Inclusive Forms

Inclusivity is essential for wellbeing and sense of belonging and we are taking steps to ensure that all communication with our community members is reflective of those values.

One of these steps is ensuring that surveys and forms provide options that represent the diversity of our community. Inclusive forms allow accurate collection of data on who is using services and who is at the university.

Ensuring that your forms are inclusive also ensures respect for gender expression, which is a protected ground under the B.C. Human Rights Code.

For example, many forms ask people to indicate their sex (female/male) or gender (man/woman) out of habit rather than necessity, and often do so in a way that is not inclusive of trans people or people with non-binary genders.

Keep in mind the following principles when (re)designing a form:

  • Use gender-inclusive language (parent/guardian, etc.);
  • Include non-binary genders;
  • Think about why you are collecting data about gender or sex
    • If you do not need to collect this information, avoid asking for it;
    • If you do need to collect this information, be specific about the information you ask for;
  • Do not require honorifics, and/or include inclusive forms of honorifics (Dr., Mx., etc.);
  • Allow people to indicate their personal pronouns.

Below are some suggestions for making forms more inclusive of gender diversity.

Avoid gender-specific words like father or mother that make assumptions about the families that students come from. Instead, ask about family, parents or guardians.

Use the personal pronoun "they" in the singular to be more inclusive when the gender of the person you are referring to is unknown or irrelevant. See the section “Why should I use the gender-neutral 'they' when someone’s gender is irrelevant or unknown?”

Avoid the use of honorifics, or include gender-inclusive options (such as Dr. or Mx.).

In letters, avoid formulations such as “Dear Sir or Madam” and prefer salutations that refer to the position of the person being written to, such as “Dear Applicant.”

Not everyone is a woman or a man. Make sure that people who are non-binary can see their gender acknowledged and can fill out your form accurately. This can be done simply by adding a "non-binary" option alongside the options of man/woman. Avoid using an "Other" category.

There are many terms that exist for non-binary genders: people may describe themselves as agender, genderfluid, or genderqueer.

Open-ended fields allow students to share their identity with you in more detail, and this may be favourable in some contexts (e.g., counselling).

If you are collecting gender information for statistical purposes, open-ended fields are not recommended as they may give the impression of inclusivity even though the data is either aggregated or unused afterwards.

Asking about sex or gender is often done out of habit rather than necessity. When designing or redesigning a form to make it inclusive, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do we really need this information?
  • What specific information do we need?

To learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of various ways to collect data on gender, please access the BC Council for Admissions and Transfer (BCCAT) report for the Office of BC Registrars [pdf].

The report recommends (p. 59) using a two-part question that asks separately about gender and trans experience if both pieces of information are needed.

For example:

What is you gender?

  • Woman
  • Non-binary
  • Man

Are you someone with trans experience (meaning your gender identity does not align with your sex assigned at birth)?

  • Yes
  • No

Do We Really Need This Information?

Often information about gender or sex is collected but it is not needed or used. For example, if you need information about students’ legal sex marker for the purpose of external reporting, you may already have this information through the SIS by collecting student numbers.

If you decide that you do need to collect this information, make sure you do so in an inclusive way by including non-binary genders and make sure that you use it to inform your unit’s work.

Rather than relying on the sex marker to provide information, ask directly about name and pronouns. This information will provide the words that students would like to have used when you refer to them in correspondence from your unit.

What Specific Information Do We Need?

Sex and gender are not the same thing. Sex typically refers to physiological characteristics (chromosomes, hormones, body parts) while gender refers to people’s internal sense of themselves.

Most units and programs do not need to know what a student’s body looks like, so make sure you ask about gender, not sex. However, there are instances where you may need to ask and know, for example if you are providing healthcare services.

In these cases, ask for the specific information that you need rather than make assumptions. Asking people if they are male or female is a faulty shortcut: not all people who are male have testes, and some people who have testes are not male, etc.

This can be true for trans people, intersex people, and cisgender people who have had body parts removed due to illness. By asking more specific questions, you acknowledge that a range of bodies and bodies exist, and you get more accurate information.

For more information, see the section “What does trans competent primary care look like?”

Honorifics are meant to help us refer to people formally and with respect. However, the most common honorifics (Mr., Mrs., Miss, and Ms.) also assign a gender to the person being referred to.

It is often unnecessary to ask people for which honorific they like to use. If you need this information, make sure that you include honorifics that are gender-neutral, and can be used by men, women, and non-binary people, such as Dr. or Mx.

Regardless of whether or not your unit or program needs to collect information about people’s gender or sex, it is often useful to know what pronouns someone uses. This ensures that you and your co-workers can use the right language when talking about someone in the third person.

This can be easily done by adding a question asking people to select the pronouns that they use on your form(s) from a list of common pronouns and/or offering an open-ended field where people can fill in which pronouns they use. In some cases, this question may even replace a question about gender.

For a list of common pronouns, see "What are some common personal pronouns?"

Staff should not be asked to share accommodations.

If you are organizing a trip with students, it is best to make arrangements with a place that offers some gender-inclusive options for accommodations. In that case, you can simply ask people to choose between gender-specific and gender-inclusive spaces, for example:

Please indicate your preference for sleeping arrangements:

  • Women’s dorm
  • Men’s dorm
  • All-gender dorm

If you have no option but to book a place that only offers gender-specific sleeping arrangements, you can still ask the staff, students, or faculty that you are working with which option they are most comfortable with. Acknowledge that this is a limitation. For example:

Unfortunately, the retreat centre only offers men’s dorms and women’s dorms. We want to make sure people of all genders feel comfortable in the space that we will be using. Which type of dorm would you prefer to sleep in?

  • Women’s dorm
  • Men’s dorm

If you are in this situation, make sure that you are providing some training to the group so that everyone understands why it is important to respect people’s choices of accommodation, and that someone who chooses to sleep in a men’s dorm does not necessarily identify as a man.