Key Points about Supporting Non-Binary Employees:
- Gender identity in the workplace is changing.
- You can support non-binary employees with pronoun usage, all-gender bathrooms, and employee resource groups. When possible, avoid gendered language and correct pronoun mistakes.
- Use an HRIS that accommodates non-binary individuals. Employees will be able to enter titles, names, pronouns, and gender identities that differ from their legal information.
Millennials (b.1981-1996) make up one third of the current labor force and they’ve brought their views on gender with them to the workplace. Compared to previous generations, they’re much more accepting of LGBTQIA and non-binary individuals. In fact, 12% of them identify as transgender or non-binary, double the number of Generation Xers (b.1965-1980). As gender non-conformity gains visibility, it’s more important than ever to create a welcoming space for all employees.
Non-Binary: What It Means
Non-binary means “not consisting of, or involving, two.” Non-binary individuals feel that their gender is between, outside, or beyond the two categories of male and female. In other words, non-binary individuals don’t identify as male or female exclusively. Some of them may identify as a male one day and a female the next. Others may feel that their gender identity falls outside this spectrum. There are a variety of non-binary identities and all are valid.
Despite wider acceptance, non-binary individuals still face societal and institutional discrimination. In most public spaces, for instance, there are only two bathrooms: one for males and one for females. Likewise, most legal documents provide only two gender options. When these prejudices appear daily, a supportive workplace can make a huge difference.
Create a Culture of Support for Non-Binary Employees
The following tips can help you support non-binary employees and create a welcoming environment:
If you identify as a woman, but someone refers to you as a “he,” you would be offended, or at least uncomfortable. In the same way, someone who identifies as non-binary may feel uncomfortable if you call them “she” or “he.” Because non-binary individuals aren’t strictly male or female, they may not use the binary pronouns he/him and she/her.
Make pronouns a part of standard procedure. This will increase awareness and prevent people from treating non-binary individuals as “exceptions.” When onboarding a new employee or meeting a new coworker, introduce yourself by saying, “Hi, my name is ____ and my pronouns are ____. What about you?”
If a new hire wants to share their pronouns, include them in your introductions. For example, you can say, “This is [New Hire Name], our new [Position Title]. [New Hire Name] uses the pronouns ____.”
While you should encourage employees to share their pronouns, no one should be forced to do it. Some may not want to identify themselves at work and others may not know which pronouns they prefer yet.
The chart below lists common pronouns.
Include True Pronouns in Communications
Encourage employees to put pronouns in their email signatures and social media profiles. If you have an internal employee directory, they can add pronouns there, too. This practice is as simple as putting she/her, xie/hir (pronounced “zee”/“here”), or any other pronouns in parentheses next to their name. This increases visibility and helps non-binary employees feel less alone. It also helps coworkers learn each other’s pronouns.
Some individuals may not understand this practice, though. Cisgender individuals (people who identify as the gender they were born as) may think their pronouns are obvious. Remind employees that it isn’t possible (or respectful) to assume someone’s gender based on their appearance. Again, no one should be forced to add pronouns to their communications. However, most employees won’t hesitate to add them once they understand the reason for the change.
Create All-Gender Bathrooms
For non-binary individuals, a bathroom can turn into a minefield. They may not feel comfortable using the male or female stalls. And no matter which they choose, these individuals may receive strange looks from others using the facilities. To reduce this stress, create an all-gender bathroom in your workplace.
An all-gender bathroom gives non-binary employees a physical space. It shows them that you’re making tangible changes to support them. These spaces can boost feelings of inclusivity and increase retention rates, too. Of course, creating an all-gender bathroom is a large expense. If you share an office space with other organizations, you may be able to split the cost with them.
Develop Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
Employee resource groups are led by employees and focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. These employees often come from marginalized communities and can feel unheard in the workplace. ERGs give them a chance to form meaningful connections with others and build safe spaces at work. In these groups, employees can voice concerns, educate coworkers, and propose organizational changes
If you’d like to introduce ERGs to your organization, check out IBM’s programs. IBM has an ERG dedicated to their LGBTQIA and non-binary employees. Managers help this group share LGBTQIA concerns with the rest of the company. By educating managers, they hope inclusivity will trickle down from coworker to coworker.
Remove Gendered Language from Documents
Replace gendered language with gender-neutral phrases in your organization’s documents. Keep in mind that “they/them” are pronouns used by non-binary individuals. In legal contracts, though, the singular “they” is too vague. To be safe, forego pronouns like “they” or “she.” Instead, use “the applicant,” “the employee,” or “the person” when necessary. Of course, check with your lawyer for the industry best practice.
Updating all of your documents may be time-consuming, especially if you use paper files. If you use an online document manager, though, you can convert these paper pages into PDFs. This lets you edit and update all of the forms at once, and employees and applicants will be able to see the newest versions as soon as you’re done.
Accurately Represent Non-Binary Employees in Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Reports
Creating an inclusive environment is important, but so is compliance. EEO reports, for instance, require strict adherence to federal reporting guidelines. Employers must categorize their employees by race/ethnicity, job, and gender. However, this report is not equipped for non-binary employees. The form lists only two options for gender: male and female.
In the past, employers categorized non-binary employees using their own best judgement. Recently, however, The U.S. Department of Labor published a work-around on their FAQ page. Now, employers can enter data for non-binary individuals in the comment box on Component 2. Although inconvenient, it lets you enter gender identity accurately while remaining compliant.
Use an HRIS That Accommodates Non-Binary Employees
Your employees use your HRIS on a daily basis, so it’s important to find one that supports non-binary employees. An accommodating HRIS gives users the power to self-identify, something that non-binary employees won’t take for granted.
In SentricHR, employees can enter their true titles, names, and gender identities. If you use your HRIS for applicant tracking, applicants will also have this capability. Users can enter any title they want and choose from gender identity options that include Male, Female, and Non-binary. Their preferred names and gender identities will appear on all applicable (public-facing) areas of the platform. Legal, assigned-at-birth names and gender identities will only appear where required by compliance (such as on pay stubs).
Learn from Mistakes
Even if you use pronouns and true names in your workplace, mistakes can still happen. That’s okay – as long as you and your employees correct them in the future. If you’re in a meeting, for example, someone may say, “She submitted the request.” However, the person they’re referring to doesn’t use the pronouns she/her. They use the pronouns they/them.
To correct them, you can say, “They did submit the request.” This reminds the employee that they used the wrong pronouns. In some cases, though, this correction may be too subtle. If the employee continues to use the wrong pronouns, kindly, yet firmly, correct them and move on.
If you make a mistake, apologize. Thank whoever corrected you (if someone did) and continue the discussion. Make sure you remember the right pronouns for future interactions. If you can, try not to make a big deal of the mishap or dramatically apologize. This usually just makes everyone feel uncomfortable.
Your employees are more than their gender identity, but these changes will help you foster an inclusive workplace for everyone. To learn more about how SentricHR supports non-binary individuals, schedule a demo with one of our product experts today!
*A note: Elsewhere, you may see the phrase “preferred pronouns” instead of “true pronouns” when referring to pronouns that differ from someone’s legal, given-at-birth gender. In this article, we decided to use “true pronouns” because there’s nothing preferred about the pronouns people use. They simply are their pronouns.