While companies have made strides in their diversity and inclusion efforts, non-binary individuals continue to face unique challenges in the workplace, including harassment, being misgendered, fired, and generally mistreated. Research has found that two major factors are to blame here—a lack of understanding and a failure to implement policies specific to non-binary employees.

Earlier this month, we hosted a panel of HR leaders to discuss creating more inclusive workplaces for non-binary employees. We heard from Madison Butler (she/her/hers), Founder of Blue Haired Unicorn, Shannon Tratnyek (they/them), Senior Recruiter at Thoughtworks, and Michael Delaney (he/him), Head of Talent at Humanforce. The panelists discussed how HR teams can implement sensitivity practices into the workplace, support marginalized employees, and combat ignorance and aggression. With education, sensitivity, and the understanding that identities are not debatable, we can combat stigma and create a safe environment where everyone is free to come as they are. 

Before we jump into our main takeaways from the webinar, here are some terms that need defining:

Transgender: A person whose gender identity is different than the one assigned at birth.

Cisgender: A person who identifies with the gender assigned at birth.

Non-binary: A person who doesn’t identify as either male or female. Some might identify with both. Some might identify with neither. According to current estimates, up to 40% of trans people identify as non-binary.  Other terms you might hear around that are similar to non-binary are genderfluid, genderqueer, and agender. 

Intersectionality: How different identities intersect with one another to impact our experiences and how we see the world. As Madison explained, “Of course, when you’re a woman there are barriers, but those barriers compound on each other when you’re a black woman, or a black queer woman, or a black transgender woman or man. So we want to keep in mind that although we all have barriers, we all still have some privilege. We need to think about how we can leverage our privilege and power to uplift, and educate, and essentially do better.” 

Here’s what else our panel shared:

How can technology be leveraged to create inclusive workplaces?

Evaluate your tech stack to see if it’s flexible. Demonstrate to employees that you’re supportive and accepting of all identities by assessing the language and gender options in your tech stack to be sure they’re inclusive. 

Does the software and technology your company uses support diversity and inclusion? The systems that your HR team asks employees to engage with should incorporate more options than just male, female, and other (grouping people together as “other” is problematic in and of itself). “If we have technology in place where we can all check various boxes, it feels like we’ve made a big leap forward,” said Michael.

Evaluate your entire tech stack, not just your HRIS. Start with the first touchpoint, which is the recruitment software or applicant tracking system. Think critically about what information you’re asking applicants to share and when. “Make sure you leave it open for people to share what they want to. Some people want to keep their (gender) identity to themselves. It’s a private decision to disclose, which is why you need to offer flexible options,” said Shannon.

Talk to your vendor partners and ask them to incorporate more gender options into their product. Evaluate everything from background checks to payroll and benefits systems. You might have to change vendor partners and seek out vendors who will support your diversity initiatives. If those partners don’t exist, be human, and acknowledge to employees that you’re trying to do better. Acknowledge the position you’re putting employees through by asking them to choose between two wrong options. 

How can companies be more inclusive? How can someone introduce non-binary pronouns into a company?

Create spaces where people feel they can show up however they want to. “You want people to have the opportunity to be their authentic selves at work and the opportunity to come as they are,” said Michael. The best way to make someone comfortable is to demonstrate that you have an inclusive environment overall.

Step away from the belief that you can look at someone and know their pronouns. “Ask people what pronouns they use in a similar introductory way as asking someone’s name,” said Shannon. It’s not something most people are used to doing, and it will feel awkward, but the more we do it and make it sound casual, the better off we’ll be. Stay away from asking for “preferred” pronouns. Pronouns aren’t preferred. They’re not a choice. 

Normalize pronoun use by putting your pronouns on your email signature, Linkedin profiles, Slack name, etc. When you send out a welcome email about new hires, include their pronouns.

Lead with education. It’s not anyone’s place to decide what is right and what is normal. “People’s identities are not opinions, and they are not debatable,” said Madison. Reinforce this message and educate employees that just because they haven’t encountered a non-binary person before doesn’t make it any less “normal.”

When writing policies, a code of conduct, or an employee handbook, think about the most marginalized people in your organization and what that person needs. “The policy that will work for your most marginalized person will also work for the person with the least barriers,” said Madison. 

Advocate for your employees and get them the coverage they need to be healthy and happy. Think about the benefits your non-binary employees need, whether that’s hormone replacement therapy, mental health counseling, or insurance that covers certain prescriptions. 

Insurance is confusing. Be a resource to your employees to help them understand what their insurance covers and what it doesn’t. See if you can bridge the gap by offering to subsidize any out-of-pocket costs. 

Don’t make assumptions. Lead with the information a person gives you. “If someone’s not volunteering information, go with what they’re telling you. Don’t make any assumptions. They also have the right to not disclose anything to you,” said Shannon. 

Break the gender habit. Keep terms gender-neutral at work. Instead of maternal leave, institute a policy of parental leave. Instead of the term husband/wife, use the term spouse/partner. Instead of a “mother’s room,” call it a “nursing room.” “If we can find a way not to have a gender lens on everything we do, it will make life simpler for the entire world,” said Michael. 

Do not tolerate anyone who intentionally causes harm. If an employee is being disrespectful by constantly misgendering someone, it should be seen as creating a hostile work environment and treated accordingly. If you have a zero-tolerance policy, enforce it. 

“Uplift, educate, and essentially do better.”

Everyone wants to feel seen, heard, and respected. Think about what your non-binary employees—and all marginalized employees—need to be able to show up to work (or log on from home) and feel supported and understood. If you mess up, be human and apologize and acknowledge that you’re trying, and you will do better. 

To watch the full webinar, click here.


3 HR leaders talk pronouns, privilege, and tech’s role in creating more inclusive workplaces - PHOTO-2021-01-09-22-08-30-e1613468247172.jpg

From Annie Lubin

Annie grew up in Brooklyn, New York. On a Saturday afternoon, you'll likely find her curled up with her cats reading a magazine profile about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.