forms that are inclusive and match the business needs.

That includes cases such as name and legal name, pronouns, prefixes and a variety of gender options that acknowledge gender diverse communities including non-binary and takatāpui as well as an open field for individuals to enter their own, or if they would rather not say.

OutLine Aotearoa general manager Claire Black said they saw Spark's code as a catalyst for creating better experiences that support and affirm the wellbeing of both non-binary people and Rainbow communities.

"When trans and non-binary people are excluded, misgendered, or discriminated against during daily interactions with businesses, that contributes to an environment that is hostile to their wellbeing," they said.

Quack, a non-binary takatāpui advocate for rainbow communities, said it was important to recognise how such a small action like including they/them pronouns can make a huge impact.

"I've often been asked why I feel like I need a checkbox that I can identify with. And it's not so much that the checkbox is going to be the make or break of my identity - my identity is a lot stronger than that, but the constant reminder of feeling like you don't have a place, like there isn't an option for you to select, makes me feel whakamā," they said.

"I understand that I'm a minority, but that doesn't mean I deserve any less respect, or any less thought should go into representing people like me.

"I hope businesses take this on board and create meaningful change with the use of the Beyond Binary Code," Quack said.

As well as creating the code and a supporting toolkit, the survey also helped identify the top five impactful ways respondents said businesses could represent and engage with gender in an inclusive way.

Those are:

  • Ensure that all communications use gender inclusive language
  • Provide gender inclusive spaces such as changing rooms and bathrooms
  • Make gender data point optional
  • Use gender neutral/inclusive representational imagery within marketing and communications
  • Give clarity on how and when gender information will be used.