It's (past) time to evaluate just how welcome everyone feels in your workplace. In addition to new laws requiring non-discrimination of employees, gender inclusion is the best way forward for your business. Throwing buzzwords around is easy, though. Here’s what it means to move beyond the binary, with actionable tips on how you can create an inclusive workplace.
Why do we need to go beyond the binary?
It may seem “new” or “politically correct” to go beyond traditional gender definitions, but these discussions about gender fluidity and inclusion benefit everyone. Diversity in the workplace, including considering gender identity, expression, and orientation, has been proven to boost the bottom line and protect the mental health of all employees.
Just because you haven’t discussed or trained for gender inclusion in the past doesn’t mean it’s okay to move forward that way.
The face of the world is changing, and so is how people entering the workforce view gender. The majority of millennials, the second largest population, see gender as a spectrum, and 12% of that same group identify themselves as transgender. And the next largest group of people in the U.S. moving leaving college and moving towards employment, Generation Z? They also view gender inclusion, social justice, and diversity/equity as key issues in all aspects of their lives.
Of course, these stats don't account for the Gen Xers and Boomers who felt that they were incorrectly gendered but didn't have a safe outlet to talk about it.
Yes, some employees may be confused at the beginning, but a high-quality, compassionate training program can help everyone become aware of and understanding of these concepts. Rather than react to issues, proactively lead the discussion about how to make your workplace truly inclusive.
A gender primer
Part of the challenge with gender inclusion in the workplace surrounds language. A quick gender primer can bring some clarity from the very beginning.
First, a few major gender definitions are typically at play:
Gender identity: This is a person’s knowledge of their own gender. This may or may not match with the sex assigned at birth (see below).
Gender expression: How a person expresses their gender identity through clothing, hairstyle, etc.
Sex assigned at birth: Just as it sounds, sex assigned at birth is based on a healthcare's team assumptions of gender based on anatomy, hormones, and chromosomes.
A person’s gender is a combination of all of these factors and is highly personal. These gender definitions are present in how people define themselves. For example:
Transgender (trans): A person who has a different gender identity than their sex assigned at birth
Cis- (cisgender): People whose gender identity and sex assigned at birth match
Gender non-conforming: Describes those whose gender expression doesn’t match conventional ideas about masculine and feminine
Non-binary: A person who does not identify with two categories of gender identity (male/female) or gender expression (masculine/feminine)
Genderqueer: Some people use this term to describe themselves as somewhere outside of man/woman (not synonymous with non-binary)
The Trans Student Educational Resources has an easy-to-understand guide as well. There are more terms to know and understand, but starting with these can help. The most crucial aspect of this new vocabulary is that people define their own persons and genders, and when you're unsure, kindly ask!
How to support gender inclusion in the workplace
Supporting gender inclusion at work starts with acknowledging that changes need to be made and continues with concrete steps after that. Here's what we recommend.
Start at the top
If the leaders in your workplace aren’t on board, employees won’t understand the importance of these initiatives. Small group trainings are a great way to start, addressing concerns and answering questions as they arise with your executive teams.
Pro tip: Look for tools that measure implicit bias to help even the most open-minded executives recognize and remediate their bias.
Create a culture of acceptance
Once your C-suite is on board, start with acceptance of where everyone is starting. For older employees (or those who are reluctant to change their behavior), make it clear that these changes take time. It’s okay to forget pronouns or fumble with terminology, but it's not okay to react out of prejudice or anger. Training can help, as can creating easy-to-access resources if employees are ever unsure.
Pro tip: Establish an anonymous feedback system to handle issues and get clarity on what’s working in training (and what needs further clarification).
Bring a variety of voices into your training
Gender inclusion training will only be as effective as the delivery. Reach out to get feedback from nonbinary employees within your company before pushing out training. Better yet: include them in the process from the very start.
If employees are not comfortable doing so, or there is no one in the company who is openly non-binary or non-gender-conforming, bring in experts. Work with a local advocacy group to help design and deliver training (and pay them for their efforts!).
Pro tip: Ever heard the saying, “You can’t be what you can’t see?” Help employees who aren’t bringing their entire selves to work see that your company is inclusive, compassionate, and welcoming. Do that by having people with their same experiences take an active role in the design and delivery of training.
Lead the workplace with immediate changes
The easiest way to signal a cultural shift is to make immediate changes towards gender inclusion. Some quick ways to do this include:
- Having all executives and administrative leaders share pronouns in email signatures and on Slack channels (i.e.: they, he/him, she/her)
- Create “all-gender” bathrooms in your workspaces
- Start with microlearning modules to deliver resources (e.g., the definitions above)
Other options include the following.
Update language on employee forms
Do your employee forms still ask for “sex” and for a gendered title? It’s an easy fix to eliminate that language or replace it with more gender inclusive language.
Pro tip: Simply adding an “other” with a short-form answer box or “prefer not to answer” category can help.
Remove gendered language from company dress codes
Does your company still require “women” or “females” to wear skirts? “Men” or “males” to wear suits, collared, shirts, and ties?
You run a business, and you want your employees to look professional. Business attire is important. But remove gender from the dress code equation. Instead of requiring skirts or slacks, insist on professional attire suitable to the job.
Pro tip: Give simple examples about what’s appropriate (e.g., collared shirts, suits, dresses, and tailored pants) and what’s not (i.e., halter tops, jeans, and activewear) without specifying who can and cannot wear them.
Create a better workplace
Gender inclusion training is work worth doing. We spend the majority of our lives at work, and it’s crucial to make all employees feel accepted and welcomed.
Begin where you are and move forward from there.