Beyond pronouns: How to improve non-binary inclusion in your organisation

non-binary inclusion

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Non-binary inclusion in the workplace needs to go beyond pronouns.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that pronouns aren’t an important factor in creating LGBTIQA+ inclusion — they are. However, it’s useful to be mindful of the many ways it’s possible to create a workplace that is inclusive of gender diverse and trans people.

Fostering non-binary inclusion at work, like other forms of inclusion, will benefit your staff, attract high-quality future employees and appeal to clients who choose to support inclusive businesses. In addition to this, improving inclusion at work can have far-reaching social benefits because it works against ignorance.

Here are some ways to improve non-binary inclusion in your organisation.

The basics

In my experience, gender neutral toilets and pronouns are the topics that get the most attention when it comes to non-binary inclusion. And they are incredibly important — just not everything.

Consider encouraging your staff to note their pronouns in their email signature (remembering not to make this compulsory), or on the internal communications platforms used at work. On top of that, make sure your organisation has gender neutral toilets available.

If you’d like to know more about gender pronouns, check out my article for HRM.

Move away from gendered language

Gender isn’t binary — there are many of us who know ourselves to be neither man nor woman.

Unfortunately, though, our language is still often centred around the concept of men and women. This results in unfair and exclusionary policies, programs, conversations and practices. To create inclusion for non-binary employees and clients we need to constantly challenge our assumptions around gender and reflect closely on the ways we use language. How many times do you still hear (or use) the phrases: “hey guys”, “ladies and gentlemen” and “maternity leave”? All of these — and many other — phrases erase the existence of non-binary people and can easily be adapted to be more inclusive. For example, “hey everyone” or “hey team” is a great start.

Unlearning your assumptions around gender and use of language requires awareness and further education. And if you’re in a leadership position, it’s crucial that you implement strategies to create a safe space at work for all of your employees. Try naming how you’ll communicate with others if mistakes are made. One workplace I know of introduced a rubber chicken that could be squeezed during meetings any time someone used outdated or exclusionary language. This created a lighthearted mood whilst still creating the change the team members wanted to see.  This might not work in all workplaces — you need to tailor the solutions to your context. Getting this right will develop true allies in your organisation who are capable of holding each other to account.

Improve internal policies

Employee benefits and organisational policies are usually structured around the idea that gender is binary and that women shoulder the majority of the childcare and domestic duties. It’s time to bring our policies into 2022.

Look out for:

  • Policies that state she/her or he/him when referring to employees. This language can easily be altered to they/them and refer to individuals as people;
  • Carer policies that outline maternity and paternity leave. Shift this language to parental or caregiver leave. Additionally, ideas of secondary and primary carer need to become ideas of the past. Many countries and some Australian corporations now recognise that caring responsibilities should be shared and that as workplaces we can accommodate this;
  • Ensure forms and internal systems have an option for non-binary people! It is frustrating how many systems and forms still only have space for two gender options. Some organisations have a third option: other. It’s pretty rotten to have to tick a box that calls you an “other”. Use non-binary/gender diverse and/or give people a free text box to self-describe and of course have an option that says: prefer not to say;
  • Exclude titles on forms. Like, what are we even still using titles for?!; and
  • Ensure any harassment or discrimination policies specifically call out gender diversity as a protected attribute.

Ensure there’s a gender affirmation/transition policy

It’s unfair for the first person in your organisation to transition to be a guinea pig for any potential mistakes that will occur at work in the process. They will likely be having enough difficulty navigating their affirmation within their families and communities.

By making sure your business has a gender affirmation and transition policy and procedure — and that your staff are familiar with what to do when another team member shares that they’re going to affirm their gender — you’ll support your gender diverse and trans employees. There are many examples of processes and extra resources, such as RMIT University’s Gender Affirmation guide.

Review your organisation’s dress code

If your workplace has a specific dress code or uniform it should not be gendered. Many schools are now leading the way by providing a list of uniform options without assigning gender to them. However, other schools and workplaces still have outdated ideas around professional dress and uniform standards including restrictions that inhibit a person’s ability to be themselves. Make it clear that gender expression is supported and protected, and that any intolerant behaviour will be taken seriously.

People are at their best when they feel safe to bring their whole selves to work. And it’s a responsibility of our workplaces to create that space.

This article was first published on Bree Gorman’s website


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