Sarah Weaver is a Master Technology Architect, with over 25 years’ experience across a broad range of industries. She’s also a transgender woman and is sharing her insights on how IT systems and data architecture can play a key role in creating an inclusive experience.

Every single day, transgender people are going head-to-head with IT systems at banks, retailers, schools and numerous other organisations that don’t effectively recognise and support their life experience. While many organisations have made fantastic progress when it comes to diversity and inclusion, there’s still a lot to be done. As our understanding and recognition of diverse gender identities continue to grow, there’s a critical role for IT systems designers and architects to ensure a more inclusive experience.

In this article, I’ll be going through some key architecture principles that can reduce the burden IT systems unnecessarily place on transgender people and outline how these changes can improve the customer experience and inclusion for the broader community too.

Think about what data you are collecting and why you need it
When we are building IT systems, it’s important to think about what information we are collecting and why. We should only be recording people’s data if we need it. For example, if it’s not relevant to know someone’s gender, or their sex assigned at birth, don’t ask for it. In many cases, just asking what salutation someone prefers will be enough for most automatic correspondence generation.

As well as benefits for transgender people, this also gives women their preferred salutation without needing to provide information about their marital status, for example. Allowing someone to choose Mrs, Mx, Miss, Ms, Mr, as well as professional salutations like Professor or Dr is usually adequate and avoids assumptions based on gender that may or may not be correct. This is a simple architecture choice that shows customers you care and are listening.

Don’t put extra requirements on people to change their name
An issue that transgender people regularly face is having to provide additional information to change their name and gender information with an organisation. Sometimes, that’s completely necessary and appropriate (like with banking and financial data), but other times, it requires that people disclose information  that wasn’t needed at the point of signing up.

For example, with most retailer loyalty programs, the customer signs up at the point of sale, without needing to provide any proof of identity. But to change their name, a transgender person may be asked to provide a copy of their new birth certificate. In a situation like this, gender diverse people will often just cancel their existing account and create a new account, rather than changing the name information, not only is this poor design, it means that organisations lose their history of interactions with some of their customers and their services and offerings become less tailored. This is also relevant for women who choose to change their surname after marriage, frequently needing to provide a copy of a marriage certificate when no identifying documentation was required to create the account in the first instance.

Think about what information is being used as a unique identifier
In a case of poor data architecture, some systems have been set up using things like an email address as a unique identifier. When a person needs to change these details, for example after a transgender person has changed their name, the system can’t cope.

Instead, it’s good practice to create a random, unique identifier so other information can easily be updated without breaking the system or needing to create a new account.

Make sure your staff have the relevant awareness training to avoid misgendering people
In a recent example, I needed to phone my bank to activate a debit card. But my voice remains one of the key causes of me being misgendered. Despite choosing this bank based on its policies around inclusion and diversity, the call centre staff thought someone was trying to steal my identity solely based on the sound of my voice. I could, obviously, answer all the questions they were asking and spent over two hours on the phone, including to the specialist fraud area trying to address this issue. This was with an organisation that had all the necessary paperwork to reflect the change in my identity, but there were still issues. Appropriate training for staff in handling these kinds of situations is critical to creating a better customer experience and encouraging customer loyalty.

In another example, I was changing my name with an organisation I had been associated with in my youth. When I contacted them to say my name was wrong in one of their systems, the response was “Sorry Sarah, I can’t find your name in the database, can you tell me your maiden name?”, despite the fact that the correspondence between us up until that point had been in my deadname. It’s a great idea to provide training to help staff be aware of their own biases and implement frameworks to assist inclusive and respectful practices.

Ensure gender fields match the legal possibilities in the area you are operating
For many internal and external systems, three gender options are typically now available: male, female and other. But ‘other’ can encompass a range of options, including non-binary, gender-fluid and gender-queer identities. This field should be able to support all legal genders in the region where you offer services.

In the state of Victoria, it is now possible to legally have any gender on a birth certificate. It’s a free field and people can provide any text which reflects their gender identity as long as it is not offensive and doesn’t include anything on a restricted word list. We need to start thinking about gender fields in IT systems moving from a limited pick list to instead also being free text to reflect people’s legal gender correctly.

Make including pronouns a default feature
Including fields for people to nominate their preferred pronouns in HR systems, communication platforms and other IT environments all helps to normalise diverse gender identities. By changing the architecture of a system and disconnecting assumptions about gender identity, it can enable a more inclusive user experience.

Avoid deadnaming
It’s important to be aware that names and genders do change and make sure that IT systems are designed to effectively manage this change. For example, I have successfully changed my name with an organisation only to find that they have had my records in multiple systems that were not effectively integrated, so the change in my details was not synchronised. For a transgender person, this is can be a distressing experience to need to go through and reconfirm your correct name again, and again, and again.

Development of an enterprise data model, with a clear understanding of data mastership, data consumers and appropriate synchronisation technology to maintain a consistent and current view of an organisations data assets have benefits far beyond those for transgender and gender diverse people.

Modern patterns like Domain Driven Design and Event Driven Architectures allow an organisation to unlock the power of their data, promoting inclusion and diversity and helping to improve the bottom line.

My experience of changing my name and email at Accenture has been amazing - everyone rallied round to make sure it went smoothly. My client at the time was also incredibly supportive. I took annual leave in December 2020, by the time I got back to work, the client team had changed my name, email and login details and shipped me a new laptop. Having this incredible organisation behind me has given me the confidence to come this far. The newly launched Gender Affirmation Leave means that on top of the amazing support I’ve received so far, I can factor 20 days paid leave into my affirmation surgery and recovery plan. Overall, it’s been a really positive experience.  

Read more about Sarah’s story here and learn about the progressive employee benefits that Accenture launched at the recent Equality Week events.

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Sarah Weaver

Technology Architect Delivery Associate Director

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