closeup of a young caucasian person showing a lapel pin patterned with a non-binary pride flag

How to make your organisation more inclusive for nonbinary people


Many nonbinary people still fear being open about their gender identity at work. In Lior Locher’s second article in their content series, they outline how organisations can create more inclusive, supportive spaces within the working and learning environment.

10th Jun 2021
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Research from Scottish Trans in 2016 paints a worrying picture of nonbinary people in the UK fearing exclusion, stigma and lack of opportunities, including within the workplace.

Only 4% of respondents always felt comfortable sharing their nonbinary identity at work – compared to 52% who never felt comfortable. In addition, 90% worried their identity wouldn’t be respected, 88% worried it would make their work environment more difficult and 55% worried it would impact on their career progression.

When done right, inclusion and diversity efforts make life better for everyone.

This research is five years old and I hope those numbers would have improved since then as wider society becomes more aware of nonbinary gender identity. But still, there is a long way to go for nonbinary people to feel safe and comfortable with showing their authentic selves. There is a lot more research to be done about nonbinary identity and what that means for people’s work and lives. Raising awareness

A lot more needs to be done to raise awareness of nonbinary gender identity. Many people don’t know what that means, or what it looks like in practice for nonbinary people to navigate a life that is designed for two gender options that don’t really work for them, or how it feels when everything signals that there is no space for people like you. There are very few role models to help guide others on their own path.

People also don’t take it seriously as an actual stable identity (I keep getting asked if I ‘have decided yet’) or think female-ish presenting nonbinary people need more feminist consciousness raising to come round to their side.

Organisations have a role to play in raising awareness of nonbinary identity and better educating their employees to ensure those identifying as nonbinary feel valued, respected and like they belong, authentically, within the business.

Practical steps to create non-binary inclusion at work

In my previous article, I wrote about my personal experience of coming out as nonbinary at work, and provided some guidance for those who may wish to do the same. In this second piece, I share guidance on how organisations can build a more supportive and inclusive environment for non-binary people at work.

1. Meet people on their terms

Your data is likely flawed so you won’t actually know how diverse your organisation or team really is. Be open and see what you learn about the awesome folks you work with or you are looking to bring in.

‘Hi everyone’ is better than ‘ladies and gentlemen’. A word like ‘people’ is a good plural term for, well, people (of all genders). When in doubt, ask. Language is often more flexible than you think, a lot of it really isn’t as hard as we sometimes make it. Normalise having pronoun conversations. If people tell you how they want to be called, go with that. Learn to pronounce names. Things don’t have to make sense to you personally, if they make sense for the person telling you about themselves then you should respect their wishes.

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2. Have the conversations

Have sensible, solution-focused, supportive adult conversations with the aim to make things work. How that conversation goes will tell that person a lot about how safe they can feel with you, and how much you factor into their longer-term considerations.

Be prepared to have rounds of conversations with more ‘stuff’ coming up as people learn to trust you. This might look like things keep getting messier every time you talk, but the mess was there all along, you just didn’t know about it. Take the growing trust as a positive signal and do something good with it. People remember, and people share.

3. Don’t assume

Steer clear of simple shortcuts. Think about what support might be needed. Somebody might be happy to look after L&D or take business trips in countries where LGBT people face the death penalty. They might not be. Both decisions are understandable. Don’t assume either way.

Global professionals know this is complicated and, like everyone else, they will expect robust, supportive, practical, adult conversations. Some of these are at the gnarly detailed end of T&Cs. Be able to have those conversations.

There will be nonbinary people out there that you are likely not aware of. Think of us, as you also think of other inclusion and representation topics.

4. Push the envelope

This is how change happens. This space is evolving, society is evolving and making things better in practical terms for your people is far more important than how big your float is at pride or how many rainbow lanyards you hand out in June.

Don’t forget you’re a buyer in the market. A ‘we value XYZ and our people need a clearer line on ABC, what are you going to do for us’ sends a signal and should be a part of who you partner with for benefits, insurance etc. You have weight, use it.  

5. This is big. It also isn’t

When I design or run a session or project, it’s a session, not a nonbinary session. I’m at work to do my work, as the person I am. Not more, not less. Help make that good environment possible so your folks can do their thing.

How to make your training non-binary inclusive

When it comes to training and development, visibility matters. Again, don’t assume anything. If you choose suppliers, build your content and interventions or imagery and stories to be relevant and to represent your audience. There will be nonbinary people out there that you are likely not aware of. Think of us, as you also think of other inclusion and representation topics.

Whenever you build a survey, an app or anything, allow people to self-identify beyond male/female. You probably already are liaising with your inclusion and diversity folks, keep doing that and make sure other gender identities are also a part of the conversations you are having.

Thinking beyond the binary

When done right, inclusion and diversity efforts make life better for everyone. I’d love all gender identities to be a part of that, and there also remains a lot of work to be done to better appreciate intersectionality too.  

I’m seeing an increasing trend towards polarisation in society. Everything seems to increasingly come in two big options that force people to declare themselves for or against. Not just with regards to gender, but also in politics and when discussing social issues. It flattens and cheapens the discussion as things in life are rarely that polarised.

A lot of nuance gets lost, and a lot of other aspects no longer enter the option space. That concerns me a lot.

Employers have an opportunity here to lead the way in looking beyond binary thinking – not just in terms of gender conversations, but more broadly. This is so important for making a more liveable future for everyone and to make sure all ideas and voices get heard. It’s also hugely valuable for creative thinking, which is increasingly critical for businesses today.

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