How to show up for your participants and colleagues this Pride Month and beyond

June 21, 2023

As user experience (UX) and human factors (HF) researchers, we recognize the importance of acknowledging and holding space for the different identities and circumstances of the participants we work with in research sessions. Most often, we are accustomed to accommodating the varying medical conditions or the unique needs and identities for which our participants are recruited. This can and should also include gender and sexuality identity. When we approach our research sessions with an openness to these identities, we can show our participants how we respect and value them, and in turn empower them to engage with our research and produce honest, comprehensive data. Some ways we can do this are:

  • Write screeners that include comprehensive and/or open-ended gender options.
  • Request participants’ pronouns so that we can address them respectfully in-session and throughout reporting.
  • Integrate gender-inclusive language into study design and moderator scripts.
  • Be open to requests if participants ask to update their gender or pronouns at any point. Accepting these corrections gracefully without showing confusion or frustration is a sign of respect to participants.

We can also go a step further to ensure we demonstrate the same level of respect and inclusion to our fellow researchers! Being proactive in making space for gender and sexuality variation on a team can pave the way for colleagues to feel safe, welcomed, and energized in their workplace.

  • Consider introducing yourself along with your preferred name and/or pronouns to lead by example (“Hi! I’m Kaitlin, but most people call me Indy. My pronouns are ‘they/them’.”).
  • Ask for someone’s pronouns privately before addressing them in front of others or working together for the first time. However, make sure you’re not forcing anyone to reveal their pronouns or sexuality if they do not wish to do so (this is called “outing” someone).
  • Be willing to accept corrections on how you refer to someone’s pronouns or identity. It can be embarrassing or frustrating to mess something up in the workplace, but this burden should not be placed on the person who is requesting to be addressed respectfully.
  • Ask questions! Identify a trusted source, such as an HR representative or outspoken advocate amongst your colleagues, if you have questions about how to address these topics respectfully.

These approaches can similarly be applied to client interactions. We are well positioned as consultants to advise on inclusive practices that set us up to report accurate and actionable data.

  • If your client requests certain male and female quotas, work with them to identify if there is a more accurate and actionable quota that we can target that does not rely on this binary. For example, if recruiting participants to test the ease of use of a handheld medical device, do we need to recruit a certain male/female split, or are we actually looking for a participant group with a wide range of hand sizes?
  • Promote the advantages that the aforementioned participant recommendations bring for both participant engagement and data richness and accuracy.

For some, considering gender and sexuality in the workplace may feel new or intimidating. However, we are uniquely positioned as UX researchers to hold space and advocate for the spectrum of the human experience across our participants, colleagues, and clients. These considerations are also synergistic with other identities such as race, ethnicity, and disability inclusion. This Pride Month and beyond, feel empowered to apply these considerations to your next research project!