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Non-binary inclusion: navigating identity in the workplace

Jul 21, 2021

Being out at work can be daunting for many who identify as non-binary. How can we, as employees and companies, better show how we are inclusive of all gender identities?

We’re taught from a young age that there is a binary nature to gender: things are split into boys and girls, blue and pink, action figures and Barbies. But it gets a little more complicated as you grow up: we realise that people are infinitely more complex in their interests, and their favourite colours. Many of us also come to realise that we’re more complex in our gender, and how we express it. That same gender binary doesn’t really hold up as we grow up and explore our identities.

For those that identify as being transgender, how they define themselves is often simpler to grasp: you transition from one to another and that’s that; a clean move from being perceived as one, to living your life wholly as the other. But for others, the relationship one has to their gender is more complex.

People describe this in many ways: non-binary, agender, genderfluid, genderqueer. But it all comes down to having no fixed relationship to the gender one was assigned at birth, feeling much more related to a definition of gender identity somewhere along the sliding scale from male to female. Or indeed, sometimes off that scale entirely, existing as totally separate from traditional identities or expressions.

For those of us who don’t feel this way, it can be hard to understand. But with a commitment to diversity, coming from a place of respect and inclusion, and by making a simple changes, we can make our workplaces that much more welcoming and navigable for our non-binary colleagues.

What are some of the small things we can do to be more inclusive of non-binary identities?

Normalising asking for someone’s pronouns is a great way of signposting that, as a workplace, we’re accepting and understanding of people’s gender identities. This can include quick changes, like putting your pronouns in your e-mail signature or on LinkedIn, as well as asking about someone’s pronouns during recruitment, when you meet new staff members, or when you attend external meetings.

It’s also as simple as allowing for and encouraging gender expression. Dress codes serve a purpose in the workplace, but if these are strictly binarized to male and female, how do people who identify outside of this navigate the landscape of how to dress? The best way is to remove gendered language: instead of ‘suits for men’, how about simply ‘business casual’?

Finally, allies are one of the most important groups in the fight for better inclusivity in the workplace. If you hear someone using the wrong pronouns for a colleague, or even mocking someone who is experimenting with their expression through how they dress, then speak up! A diversity and inclusion policy is useless unless people put it into action.

Are there any other procedural things that organisations should be trying to do?

Facilitating options on forms and documents is a way organisations can help be more inclusive. This includes providing space for people to define their own gender on any forms they might have to fill out, whether they’re completing a HR on-boarding process or signing up to a service that a company might be offering. Leaving gender fields blank or providing a space where people can input their preferred identity and pronouns, help to make all our services more inclusive.

Coming out at work can be a big deal for lots of employees – how do we support them, and protect them if needed?

This is a huge issue. For many, being out at work isn’t easy, and so privacy is key. If someone discloses that they identify as non-binary, either to you personally or during the recruitment process, you should treat this with the utmost confidence, and ask if they feel comfortable with you referring to them as such in more public settings.

Furthermore, if a colleague or employee is medically transitioning, providing time and space for them to complete hormone treatments or being understanding of doctor’s visits can really help.

Finally, company policy is a huge area that may need to be reviewed. Looking at internal policy and reviewing it for gender neutral language (e.g: ‘they’ rather than ‘he/she’) is critical, and good practice. It may also be a good idea to craft new policies, like a transitioning  at work policy, or even review health insurance plans to ensure that non-binary and trans employees are covered with any specific issues they may face.

What can companies do to attract talent from the non-binary community, and the wider LGBTQ+ community?

Once your framework is in place for ensuring non-binary identities are included – leaving space for self-declaration of gender, ensuring gender neutrality, providing space, and all the other things described above – you need to actively recruit from these communities.

This can be done in obvious ways, like ensuring you’re listed on LGBTQ+-friendly hiring sites, but it can also be achieved organically. Shout about your achievements on social, post about your policies, and let the whole world know about your commitment to inclusion.

It’s also vital that you understand your own workforce. Have you conducted a self-disclosure survey, and do you know how your own staff identify? Once you do, you’ll discover where you need to work on your workforce, who you need to hire, who you could promote, and the areas of the business you can find them in.

Ultimately there’s lots of things, both big and small, that we can do on individual and company-wide levels for promoting inclusivity of non-binary identities. We already know that more diverse workplaces are better-performing workplaces, so always come from a place of understanding for the benefit of your colleagues, and to help the business succeed.

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