Learning the Language of Gender
by Michael Embury van Wyk, People First HR Services
Think about this: how often are you asked to select “male” or “female” on a standard form?
Now, imagine that you do not identify yourself as being either of these options.
This is the daily reality for people that don’t understand themselves as fitting within either ‘box’. When we define people as being ‘male’ or ‘female’ we make the assumption that how they see themselves aligns with their biological sex and/or their anatomy; this is what is referred to as the gender binary.
“When be define people as being ‘male’ or ‘female’ we make the assumption that how they see themselves aligns with their biological sex and/or their anatomy.”
We now know that gender is not a binary classification – it isn’t simply masculine or feminine. Many societies and cultures around the world have historically associated gender with sex, sex with anatomy, and anatomy with identity. These associations have been slow to change, but with exposure, awareness and communication, people are gaining a greater understanding of gender identity both in and out of the workplace.
In 2012, Manitoba introduced Bill 36, The Human Rights Code Amendment Act which expanded the code to include gender identity. Manitoba’s Human Rights Code has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for many years but an explicit provision for transgendered and gender non-binary people was added to enhance their protection. This addition helps to specifically address the fact that gender and gender identity are not aligned with sexual orientation.
“…the fact that gender and gender identity are not aligned with sexual orientation.”
How do we make our workplace more gender-inclusive and welcoming to employees of all genders? Creating an inclusive environment for transgender and gender non-binary employees means more than just updating policies. Focusing on employees’ day-to-day experiences is a significant indicator of organizational support and a way to maintain employee engagement.
The very first step and one that sends a big message is to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of characteristics included in your organization’s non-discrimination policy. 66% of Fortune 500 companies include gender identity in their non-discrimination policies.
Employers have a legal responsibility under Respectful Workplace legislation to ensure that employees aren’t bullied or harassed. The shift in how our culture understands gender is a significant change – do your employees need training or education in order to understand and welcome non-gender binary peers?
Employers should allow their employees to indicate and require others to use their preferred name and choice of pronoun (i.e., “he,” “she” or a gender neutral option such as “they”). Employers should also respect the confidentiality of an employee’s personal data – they may not want birth names, sex etc. revealed to colleagues.
Dress codes should avoid stereotypes (such as mandating makeup, dresses, and stockings for women), and transgender employees should be permitted to dress according to their presenting gender.
Employers should ensure that transgender employees have access to an appropriate restroom and other traditionally sex-segregated facilities. Employees should be able to use a restroom that matches their presenting gender, or if they prefer, a gender-neutral restroom. Other employees who feel uncomfortable with a transgender employee’s bathroom choice should use another designated bathroom.
“The barrier for many organizations is simply not knowing ‘the right words’, or being unsure of where to start.”
Companies need to support all of their employees, and organizations that champion and advocate for transgender employees send a strong message of their commitment to diversity. The barrier for many organizations is simply not knowing ‘the right words’, or being unsure of where to start.
There is a lot to know, and the best way is to ask questions. Coming from a sincere place and a desire to do what’s right is generally welcomed and appreciated. For support in creating a gender-inclusive and welcoming workplace, don’t hesitate to contact us here at People First HR.
Michael Embury van Wyk
Director, Career Management
People First HR Services