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Fostering Diversity with Gender-Inclusivity

Neva Stotler

The question of gender, use of pronouns, and how to create a diversified and inclusive workplace is challenging. You can’t find employees? Maybe you’re not casting a wide enough net. Many employers are rewriting handbooks, company policies, and educating staff to promote inclusivity; others, have no idea where to start. N. Stotler Law wants to make it easier for you and we start to do so here.

Our extensive experience can help guide you through the next evolution in workplace diversity. Studies have shown a more inclusive workspace increases productivity and retention. Diversity allows individuals to bring their whole selves to work and their talents to help your business succeed.

Keeping Gender-Inclusivity Simple

We want to make this simple from an employer’s perspective. Let’s start with things you may be thinking that you can put aside:

  1. “I just do not understand the LGBTQIA community, gender is gender and your pronoun follows from there.” You do not have to understand it; you have to include them. What you should understand is that all types of people bring value, and if you do things to exclude people, even unintended things, you lose talented, valuable candidates from your workforce.
  2. “If I don’t call my employees “they” is that illegal now?” Exclusion may sometimes rise to illegal conduct, but it is always bad business. Addressing employees’ preferences in pronouns can occur in many ways but should be a consideration in all workplaces.
  3. “Am I allowed to discuss gender identity and pronouns with employees, and I would not know how to approach this?” You can discuss gender identity, inclusivity, and pronouns with your employees. Open, transparent discussions among management and employees about gender identity, pronouns and inclusivity is a necessary step to achieving the right policies and practices for including all types of people who want to work for you. N. Stotler Law can assist you in formulating these conversations and policies.

Workplace Ideas of Diversity Evolve Over Time….So Should Employers.

Merriam-Webster’s word of 2019 was “they.” In Pennsylvania, the Governor’s Office of Administration (the office that provides business support to Pennsylvania government agencies) released Gender Transition Guidelines in 2016 to promote diversity and inclusion. Some businesses and local governments are just getting to this issue, or worse, are still resistant to change. Issues of diversity and inclusion evolve over time. Take a minute and think about our history from the Civil Rights movement to the feminist movement to gender inclusivity. The New York Times Magazine ran an article in 2009 about the origins of the term “Ms.” The article begins:

In the Nov. 10, 1901, edition of The Sunday Republican of Springfield, Mass., tucked away in an item at the bottom of Page 4, an unnamed writer put forth a modest proposal. “There is a void in the English language which, with some diffidence, we undertake to fill,” the writer began. “Everyone has been put in an embarrassing position by ignorance of the status of some women. To call a maiden Mrs. is only a shade worse than to insult a matron with the inferior title Miss. Yet it is not always easy to know the facts.”

How to avoid this potential social faux pas? The writer suggested “a more comprehensive term which does homage to the sex without expressing any views as to their domestic situation,” namely, Ms. With this “simple” and “easy to write” title, a tactfully ambiguous compromise between Miss and Mrs., “the person concerned can translate it properly according to circumstances.” The writer even gave a pronunciation tip: “For oral use, it might be rendered as ‘Mizz,’ which would be a close parallel to the practice long universal in many bucolic regions, where a slurred Mis’ does duty for Miss and Mrs. alike.”

The NYTM article goes on to note that the Times did not accept the use of Ms. alongside Miss and Mrs. until the mid-1980s. Today, it is simply out of step to refer to an employee who identifies as female as a “Mrs.” This is because we now know as a society of employers that a person’s marital status has nothing to do with the value he/she/they bring to the workplace.

Similarly, employees who are non-binary (transgender, gender fluid, between gender, and third gender) correctly assert that their birth-gender has nothing to do with the value they bring to their work. 42% of non-binary employees feel alienated and suffer other negative experiences in the workforce.

Why Focus on Inclusivity?

Since a company’s strength and success rests on its employees’ shoulders, creating an environment that fosters acceptance, support, and inclusivity is important for a number of reasons:

  • 20% of non-binary workers believe they have lost a job due to their identity
  • Gender-neutral language, if it is the norm, creates a natural acceptance
  • Employees are therefore happier and more satisfied
  • Satisfied employees are more productive and there is less turnover, cutting the labor costs of continuously training new employees
  • A diverse workplace leads to more innovation and creativity and greater problem-solving skills

How to Help Your Employees Feel Included

Most of us unconsciously categorize people in terms of male or female. Inclusion starts with the language you use. Companies all over are rewriting handbooks and other office materials and taking out “he” and “she” and favoring “they.” Make no mistake; using a plural pronoun to address a singular human being is a challenge, particularly for those of us who spent years in grammar classes striving for an A. Patience all around is required. Educating employees is an integral part of helping all employees successfully work together.

So how do we become more inclusive?

  • Ask: Demonstrate that you care about addressing people correctly. How would you like me to address you? This should become part of your hiring and training processes.
  • Share yours: Hi, my name is David and I use they/them pronouns. Lead with your own preference so others respond in kind
  • Permit employees to choose their pronouns and make the choice a policy: A wholesale change to “they” may be a difficult change and may be unnecessary. But a choice should become your policy. Integrate the choice of pronouns on name tags, email and letter signatures, id cards, nameplates, and websites. Take the mystery and stigma out of the issue.
  • Use built-in opportunities, e.g. staff meetings, to start and continue the conversation: Provide an article or other reading material on the issue of gender identity in the workplace. Introduce the subject by indicating your own pronouns: I want to be inclusive of everyone here. I use he/him pronouns. What pronouns do you use?

Encouraging a diversified and inclusive workforce will benefit everyone involved. Let N. Stotler Law guide you through creating a gender-inclusive environment.

N. Stotler Law

With 30 years of experience, N. Stotler Law is the firm to help your company with any employment law-related needs. Our Pittsburgh employment law attorney staff is here to help you navigate the complex and time-consuming issues you may face. With a steady increase in non-binary personal in the workforce, it is essential all employees feel respected and valued. Contact us for a consultation of your case by clicking here or calling 724-841-5565.

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