How to support gender identity in your workplace – advice by Kate Palmer, Associate Director of Advisory at Peninsula
Gender identity has been a hot topic in the media recently with singer Sam Smith coming out as non-binary and the BRIT Awards reportedly abolishing gendered award categories. These news stories serve as a timely reminder for employers about the importance of adapting to societal changes as well as evaluating how they currently support gender identity in their workplace. So how can employers support gender identity in their workplace?
The term gender identity describes an individual's personal sense of their gender, which includes male, female or non-binary. Non-binary is an umbrella term used to describe any form of gender identity that isn't specifically fixed as male or female. For example, gender fluid in which a person may fluctuate between genders or express multiple genders at the same time.
While the Equality Act 2010 offers protection to those who undergo gender reassignment, there is no similar protection afforded to non-binary employees. Many commentators argue that this failure exposes those with non-binary identities to potential harm in the workplace. However, it is still vital that employers protect non-binary individuals from unfavourable treatment despite the lack of legal provisions.
A common topic when discussing non-binary gender identities is the use of gendered pronouns, such as 'he or 'she', as many non-binary individuals may favour the use of gender-neutral terms such as 'they'. With this in mind, employers should consider how traditional job application forms, that require individuals to identify as 'Mr' or 'Mrs' could disadvantage potential applicants without a fixed gender identity. Instead, employers should ensure there is an opportunity to select a gender-neutral term, or perhaps remove any requirement for individuals to indicate their gender at all.
Naturally, employers should look to ensure the workplace is a safe and positive working environment for all employees, regardless of their gender identity. Staff should be informed of their duty to behave professionally at all times, and designated training sessions should help avoid incidents of workplace bullying. If non-binary individuals are subjected to unfavourable treatment due to their gender identity, they should be able to rely on transparent grievance reporting.
Additionally, employers should consider issues that could arise from non-binary employees' access to gendered toilets and changing facilities. Although employers may feel uncomfortable discussing this topic, it is essential to liaise with non-binary staff to understand which facilities they would feel most comfortable using. After all, the employee should be free to access whichever facility they felt best suits their gender identity. Several employers, such as Wagamama's, have decided to introduce gender-neutral facilities to provide greater support to those with alternative gender identities.
A similar notion should also be applied when it comes to uniforms and dress codes, especially where there are different requirements for those who identify as male and female. In these cases, employers should consider how this could disadvantage non-binary staff and give individuals the flexibility to choose the requirement they feel applies to their gender identity. Employers can alter their dress code policy so that all staff are required to wear the same items, further reducing the likelihood of any potential unrest.