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Pronoun badges: supporting gender identity in the workplace

Equality and inclusivity are high on any workplace’s priorities — after all, employers are keen to make sure their workers are comfortable and happy in order to be more productive. However, according to totaljobs, 60% of transgender employees have suffered workplace discrimination. The same study revealed over half of trans workers felt they had to hide the fact they are trans from their co-workers.

More positively, 51% of those asked said they felt that acceptance of transgender workers had improved recently, thanks to media coverage. Yet, there is still work to be done, as totaljobs’ report found that transgender workers felt the biggest challenges remaining in the UK workplace are:

  • No support
  • Misgendering
  • Discrimination
  • Lack of awareness
  • Transphobia
  • Rejection
  • Fear

Let’s look into the issue of transgender support in the workplace, and how employers can implement measures to ensure their company truly has a foundation of equality.

A quick guide to gender identity

It’s important to understand the concept of gender identity — it goes beyond merely female or male. ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) offered a guide to gender identity terms, covering transgender, gender fluidity, and non-binary terms:

  • Trans — this is often used as an umbrella term. It is used to describe a person who does not identify as their birth gender. Not identifying as your birth gender does not necessarily mean you identify as the opposite gender.
  • Transgender — someone who is transgender does not identify with their birth gender. For example, someone who was born biologically male, but identifies as female, would be transgender. Note that this term is usually preferred over the older term, transsexual.
  • Cisgender — this term refers to someone who identifies as their birth gender. So, someone who was born biologically male and identifies as male would be regarded as cisgender.
  • Non-binary — someone who is non-binary does not identify as male or female, identifies as both, or views their gender as something else.
  • Gender-fluid is often considered to be related to non-binary, in that someone who is gender-fluid may feel more masculine or more feminine from one day to the next.
  • Intersex — being intersex means a person is born with both male and female biological traits, such as chromosomes, hormones or genitals. This term replaces the now out-of-favour term hermaphrodites.

Misgendering

Misgendering a transgender person may be unintentional for the most part, but it signals part of a greater problem — assuming something about a person based on their appearance, manner, or voice. Using the wrong pronouns for someone can be highly upsetting, and wholly disrespectful in the event that misgendering has occurred out of refusal to use specified pronouns.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) points out that using pronouns is one of the most personal ways to address someone. If someone requests that you use a different pronoun for them, it is the most basic form of acceptance to use them.

It’s important to know someone’s preferred pronouns, but it can feel a little awkward asking, (or worse, finding out via misgendering). HRC advises creating opportunities to ask about a person’s pronouns, such as during the interviewing process, or during induction paperwork by having a box to declare which pronouns would be preferred. If your company has an online profile for employees, allowing them to select pronouns on their profile can be helpful, too.

Another effective way to prevent misgendering problems is the use of pronoun badges. Brighton & Hove City Council recently made the news when it announced its staff would be able to choose pronoun badges to wear at work.

The move has also been used by the University of Sussex, which distributed pronoun badges during International Transgender Day of Visibility. The badges, which were optional to wear, included a range of pronouns, plus a blank version for people to fill in their own choice if needed.

Pronouns: he, she, they, zie, ve…

If you’re planning to have pronoun badges available in the workplace, you need to know which pronouns might be required. After all, he/she does not cover non-binary employees. The option to have a customizable badge left blank for employees to fill in is fine, but it’s worth familiarising yourself with some of the pronouns most commonly used. The University of Wisconsin’s LGBT Resource Center provides an excellent table of pronouns, with reference to he/she pronouns and their gender-neutral alternatives:

He/She Him/Her His/Her His/Hers Himself/Herself
They Them Their Theirs Themself
Ze or Zie Hir Hir Hirs Hirself
Zie Zim Zir Zis Zieself
Xe Xem Xyr Xyrs Xemself
Ve Ver Vis Ver Verself
E Em Eir Eirs Emself

This list isn’t inclusive, and it may seem like a lot of variation to start with. But if you look a little closer, you’ll see a lot of them follow a similar pattern of endings, or sound similar. It’s really a very small task to address someone correctly, and it makes a huge difference in comfort and support.

Workplace support of trans workers

Issues with trans and intersex employee support stem from a variety of observed sources, such as:

  • Stigma concerning trans issues
  • Leaving it up to trans employees to push for changes in the workplace
  • Lack of consideration regarding toilets, uniforms and data management
  • Poor manager training — managers who lack an understanding of the needs of trans employees

There are plenty of ways a workplace can support trans workers, and most of it is simply down to courtesy, respect and awareness. Like Brighton & Hove City Council, you could choose to have optional pronoun button badges offered at work to help trans employees with a quick and easy way to communicate their pronouns. You could also run events in the office to raise awareness or collaborate with an LGBT charity to help with this. But a sense of workplace support needs to be integral to the company’s attitude, as a whole.

For example, ACAS highlights the need to make sure written policies are trans-inclusive. According to its research, only 20% of leading LGBT+ charity Stonewall’s Top 100 employers have trans-specific HR policies.

Having policies regarding gender reassignment can help support workers who need to change their gender within the workplace by having processes in place to update records and informing colleagues where needed. Even something as simple as a review of terminology in processes can help — if your written policies are old, they may contain out-of-date terminology that needs an update.

One of the biggest workplace supports, however, is arguably the simplest and yet the hardest: having acceptance be the ‘norm’. Speaking in ACAS’ study, one manager noted that policies were not enough, rather, there has to be a strong sense of work culture — that acceptance of people of any and all genders is simply how this company works day-to-day.

It’s hugely important to be aware that your workplace may indeed have transgender, gender-fluid, intersex, or non-binary staff without you being aware.

Not everyone will feel comfortable coming out, so it’s important to encourage the right attitude of acceptance and support within the workplace even if you think there’s no one in your workforce who is trans — you simply can’t assume.

Another way to encourage a healthy work environment could be to set up a support network within the business. This could be as simple as having a representative as a go-to person to confidentially talk to about any concerns or worries they feel too anxious to go to their line manager about.

ACAS notes that while having a transgender member of staff volunteer to be this representative is hugely beneficial, care must be taken not to overwork them in terms of expecting them to be at every event or meeting regarding the matter. Cisgender allies are also able to provide this support, with the right approach, even without personal experience.

Is your workplace truly inclusive and supportive of all walks of life? What changes can you make to ensure your company is welcoming for everyone you hire?

It’s always good to do a review of workplace practices to make sure they’re still working for everyone, so why not take another look and see if you can support the trans community more effectively within your business?

Written by QWEERIST editor

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