Gender Equity – Who’s Missing?

When we talk about gender in light of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives in our workplaces, the conversation typically centers around male and female gender equity. While great strides have been made in this area and continue to be a core part of many companies’ inclusion strategies, this very conversation around gender fails to acknowledge the complete picture. 

A new study conducted by the Williams Institute found that there are 1.2 million nonbinary LGBTQ adults in the United States. Being the first population estimate of its kind, and representing 1.2 million people, including our friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors, this is a big deal. The United States Census, our primary demographic indicator, assesses only binary gender identity. LGBTQ and non-binary rights and inclusion have been vastly overlooked. The implications of a group not counted, seen, or represented are many.   

Narrow Inclusion

While acknowledging systemic barriers for gender, race, ethnicity, and the like are important, adopting a narrow view of what these terms mean excludes certain groups. Think about the data you collect and the metrics you track. Where does it come from? What questions are you asking? What options do you provide when asking someone to self-select their gender identity? Your data is only as accurate as its inputs. 

How can you make your application or onboarding process inclusive for those whose gender identity falls outside of the categories of male or female? Some companies include a third option for “other” or worse, “unknown.” Providing an additional option, at the minimum, removes the burden of having to make a binary choice, but consider the experience this offers your candidates or employees. A catch-all bucket for all “other” gender identities does not communicate belonging – it feels like an afterthought. 

What Can We Do?

Updating processes to include all gender identities, learning to ask and not assume pronouns, and training ourselves to use pronouns correctly can feel new and uncomfortable. When we respond to discomfort with avoidance, the burden upon non-binary individuals deepens.  

There are many steps we can take to build a culture that includes and invites new people into the conversation. An important start is ensuring that your forms, applications, and data collection are inclusive of all gender identities. A candidate experience that begins with frustration, discomfort, and a lack of representation is not exactly a hopeful look into a company’s culture. 

A good start is asking ourselves why we are requesting a particular piece of information and what we will use it for. “If the reason we want to know somebody’s gender is to know how to refer to them, what we’re actually looking for are their pronouns” (Ng 2020). Rather than assuming pronouns based on gender, how can we respectfully allow space for someone to share their pronouns? Here is a helpful resource on determining what information to collect and how to do it inclusively. 

Another way to create an inclusive environment is to make sharing gender pronouns at work normal for everyone. Doing so provides space for those within your organization to feel comfortable being themselves and welcomes candidates to do the same. 

Expanding Inclusion 

Our pursuit of inclusion must be dynamic. It is necessary to focus on those who are unseen, unheard, and underrepresented today. But those excluded today may not be the same as those excluded in the future. Humans change, cultures change, and demographics change.    

“At a time when 1 in 6 members of Generation Z identify as LGBT, the study found 76 percent of nonbinary adults are between ages 18 and 29.” Embracing the next generation of talent means expanding our view of gender identity and including everyone. Gender identities are not static, so neither can our view of inclusion be. Let’s reassess what gender inclusion means.