Tips for Talking Gender Identity in the Workplace

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As conversations related to gender identity become more common in a variety of settings, including the workplace, it is important for everyone to learn how to talk about this subject in a thoughtful and supportive manner.

As legislative protections for LGBTQ+ rights are rolled back in some places, more companies are stepping up to take care of their employees. In 2017, more than 500 businesses earned the Corporate Equality Index’s  (CEI) top score of 100. The 25 percent increase between 2016 and 2017 represents “the largest jump” in the CEI’s history, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, which maintains the index.

The HRC’s report also notes that only 3 percent of Fortune 500 companies had non-discrimination protections for gender identity in place in 2002, compared to 82 percent in 2017. What’s behind this massive shift? Experts say it’s a combination of doing the right thing and maintaining a competitive edge.

Companies Leading the Way

To understand what good workplace policies surrounding gender identity look like, it may be helpful to explore a few real-life examples. In 2017, The Advocate  released a list of 10 global companies embracing a variety of initiatives to provide support and advocacy in the workplace and in the greater communities with which they engage. Some companies on the list include:

– Accenture provides “an inclusive work environment for LGBTI employees through community involvement (including marching in Pride parades), employee support, and local advocacy.”

– IBM was one of the first companies to include sexual orientation as part of its equal opportunity policy and has been extending domestic partner benefits to gay and lesbian employees in the US for nearly two decades.

– Microsoft has “unapologetically advocated for marginalized groups,” including recent stands against India’s Section 377, which criminalizes same-sex relationships, and through its support for the Equality Act, a federal LGBT nondiscrimination bill in the US.

– Coca-Cola is an inaugural member of HRC’s Business Coalition for Equality, formed to support the aforementioned Equality Act.

A Persistent Problem

Even with growing support for LGBTQ+ employees, many still face the burden of bullying in the workplace. According to a 2017 Psychology Today article, 40 percent of LGBT workers report feeling bullied at work, with 56 percent saying bullying happens repeatedly.

“Employers have a responsibility to create a safe working environment for all employees,” Michael Erwin, director of corporate communications and social media at CareerBuilder, said in the article. “They can minimize this destructive behavior by offering sensitivity training and enforcing anti-bullying policies across their organizations.”

Talking Tips

There are many ways your organization can provide a more supportive and inclusive environment for all employees — and knowing how to have informed and supportive discussions is one of them. By making use of resources like the Students and Gender Identity Toolkit  from University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education’s Master of Education in school counseling program, organizations can learn the key principles for navigating gender identity at work.

Organizations should also embrace strategies for creating inclusive environments, and they should give employees access to a glossary of acceptable terms to ensure supportive communication. A few terms from the glossary with which employees may not be aware:

Agender: Not identifying with any particular gender; sometimes referred to as “nongender”
Bigender: Identifying with male and female genders
Cisgender: An individual whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were designated at birth
Gender Binary: The cultural concept of two traditional and opposed genders, male and female
Gender-Fluid: A gender identity in which an individual may identify outside the male/female binary or with a range of femaleness and maleness. Also referred to as “gender-queer.”
Polygender: Identifying with multiple genders
Third-Gender: Describes a person who identifies neither as male nor female
Transgender (TG): Describes people who have a gender identity different from the one they were assigned at birth

Professor Mary Andres, who teaches in Rossier’s online master’s in school counseling program, refers to the creation of inclusive spaces as a “campus climate” issue. For companies around the world, this is a “workplace climate” issue, too.

By Alison Napolitano