by Jules Slater, Account Coordinator
Ten years ago, the term “non-binary” was largely unfamiliar to most of the population. While it’s understood today that the idea of gender on a spectrum as rich and wide as the color spectrum has existed in several cultures since antiquity, in this country, we are only just beginning to scratch the surface.
For people grappling with our own gender identities and self-expression, accessing this new terminology can be the difference between life and death, but it doesn’t stop there. As the majority of gender non-conforming individuals, 76% of whom are between the ages of 18 and 26 begin to grow up and enter the workforce, we’re facing challenges and struggles unfamiliar to us, our coworkers, and our corporate leaders. The world is becoming more accepting of non-binary and gender non-conforming identities, but there is more that each of us and our organizations can do to allow gender non-conforming people not only a safe space to work, but a space at which we can thrive.
As with any policy or culture within an organization, change and progress can happen from the bottom up just as easily as from the top down. That is, taking steps to show that you care for your gender non-conforming coworkers on a personal and professional level is at least equally as important as policies put in place by company executives. By being proactive and taking time to learn about non-binary identities and experiences and grow in your respect and compassion, coworkers can alleviate some of the pressure imposed on us to manage our own identities in the workplace, therefore contributing to an environment where we feel our identities are accepted and valued.
These individual efforts could include: reading up on why using someone’s correct name and pronouns matter, tuning into a webinar about current issues facing the transgender and gender non-conforming community, or listening to a podcast about LGBTQ+ struggles in the modern workplace, just to name a few.
Another small way to ease potential discomfort among gender non-conforming coworkers in corporate or organizational environments is to add your own pronouns alongside your name wherever you can. Adding pronouns for those who identify as cisgender (someone whose gender aligns with their assigned sex at birth) can seem redundant, obvious, or even silly, but normalizing sharing pronouns freely will help contribute, on a micro-level, to the dispelling of assumptions and snap judgments that often leave gender-nonconforming individuals feeling unseen.
On a more personal level, seeing pronouns included in an email signature, a Zoom display name, or hearing them shared during a meeting or event signals that our identities will be respected in that space and that we can feel free to share our own pronouns.
A community in which sharing pronouns is normalized is a safe space. A community in which gender non-conforming identities can thrive, however, is one whose employees feel empowered and comfortable engaging in conversation about how to advocate for their colleagues in difficult situations—where people are checking in on one another and standing up for gender non-conforming coworkers in situations where we don’t always feel comfortable negotiating our own identities or correcting others’ language.
Individual action and advocacy are essential for micro-level interaction but adjusting company policies and culture oftentimes comes from the top down, by the example of the people we look up to most in our company’s leadership. The future of accepting gender non-conforming people in the workplace lies with the implementation of policies that acknowledge our unique life experiences and needs.
Allowing all gender bathrooms in our spaces, creating thorough transition policies for employees who begin their transition or who may seek medical support during their ongoing transition while at the company, and bending traditional ideas of dress code are three things, among many others, that employers and leadership should be incorporating into the DNA of their companies to accommodate the coming influx of gender non-conforming employees as this population begins searching for jobs at which we can unapologetically be ourselves.
As the way we speak about and experience the world around us continues to change, so must our corporate policies, company culture, and willingness to challenge long-held beliefs and traditions. A sizeable population of Generation Z gender non-conforming individuals are readying themselves to enter the workforce, and it’s important that all industries, sectors, and organizations are also preparing to accept these people and put their best foot forward. Many workplaces have already taken major strides towards offering equitable workplaces for gender non-conforming employees, but even these workplaces can do more to ensure all employees can succeed at their organizations regardless of gender identity or expression. It’s time to put in the work and build environments where gender non-conforming employees can thrive.
For a glossary of terms used in this piece (and some that are additional), and for more ways companies can support gender non-conforming identities, check out Bob’s HR Leaders Guide for Non-Binary Gender Inclusion.