“Hi. I’m Hill. Nice to meet you.”
A statement like this may seem ordinary at first hearing, but introducing myself to people at work is more vulnerable than most can imagine. I’m nonbinary and transgender. And I’m out and open at work.
At birth, the world assigned me as a female. At 18, I came out as gay to my family. Five years later, I came out as nonbinary (a gender identity that isn’t exclusively male or female) and transgender (having a gender different from your assigned sex). Now, I share my preferred pronouns with each new team I work with, as well as a podcast and company guidelines on gender inclusion to help others understand what that means and why it’s important to me.
I advocate and live my life out loud to protect my personal well-being and influence change in the workplace, especially as I progress in my career and can do so even more. This is my personal preference, but for some people, it’s important for them to not be out.
Despite my firm being incredibly supportive and committed to inclusion, I still sometimes worry about the perceptions of leaders and peers, some of whom are held back by limiting belief systems, and also feel concern for other colleagues not comfortable coming out.
Data on transgender and nonbinary employees is underreported because stigma, fear, bias, and microaggressions keep many from self-identifying. As the research shows, these feelings are not unwarranted.
- 93% of companies have nondiscrimination policies that cover sexual orientation and 85% have these policies for gender identity.
- 80% of the transgender population who work have “experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job or took steps to avoid it.”
- Almost 50% of LGBTQ workers in the U.S. remain closeted at work.
If you or your company is unsure about how to be an ally to your transgender and nonbinary employees, I can offer a few strategies to consider (notably, they go beyond nondiscrimination statements and outlines of insurance benefits).
Here is how to take on allyship at your place of work:
Adopt inclusive company policies
Issuing company-wide guidance about the use of pronouns in emails and meetings and encouraging this use sets positive expectations from everyone. Additionally, it reduces the potential of employees feeling forced to out themselves. Other actions include:
- Setting up processes that seamlessly allow updating an individual’s building photo ID, email, and name across company systems during the transition process.
- Implementing gender-neutral restrooms. Especially in offices with communal bathrooms shared by multiple companies. employees can face dangers to their safety.
- Paying attention to work dress codes. In my experience, what fits me tends to be more casual than typical business attire. If an event or meeting isn’t revenue generating, consider wearing more relaxed clothing options.
Use inclusive language
If you know someone’s pronouns, use them. If you’re unsure, ask which pronouns they use. It doesn’t feel good to be misgendered or excluded. In fact, it can be demoralizing and exhausting.
Practice being thoughtful when using gendered language. Instead of “hey guys” or “your husband/wife,” say “hey everyone” or “your partner/significant other.”
Build community support
Creating nonbinary and transgender employee resource groups is a great way to build connection and support for employees.
These groups can also be a valuable resource for guidance on inclusive workplace practices.
Position leaders as allies to influence real change
Holding company leadership accountable in how they clear the way for transgender and nonbinary inclusivity is particularly important. I’ve been able to express myself fully and share my story confidently with the support of managers and my leadership team at work. This open environment and transparent dynamic, combined, is an important resource for marginalized communities to rely on.
Attention to and discussion of these issues is becoming increasingly more important. Recently, after a partner accidentally misgendered me in a meeting, she offered me a public apology so genuine it brought me to tears. I sincerely appreciated her desire to make things right.
Moreover, her gesture not only showed genuine support and respect, but also signaled her desire to be a better ally and reinforced to our colleagues that inclusion is a priority. We need more leaders like this who are willing to stretch their comfort zone and shift their mindset to show up for transgender and nonbinary employees.
The bottom line: the actions companies take carry weight, and—on any given day—inclusion is not only the right thing to do, but it can change someone’s life.
Hill Winans (they/them), is a manager and digital accelerator at PwC.