The increasing attacks on trans and non-binary human rights in the US both anger and scare me. Right now there are over 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the US, with 200 bills in the United States that are attacking trans youth. As a manager, you don’t have control over national or state legislation, but you can set the tone for inclusion on your team and make a big difference for the people you manage.
While we don’t have exact numbers of trans and non-binary people, according to a poll from Gallup there are more people identifying as LGBTQ than ever before, especially with younger generations. 1 in every 300 Canadians identifies as trans or non-binary and many believe the actual number is higher. The 2021 census in Canada was the first time any country included trans and non-binary people and I anticipate we will see more countries do this.
I surveyed nearly 50 trans and/or non-binary people about their advice for how managers can create inclusive environments on teams. Here are six things that you can do to create a more inclusive work environment for trans and/or non-binary staff.
1. Encourage pronoun-sharing, but don’t make them mandatory
Managers can lead by example. Encourage others to include their pronouns, but don’t require them as it might put trans or non-binary people on the spot. Share your own pronouns:
- when introducing yourself at a meeting
- in your email signature
- in the staff directory
- in your display name on Zoom
- on Slack
- on your access badge
- on conference nametags
A few more tips for more respectful pronoun use:
Don’t use dated terminology. Survey respondent EL advises, “Don’t ask for someone’s “preferred” name and/or “preferred” pronouns. Ask for their name, and pronouns.”
Be consistent. Deon recommends managers consistently use people’s correct name and pronouns, even if they’re not in the room, and in all written communication. Deon shares that “it was discouraging to find out my boss was using my preferred name to my face, but my deadname in files/emails that referred to me. Trust me, it’s way more confusing for people to refer to someone by two different names than to just make the switch to their preferred name.”
If you mess up, apologize succinctly, correct yourself, and move on. Resist the urge to tell a long story explaining why you think you made the error — it’s not about you. If you’re noticing a pattern of getting names or pronouns wrong, either with yourself or others, set up accountability buddies to help you get it right without putting extra work on the trans or non-binary person to constantly correct you.
How To Affirm the People in Your Life Who Use Multiple Sets of Pronouns includes stories of 10 people who use varied pronouns and how to respect them.
2. Use inclusive language and foster inclusion broadly
The words we chose to use are powerful and signal who is welcome and included. Rowan encourages managers to “lead by example and do their best to remove gender biases from their vocabulary.” This could include removing phrases like “you guys” and “ladies” from your vocabulary. Instead, use inclusive terms like “everyone,” “team,” or “folks.” Avoid binary phrases like “ladies and gentlemen” and “men and women” as they exclude non-binary people.
Better Allies has a recommendation of how to create a Slackbot that flags non-inclusive language and suggests alternatives.
3. Don’t tokenize trans or non-binary people
Like any group of people, trans or non-binary people might be keen to share their singular experience with the team, but don’t assume that they want to — or even can — be the spokesperson for all trans or non-binary people. Dre describes their best manager ever as someone who “Didn’t treat me differently or make a big deal about my identity. Like he didn’t make me the spokesperson or poster child.” Similarly, Sacha says “It’s nice to create diverse teams but also make sure their voices are heard. But also don’t reduce us to our ‘gender specialty‘.”
Also: people will have different lived experiences because of intersecting marginalized identities, including race, age, disability, and more. B. Reid Lewis points out that “someone who is white and was AFAB (assigned female at birth) has a radically different experience than someone who is Black and was AMAB (assigned male at birth).” People also have different life experiences, educational experience, and interests in life, so one trans or non-binary person can’t speak for all trans or non-binary people.
Grant says, “Honestly, it’s about treating me like a person regardless of my identity. I don’t need the fact that I’m trans to be broadcast to everyone who will listen. While my lived experience/identity is important, I value my skills and contributions being recognized much more.”
B Reid Lewis’ post 5 Ways to Make Your Organization More Welcoming to Non-Binary People is based on their own experience.
4. Listen to and advocate for your staff
Managers can advocate for staff both inside and outside their team. A survey respondent said that after they came out as non-binary at work, their manager handled conversations with teammates, other people in the company, and external clients around their name and pronouns. Before doing this, check with the person to see if this kind of intervention would be welcomed and helpful. Naomi emphasizes that “every trans and non-binary person will have different needs (just like cis folks), so the ability to listen cannot be understated.”
Nate Shalev shared that “The best manager I’ve had gave me the space and opportunity to show up just as I was. I’m an autistic trans person and I’m also a great facilitator and leader. This means that sometimes I need the space to not participate and recharge and sometimes I need to be in the front of the room leading a training.”
Tobey Aumann describes their experience in a leadership training program that included an online assessment of strengths and leadership style but the report that was generated only had binary pronoun options. Tobey’s manager “went to bat with HR who had sourced the program; when the provider said they weren’t able to make any changes, the pilot was canceled and an alternative provider was brought on. I was further reassured by my manager that this was not just for my sake, but for anyone who might go through the training.”
Bloomberg’s post on how to be a more inclusive ally, colleage and friend to transgender people has some clear definitions and useful advice.
5. Advocate for systemic change in your organization
As a manager you are well positioned to advocate for systemic changes in your organization.
CJ’s advice is to “Do the work. Recognize that you are learning (it’s life long after all) and don’t stop there. Put what you are learning to work/bring it into action. This can look like so many things; preferred names as email addresses, in online systems, when mail is issued from work, names on credit cards, etc.“
Other organization wide changes you might advocate for could include:
- Gender neutral bathrooms and change rooms
- Gender neutral dress codes
- Updating contracts, especially employment contracts, to have they/them as a pronoun option
- Working with your Learning and Development team to make training about gender diversity available to everyone
- Asking HR if the mandatory sexual harassment training includes examples of trans or non-binary people
- Working with your Benefits team to make sure your health benefits
- Creating a working group to audit policy documents
Sharoon encourages managers to “Move from performative actions (adding pronouns to email signatures) to making sustained change (policy audit, professional development, accountability mechanisms).”
The Human Rights Campaign Foundation has a toolkit for employers that covers topics like benefits, bathrooms, pronouns, and more.
TransFocus offers an excellent and affordable Gender Diversity Basics Mini-Course.
6. Acknowledge what’s going on in the world
The last few years have changed the boundaries of what we talk about at work. If we want a workplace where all kinds of people feel like they really belong we need to acknowledge the things that are going on in the world that could be impacting people when they show up at work.
Amanda Mitchell shared “On days when transphobic laws are passed or policies are enacted, I’d *love* for a cisgender member of my team to say something like, “Do you need some space?” but more often than not, no one around me has any clue about recent developments, and the overall mood on the team is the same as on “normal” days.”
Sophie suggests allies can showing up for Transgender Day of Remembrance/Resilliance (November 20) and International Transgender Day of Visibility (March 30). There are likely community events happening near you, and there might even be internal events at your company.
When traumatic things happen in the world, like transphobic violence or legal attacks on trans rights, check in with your staff. Different people will have different needs and those might change over time. As a manager, ask open-ended questions about what your staff person needs, work to accommodate those, and remind them of mental health resources that are part of your benefits. Kyle Inselman says “I am out at work, and I appreciate that when colleagues and supervisors have done the work to learn about trans people, I get to talk about what’s going on in my life and my community without feeling like I need to educate others in the moment.”
Raw Signal Group wrote this advice to managers in November 2020 after the US election results were unclear. It’s good advice for managers for checking in when hard or scary things are happening in the world.