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Transgender issues are increasingly top of mind for some HR leads. As inclusion and belonging conversations come to the fore, many managers are self-educating on LGBTQ best practices. Still, many employers and HR professionals are not considering the distinct challenges that their nonbinary employees face. This is something that Tara Taylor, DEI practice lead at ADR Vantage, perhaps didn’t address adequately during her SHRM 2022 session.
For those unfamiliar with the meaning of “nonbinary,” it’s an LGBTQ term for someone who does not identify exclusively as being a man or woman. Their identity exists outside the binary. Nonbinary people may identify as being between a man or a woman, as both, or neither; many identify as being transgender and/or genderfluid. Taylor covered a lot of ground in her session – including pronoun etiquette and compliance concerns, and with gusto, to boot – but an area where she felt short was her response to an audience member’s question about showing up for nonbinary employees.
Specifically, the SHRM attendee asked, “Do you have any suggestions for organizations who want to have the option [in EEO-1 reporting] for male, female, nonbinary and other options, but need to report to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission?”
One of her two suggestions was to include a third gender option in human capital management systems. “You can have it so that it's not a locked field where they have to choose one or the other,” she said, adding “They could leave it blank.” She acknowledged that this approach could cause a reporting issue. Then – prefacing her next statement with mention of her 20-year tenure at the Maryland Civil Rights Commission, a partner of the EEOC – she suggested HR leaders add a disclaimer to their misgendering of nonbinary employees.
Of her time at the civil rights commission, she recalled, “We would say, ‘We recognize that these options may not best match your identity. We’ve been required by this federal partner to report based on these two [genders], please indicate the one with which you identify.’ Yep. So that's all you can do, right?”
Without a doubt, the onus is on the EEOC to ensure equal access to inclusive employment in their systems and processes. Employers can, however, move past nominal inclusions in internal reporting. Taylor’s response neglects to acknowledge ongoing recent conversations pushing for the EEOC to introduce more gender options on its EEO-1 reporting form. In October 2021, Cassie Whitlock, director of HR at BambooHR, wrote an op-ed for Quartz at Work, outlining her belief that U.S. employers cannot offer full gender inclusion without a key change by the EEOC. That key change would be the introduction of another gender option beyond “female” and “male” on EEO-1 reporting forms.
“There is no third option, let alone the many options that a true representation of gender diversity would include,” Whitlock wrote. Her company’s own controversies – the dissatisfaction of Change.org employees who felt their HCM system wasn’t trans-inclusive enough – laid the groundwork for her op-ed.
Initially, when Gabrielle Gonazalez described the petition company’s frustration, she wrote, “They say they can’t change it because it's linked to the equal employment opportunity reports and these reports/the government doesn’t recognize any other genders besides female/male. Doesn't sound equal to me.” After Change.org employees, naturally, petitioned for change via their site, Whitlock took it a step further asking the government employment agency to change.
Later, in March 2022, an attendee of the SHRM Workplace Policy Conference asked EEOC Vice Chair Jocelyn Samuels and Commissioner Andrea Lucas a similar question. While the EEOC rolled out an “X” gender marker for its discrimination forms a few days later, inclusion advocates have noted the lack of nonbinary EEO-1 options put HR in a damning position.
Beyond making do with the government’s current forms, employers can spark conversations about LGBTQ erasure – both in the past and present – to lay the foundations for a better future. For example, the Netflix Original documentary Disclosure charts trans history in media representation, and how certain films and TV shows are cultural touchpoints for transphobia. This could be a suitable option for a company-wide screening and discussion session.
Including the EEO-1 reporting debate, LGBTQ exclusion is an opportunity not just for advocacy, but greater education. Accountability, structured in a way that holds all stakeholders accountable, continues to be crucial for belonging. In a recent study by Deloitte – where 40% of respondents’ worked at companies where their leaders advocated LGBTQ inclusion internally and 31% discussed it externally – 95% of respondents overall said their leader’s open advocacy led to “meaningful support for LGBTQ employees” across their respective organizations.
For some cisgender people, calls for increased accountability to the trans and nonbinary community may feel like an exercise in splitting hairs. But inclusion – not just tolerance, not just acceptance – has real-world implications for trans people in the workplace. LGBTQ individuals have historically been and remain underemployed, and for the few spaces that do hire and retain trans people, many of these environments fail to foster a trans-inclusive sense of belonging.
The Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 report, A Workplace Divided, is a thorough study of the adverse effects of these environments: 25% of LGBTQ workers reported feeling distracted from work, and 17% and 13% felt exhausted from spending energy hiding their sexual orientation and gender identity, respectively. With further implications for engagement, 20% of LGBTQ workers told HRC that they avoided a special work occasion (such as lunch, happy hour, or a holiday party) because of the environment. A quarter of queer workers said they avoided certain people at work, 31% said they felt unhappy or depressed at work, and 20% have stayed home from work because of the lack of workplace acceptance. Prior even to the Great Resignation, 20% of respondents sought a different job.
In Deloitte’s 2022 report, about a quarter (23%) of workers are worried that coming out about their gender identity to their colleagues will negatively affect their career. In turn, about 90% of people who are out to their coworkers felt empowered to do so because of their workplace culture. When employers continue to champion their socially marginalized workers, they contribute to the psychological safety of their entire staff – as well as their overall well-being