Happy Pride Month! To kick off June, we are going to be going over what you as a coworker or business owner can do to be inclusive of your peers. This article was written from a trans non-binary perspective, so largely focuses on gender inclusivity, and will use the term queer throughout as an umbrella term for the LGBTQIA+ community.
These tips are the basic bread and butter of inclusive business practices, so I would of course recommend that you go above and beyond these measures. If you want to do more research into gender, or just find it as fascinating as I do, then there will be a list of recommended sources at the end of the blog.
Create an anti-discrimination policy!
An anti-discrimination policy is essential in the toolkit for stopping workplace harassment. Your business probably already has one, but the key here is that it needs to be an effective, easy to implement policy. It must be clear what constitutes discrimination in the workplace, how and who will handle reports of discrimination, options for diversity training, and what reprimands are in place for repeated negative behavior.
If any of the policy is muddy or difficult to get through, its effectiveness will go down. Those reporting harassment get caught between a rock and a hard place; Either they report, and get caught in a nightmare of red tape that takes too long to produce relevant changes, or worse, leads nowhere. On the other hand, they could decide to forego the mess and grit their teeth. Make sure your policy is accessible to those who may need to use it.
Normalize pronoun usage!
Next on the list are pronouns, which are as essential as names. When introducing yourself, include what pronouns you use, even if you are cisgender (meaning you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth). Normalizing pronouns allows alternative pronouns, such as they/them, elle/elles, or xe/xem, to become more common place and accepted. Further, making it standard practice prevents those who use alternative pronouns from getting singled out.
When only one person is introduced with their pronouns, it signals to everyone around that this person is somehow different, regardless of if their pronouns seemingly ‘match’ their gender presentation. The same goes for nametags or lapel pins; if you’re only making the gender ambiguous or nonconforming people wear them, its singling them out, not supporting them. Share your pronouns and ask for the pronouns of others. If you have a remote workplace or primarily interface with coworkers via email, include pronouns in your email signature!
Make the dress code gender neutral!
Instead of having a For Men and For Women section, have a selection of appropriate attire options outlined for all employees. For example, “All employees are expected to dress in a business casual manner, such as pant suits, long sleeve button down or dress shirts and closed toed shoes, all of which must be in a muted color palette”. This simple change will allow gender non-conforming individuals to express themselves at work without fear of a coworker or manager targeting them for their expression. For example, a man could compliment his business suit with a pair of heels, and as long as they are close toed in a muted color, he is not violating dress code.
Similarly, if there are example images in your dress code, include diversity! Have models of multiple races and body types expressing various genders. This may seem small, but it shows your marginalized employees that there was effort and thought put into the development of an inclusive workplace culture.
Don't put the onus on your queer employees!
Many marginalized communities often feel that the burden of explaining, defending, or otherwise enacting policy with regards to their identity is placed on them. Give your employees opportunities to attend diversity training and encourage them to learn how to act as allies in the workplace. This will remove the expectation for trans and gender nonconforming employees to be the guardians of gender inclusive policies, by encouraging everyone to be active in protecting and creating an inclusive workplace. Examples include gently correcting a coworker on their use of name and pronouns:
“Where did Jake go? I haven’t seen him since the meeting.”
“I saw Cassie go into her office a few minutes ago, try there.”
“Oops, thank you. I’ll go check to see if she’s there.”
Clearly if there are repeat, malicious offenses, it’s time for an intervention. That’s where the antidiscrimination policy should step in. As a cisgender person, you can approach the coworker in question and try to lead them in the direction of learning more by offering resources or try explaining why their actions are hurtful. Better yet, you can offer your support to your queer peers by offering to go on record as a witness if they decide to report the harassment. Ultimately, if the coworker isn’t willing to change, its time to have a more serious discussion about if they have a continued role to play at the business.
Model what you want to see in the world!
If you’re the one in a position of power, the best way to make sure your employees are following diversity and inclusion policies is to model it yourself. Avoid the savior complex, where you act only to portray yourself as a good person. Be genuine with your intentions; if you have more to learn and need support while you grow, be clear about that. It will allow others to come forward with questions, and it is often easier to connect people to good resources or training as a company/workplace than as an individual.
Putting in effort to source resources or offer access to training creates a workplace atmosphere that genuinely places value on inclusivity and diversity. Efforts like this do more to ensure the contributions of marginalized employees are respected than a throwaway mention of an inclusivity policy during the job interview. Make good on your intentions; if you say you want everyone’s contributions, that everyone is welcome, then show that you really mean it.
Not every queer person is willing to give out personal details. Respect boundaries, especially when someone says that they do not want to share certain information while at work. Pushing the issue will push them away, even if you’re just trying to show support.
To put it in a nutshell...
Make efforts to value and affirm your queer coworkers. You can do this by ensuring they have the same access to resources and atmosphere at work as their peers do. If you’re not sure about where to start, start by educating yourself! There are so many people posting their stories online, publishing them in books, and recording them in podcast form. If you need to seek a professional to get you on track, there is no shame in that! Check out the Center on Colfax, or search for queer community centers in your area and see what programs they offer.
Much like Black History Month, every month is Pride Month. Making efforts to better include your queer coworkers in the workplace everyday will bring greater creativity and perspective to your business, as well as make your workplace a happy one.
- Gender Failure by Rae Spoons and Ivan E. Coyote (a co-written novel about the gender journey of two nonbinary individuals from Canada)
- The Difference Between Trans Rights and Ending the Gender Binary by Alok V Menon (and more of their personal essays, but this one in particular seemed appropriate)
- Raquel Willis: TERFS Don’t Deserve to Define Themselves as Feminists (Raquel Willis has a website with many links to her work, all worth a read)
- Wú Zǎo by Queer as Fact (Podcast, available on Spotify. Content warnings are included at the start of every episode)