Spark’s quest to make the internet more gender-inclusive
Battling the binary, one line of code at a time

Recent years have seen increased discussion around the true meaning of gender. What is it to be male? To be female? To sit outside that binary altogether? Despite increasing awareness, many people and organisations have yet to come to terms with what gender diversity truly means, and how many of our day-to-day practices and language choices can leave those who identify outside the traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ binary feeling invisible, excluded, or vulnerable.

For organisations and businesses, online data collection is too often gender non-inclusive, asking people to identity as ‘male’ or ‘female’, without offering other options.

So - how do you make sure that all your staff and customers have a safe and inclusive online experience, regardless of their gender identity?

To answer this question, telecommunications company Spark and rainbow charity OutLine Aotearoa; a nationwide, all-ages rainbow mental health organisation, put their minds and resources together. They led focus groups, implemented solution testing, and sought feedback from non-binary and trans communities, culminating in the creation of Beyond Binary Code – a ground-breaking initiative that aims to improve online data collection practices and make them gender-inclusive.

Beyond Binary Code is a deceptively simple, yet powerful idea - a free piece of HTML code that anyone can copy and paste on their website’s backend. The code includes online forms with a variety of options that acknowledge gender-diverse communities such as non-binary and takatāpui, an open field for individuals to enter their own, and a “would rather not say” option.

“It’s not just about equipping other businesses with a gender-inclusive data capture, it’s also an education piece,” says Caitlin Hayns, Social Brand Partner at Spark.

“It asks them: ‘Do you need this data at all? Could you serve your customers just as well without it?’ If you do need it, here’s the right way to ask for it.”

The initiative was created with two goals in mind: to help Kiwis have a better relationship with their data and to champion diversity and inclusion within Spark and the whole of Aotearoa.

“This is bigger than anything we’ve done with OutLine before. It’s a resource other business can use to create impact in a significant way,” says Caitlin.

The Beyond Binary Code website has other useful resources, including a presentation toolkit that employees can use to advocate for change in their organisation and help secure buy-in from their leadership team to adopt the code.

What’s Caitlin’s advice for businesses who want to be more diverse and inclusive, but don’t know how?

“Just start. Take a look at your systems and how the way you collect data affects people. Talk to your staff and see what they think. We [at Spark] have learned so much doing this. If you don’t start the conversation, how are you going to learn?”

In the meantime, a lot of mahi continues to happen behind the scenes. The Beyond Binary Code team is working hard to promote uptake – not just of the code, but the philosophy behind it, and celebrating diversity in all its forms to create a kinder, more welcoming and inclusive Aotearoa.

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