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Why you need to get gender equality survey questions right

Creating a gender equality survey? It’s important to set yourself up for success. 

Gender equality has long been a subject of discussion. In today’s world, the issue is more important than ever. Let’s look at gender equality surveys and how to write the questions that will yield quality data you can use.

Historically, gender equality meant that women and men have equal rights, resources, opportunities and protections. When gender inequality first occurred, it usually put women at a disadvantage, so the central theme of gender equality was advancing the empowerment of women.

Today, gender is understood to exist across a spectrum. In addition to men and women, we have agender, bigender, non-binary, transgender and other understandings of gender. This shifts the need for our definition of gender equality to expand to equal treatment of people of all genders.

In the workplace, a gender equality survey will reveal whether any employees have experienced or perceived discrimination related to their gender. A survey should include questions regarding discrimination, salary satisfaction, advancement opportunities, training and development opportunities, length of service and relevant demographic information.

Participant privacy is critical when conducting a gender equality survey. At the top of your survey, clearly state who has access to the information, how the data will be used and how data will be protected (anonymity, reporting in the aggregate, how it will be stored and for how long). 

It may seem obvious that you require gender data in a gender equality survey, but providing these details helps assure employees that this information is critical to understanding the current state of gender equality in your company.

If you plan to share the results of your survey, explain details about whether their personal data is identifiable to anyone conducting the survey or if their data is confidential.

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There are several types of gender equality survey questions you can use to obtain the data you need. Use a variety of question formats to keep participants interested and to gather your data in a way that is useful and actionable.

A closed-ended question includes a predefined list of answers. An example of this would be a multiple choice question. This yields quantifiable data that can be easily analysed and presented in a chart or graph. 

An open-ended question asks the participant to answer in their own words. A text box is provided for the answer. These types of answers are analysed by text analysis or read manually. The qualitative data provided is valuable but can be cumbersome to analyse, so ask just a few of these questions. 

For example, “How do you feel about the current state of gender equality at our company?”

Rating scale questions provide answer options in a range and ask respondents to choose the number that best describes their response.

For example, "On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the level of gender equality in our company?"

It’s critical to be inclusive when asking about gender equality. The days of only giving “male” and “female” answer choices are now over. Bear your DEI policies in mind. It's likely that your goal when studying gender equality is to find out whether there is any discrimination in your organisation and to take action towards gender equality. To truly understand that, you must approach this survey in a way that acknowledges an inclusive range of genders without overwhelming participants with too many answer choices (causing survey fatigue).

Now that you understand the importance of gender equality surveys and the types of questions you may use, we have some guidance for best practices.

Without an option to skip a question with answer options like “N/A”, “Other” or “Does not apply”, respondents may abandon the survey. This will lower your response rates and affect the validity of your findings. If they don’t abandon the survey, respondents may choose a random or untrue answer just to complete the survey. Again, this will skew the results.

Is gender identity a sensitive topic? Absolutely. Is it critical information for a gender equality survey? Definitely. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions you need to obtain relevant data for your research. 

Ensure that your questions are carefully worded so that there is no bias or judgemental language. Your respondents need to feel safe responding to questions truthfully.

Whom do you want to include in your gender equality survey? Your target audience should be representative of all employees, including all levels, roles and functions of the organisation. Add questions that define whether the respondent is entry level, intermediate, first-level management, middle management or executive. Depending on how global your organisation is, you may want to determine which countries should participate. This will depend on privacy laws by country; your legal team can help advise whether employees in certain countries can participate in the survey.

This information will provide additional insights into how various intersections of employees experience gender equality at your company.

We’ve just told you not to be afraid to ask your questions, but here’s the qualifier: the questions need to be necessary to meet your survey goal. If your gender equality survey is being used to measure how your employees feel about the relationship between gender and equality at your company, it’s important to ask about gender identity. Do you need to ask about sexuality? No. Is it important to ask about marital status? Probably not, but if for some reason it is, provide an opt-out option.

As we’ve said, gender identity is more than “male” and “female”. When you ask about gender identity, be inclusive. Realistically, listing all gender identities would be impractical. Find a balance and offer an open text box for participants to enter their answers.

Use “they” pronouns as a default to reference any employee throughout your survey.

Gender: How do you identify?

  • Woman
  • Man
  • Non-binary
  • Prefer to self-describe (provide open text box)

What best describes your current job level?

  • Entry level
  • Intermediate
  • First-level manager
  • Middle manager
  • Executive 

How long have you worked at our company?

  • 0-2 years
  • 3-5 years
  • 6-8 years
  • 9-12 years
  • 12+ years

Do you feel that employees of all genders are treated equally at our company?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not sure

Are there specific areas in which you feel employees of all genders are not treated equally?

(open text box)

How well does this statement apply to our company? 

Promotions are based solely on employee performance.

  • Extremely well
  • Very well
  • Somewhat well
  • Not too well
  • Not well at all

In your organisation, do you think that people of genders other than cisgender men have more, fewer or the same opportunities for promotion as cisgender people (people who identify with the sex they were assigned at birth: male/female)?

  • All genders have the same opportunities
  • People of other gender identities have more opportunities
  • People of other gender identities have fewer opportunities

Have you ever thought that your gender identity has played a role in you not getting a pay rise, promotion or key assignment?

  • Yes
  • No

If you want to provide details, please use the text box below.

(insert text box)

Have you personally experienced gender inequality in our company?

  • Yes
  • No

If you want to provide details, please use the text box below.

(insert text box)

Done correctly, a gender equality survey will provide your company with actionable data. Approach survey questions with sensitivity and take care to be unbiased and inclusive in your language. To get started on your gender equality survey, sign up with SurveyMonkey. We have all the tools you need to create and distribute your survey. We even help you analyse the results! Choose the plan that’s right for you.