Here are 5 tips to help support non-binary people in your workplace, based on my own experience.
Normalize, but don’t demand, pronoun sharing.
Not every trans or non-binary person wants to share their pronouns, and they should never be forced to do so. Maybe someone is questioning their gender identity, maybe someone isn’t sure if the situation is safe, or maybe one of a million other reasons -- in fact, the reason doesn’t matter. Like labels, pronouns can be a lot more complicated than cis-normative society allows for.
It is really important for cis allies, though, to lead by example and share their own pronouns to help create a safer space for non-binary folks to share theirs and feel respected.
Here are some ideas for providing the space for people to share their pronouns:
- Normalize pronoun sharing in Slack or whatever group chat app you use at work - this could look like people editing their display name to include pronouns, adding a field for pronouns to the profile section, or even using slack emojis in their status.
- If you have a team page with people’s information, photo, etc., offer a space for people to optionally add their pronouns
- Include an optional pronoun line in your email signature template
- Share pronouns for interviewers in advance with interviewees, and give interviewees the opportunity to share their pronouns before the interview if they feel comfortable doing so
Use more inclusive language.
These might take some practice, but this ultimately benefits everyone.
- “Guys” isn’t gender neutral
- Don’t make assumptions about the language you should use for people -- you might think you see a group of “ladies”, but could be erasing non-binary folks in addressing that group as “ladies”
- Avoid binary language such as “ladies and gentlemen”, “men and women”, etc.
- Make a “language matters” space on your communication platform at work for people to ask questions, share struggles, etc. - this benefits everyone, and can help make a company more inclusive for marginalized identities in general
- If you use slack or another chat platform that allows for certain phrases to trigger an automated response, consider setting it up to help remind people to avoid using words such as “guys” when they could use “folks”, “friends”, “people”, or a multitude of other friendly group terms
Make your bathrooms more inclusive.
Everybody poops. But seriously, bathrooms can be one of the most exhausting and fraught spaces for trans and non-binary folks.
- Gender neutral bathrooms are awesome! Did you know you might be able to convert multi-stall gendered bathrooms into gender neutral ones with very little effort?
- If you can’t make bathrooms gender neutral at least make them more inclusive with additional signage indicating your organization recognizes people aren’t binary and everyone should use the bathroom they feel most comfortable in -- just don’t forget to make that signage accessible for various disabilities as well (for example, for people with low or no vision)
- Offer period products & in-stall trash receptacles in all bathrooms. Yes, all. Yes, even the men’s bathroom. Yes, men and non-binary folks can have periods.
Train employees on basic respect for trans & non-binary people.
This should be at the top of the list along with sexual harassment training.
- This training should include respecting pronouns & chosen names
- How to handle messing up pronouns or using gendered language for people
- How to correct others when they hear others misgender people
- Questions to NOT ask trans & non-binary folks, ever -- and yes, the number of weird, personal, invasive, and just rude questions people suddenly feel OK asking when someone is non-binary or trans is astounding
Don’t tokenize non-binary people.
Your one non-binary or transgender colleague is not The Spokesperson For All Things Non-Binary and/or Transgender, so don’t ask them to be that. They might have strong opinions from their own lived experience, and they might be happy to share those singular experiences with others, but it should never be expected of them.
And since it is just representing their own experience, it’s not going to touch on a lot of other issues folks in the community may grapple with, due to their own unique circumstances, as well as other intersecting marginalized identities. 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).
Bonus: Respect the language people use for themselves
You can be a non-binary woman or non-binary man. You can use he/him or she/her pronouns. You can literally wear anything or present in any manner. Some people like the term “enby”, and to others it’s demeaning and belittling. Some non-binary people consider themselves transgender, others don’t.
Whatever language and labels people use for themselves, be sure to respect that. And if you aren’t sure, ask them. As long as it’s done in a respectful way, where you’ve clearly done some homework, odds are folks will have a positive response to being asked what language they want used to refer to them.