November 24, 2014
Adding space for non-binary answers about gender
ByCommittee Faculty Search | Topics in Higher Education
Recently, an Interfolio user tweeted at us about the options we provide for gender in the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) questionnaires in ByCommittee, our platform for faculty hiring.
[For context: if you’re an applicant sending materials to an institution that uses ByCommittee to organize its faculty searches, you’ll probably be asked to answer questions about your race, gender, ethnicity, ability, and veteran status to satisfy the institution’s EEO reporting requirements. Our previous form listed “Male/Female/Choose not to disclose” as the options for gender.]
Our first response to this tweet was: absolutely. Our goal is to design a product that meets the experience and needs of our users, and in this instance we’re not living up to that standard. As a company, we don’t believe in enforcing a binary view of gender, so let’s get rid of these options in our EEO questionnaire, too. Our second response, however, was: wait, can we actually do this? Technically, even though we host the questionnaire, these aren’t our questions. The forms we provide through ByCommittee are built by institutions to gather information they want to know (schools can create totally new forms about anything, from research interests to publication history).
In the case of EEO information, we provide a standard form by which an institution can gather information to satisfy the EEO-1 Form guidelines set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Institutions that want to gather EEO data have a choice: they can either use our default form, or create a custom form (over which we have no influence—like any online survey or form builder, all of the questions/options are truly created from scratch by the institution).
OK, so we can’t control the EEO Commission’s categories, and we can’t control custom forms that institutions build, but there was still something we could do on our end to address the binary gender restriction in the default form that we provide. In our most recent software release, we’ve added a blank field to the question about gender in our standard EEO form so applicants can provide their own answers. Ultimately, it’s up to the institution to implement the EEO-related data they gather through us in a way that takes into account whatever government and/or institutional obligations they may have, but we still believe it’s important to give applicants a platform to represent themselves accurately in our product.
We know it’s not a perfect system, and are not pleased to have to report that regardless of our upgrade to this questionnaire, federally mandated EEO categories remain the same. We hope that until more structural change occurs in our culture, applicants who encounter ByCommittee feel that their experience is reflected in our product.