Tuesday, 17 August 2021 08:49

5 Steps to Creating a Gender Inclusive Workplace

As part of an organization’s overall DE&I strategy and effort to create an inclusive workplace, gender inclusion is a key pillar to focus on. Creating a gender inclusive work environment is critical to ensure all employees feel accepted and welcomed within their gender identity and expression.

To achieve the goal of inclusion, employers need to create a safe space for all employees to feel comfortable sharing and expressing themselves without fear of exclusion, judgement and/or discrimination. In this blog we will explore the five (5) critical steps employers should take to build the foundation for gender inclusivity along with quick tips on how to support employees during a gender transition.

But first, let’s start by identifying and defining the important terms necessary to ground an organization in a common language and understanding:

  • Gender identity: an individual’s personal sense of having a particular gender.
  • Gender expression: the way an individual expresses their gender identity through their appearance, dress, and behavior.
  • Cisgender: individuals who identify with the sex assigned at birth.
  • Nonbinary: the gender identity/expression doesn’t fit into the binary terms of man or woman and fall somewhere in-between. It is similar to genderqueer, defined as an individual who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions.
  • Transgender: the individual’s gender identity/expression differs from their assigned sex at birth.

Gender identity and expression exist on a spectrum with individual preferences falling somewhere along continuum. It can be the same or different as their sex assigned at birth. Here, the Gender Unicorn demonstrates:

Gender Unicorn

Follow these five (5) steps to create gender inclusivity:

1) Establish a common language in your organization

Familiarize yourself with gender terminology and gender inclusive language. Take action to remove gendered language and use gender neutral and inclusive language instead. For example, gendered language can be found in job postings, policies, internal communications, marketing materials, and more. 

Without realizing it, we often use language that is gendered or subtly gender coded. This includes words or phrases that have gender connotations or gendered language that reinforces stereotypes, like she/her or he/him. Even casual statements like “Hey guys!” is not gender-neutral. Instead, consider other terms such as folks, everyone, all or written greetings such as “hey guys, gals and nonbinary pals!”

Reinforce the practice in your organization to avoid making assumptions about someone’s gender or sexual orientation. Rather, move towards an environment with gender neutral practices. This includes avoiding making assumptions about someone’s marital/dating relationships. Instead of asking a colleague about their “wife” or “husband”, use gender neutral language such as “partner” or “spouse.”

To learn more:

  • For an overview of gender inclusive language in the workplace, click here
  • For an in-depth review of gender terminology, click here
  • Use a gender decoder to test the language in your job ads, found here

2) Review organizational policies and employee benefit plans to ensure they are gender neutral and inclusive

  • Create Appearance/Attire/Dress Code standards that are gender neutral such as wearing professional attire appropriate to the workplace setting. Avoid gender-specific standards such as men must wear slacks or women must wear dresses or skirts.
  • Review your employee handbook for gendered language. Replace he/him or she/her with they/them.
  • Create gender affirming leave policies. Consider replacing your Maternity Leave policy with a more inclusive Parental Leave policy that allows all new parents (even those who did not give birth) to take time off for bonding with and caring for a new child.
  • Ensure gender identity and expression are accounted for in the Equal Employment Opportunity and Anti-Harassment policies.
  • Review your healthcare coverage and work with your insurance provider to ensure your plans offer adequate coverage for transgender employees and gender affirming surgeries.

Contrary to what some may think, the cost of transgender healthcare is not as high as the relative cost of some more common healthcare expenses such as treatment for cardiac disease, diabetes, and cancer care. Providing essential healthcare for transgender employees and dependents is an excellent way to model inclusivity and support. See the HRC’s article for more details on transgender healthcare costs.

3) Offer opportunities for employees to self-identify their pronouns

Allow employees the opportunity to self-identify their pronouns by embracing pronoun blocks on company email signatures as an organizational standard.  Using pronoun blocks allows individuals to specify how they want to be referred. This is an easy method to empower employees to express themselves and an important way to show respect for each individual’s gender identity.

Gina Battye, LGBT+ Inclusion Consultant affirms: “It shows you care about individual preferences and is a simple solution to accidental misgendering.”

Further, using pronoun blocks demonstrates your commitment to DE&I and gender inclusivity externally. As you grow your brand and promote your organization as a DE&I friendly workplace, it’s important that your candidates, clients, customers and vendor partners recognize your efforts.

To learn more:

  • A guide to using pronouns can be found here.
  • Check out this Forbes article to learn more about the benefits of using pronouns.
  • Watch this video for tips on what to do when you accidentally misgender someone

4) Add a single stall or gender-neutral restroom option

Include a non-gendered restroom option to make a comfortable restroom option for employees who identify outside of cisgender, including nonbinary, genderqueer, or transgender. If this is not a feasible option for your facility, be sure to allow employees to use the restroom for the gender they identify with. This may require training, education, and communication/awareness for all employees to avoid any issues of discomfort or discrimination.

According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, no federal, state or municipal laws or regulations specifically pertaining to gender identity require employers to utilize one type of bathroom over another, or to construct new facilities to accommodate transgender individuals. However, some jurisdictions regulate aspects of these restrooms. For example, the District of Columbia requires single-occupant restroom facilities in any public space to be gender neutral – restrooms designed for use by one individual at a time may not have a specific gender designation with "male" or "female" signage or icons – but does not require employers to have single-occupant restrooms instead of another type.

Make sure you are following state regulations in your area.

5) Provide DE&I training for employees to focus on creating an inclusive and welcoming workplace

As organizations work towards creating a gender inclusive workplace, it’s critically important to start the conversation by grounding your workforce in a common understanding and language. Ideally, these cultural expectations are in alignment with your organizational values. Employers can accomplish this by delivering an interactive training to all employees and managers that includes the following content:

  • Raise awareness and create an understanding of behaviors that promote or prevent a strong DEI culture
  • Explore what it means to think and act inclusively
  • Recognize and manage unconscious bias
  • Respond to and prevent microaggressions
  • Establish a common understanding of the differences between sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation
  • Affirm the use of pronouns company-wide

Solvere HR provides a robust  training tailored to your organization to assist in developing and supporting a strong DE&I practice. Learn more about our services at DEI Consulting (solverehr.com).

Bonus Tips: How to Effectively Support Employee Gender Transitions

Did you know 75% of transgender people have experienced workplace discrimination? This horrific statistic was recently reported by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

As employers focus on becoming more gender inclusive, it’s important to understand how to be an advocate for an employee going through a gender transition. When an employee announces their intention to gender transition, knowing that their workplace is an affirming space that supports them can make all the difference for the employee.

The first place to start is to review the organization’s progress towards creating a more gender inclusive workplace, as shared in the previous section. The action steps below give additional guidance on how to provide a safe, fair, and welcoming environment during a gender transition.

Action Steps During a Transition:

  • Partner closely with the employee throughout the transition period to align on communication planning, support needed, workplace experience and more. Be ready to discuss the employee’s need for medical leave should they require time away for any gender affirming treatment.
  • Let the transitioning employee drive their own communication to the rest of the organization. Each person has their own comfort level and timeline for coming out – allowing an employee to own that process shows respect and empathy.
  • Allow the employee to choose the restroom of their choice.
  • Prepare leaders to respond appropriately to any questions that arise from others in the organization. Consider preparing a FAQ document for leaders to reference and maintain consistent, supportive messaging.
  • Immediately begin to use the employee’s pronouns and their name of choice. Set the same expectation with other employees.
  • Closely monitor the workplace and ensure that fellow employees treat the transitioning employee with respect at all times. Equip leaders to enforce this expectation in accordance with the organization’s EEO, Discrimination and Harassment policies.

Every gender transition is different. Each person has their own comfort level and timeline for coming out. Allowing the employee to own that process shows respect and empathy.

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Solvere HR Consulting provides practical HR solutions that optimize your organizational capability and profitability through your most valuable asset -- your employees. Learn more about us at www.solverehr.com.