How Gender-Neutral Is Your Small Business?
As small business employers and even larger companies continue to struggle with compliance on reporting for non-binary employees, many state and local municipalities continue passing legislation prohibiting sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. "Non-binary" is a term used by people who describe themselves as neither 'male' nor 'female,' both, or who may reject gender labels altogether, preferring the use of terms such as gender fluid, gender neutral, genderqueer, or gender nonconforming.
In July 2019, more than 200 corporations, including IBM, Zillow, and Accenture, urged the Supreme Court to favor federal civil rights law to extend protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender workers against discrimination. Currently, 200 cities and counties and 20 states prohibit this type of discrimination, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. However, employers need to understand that anti-discrimination prohibitions under Title VII still apply even if your small business is located in a state or city that does not have laws prohibiting sexual identity discrimination. In addition, under Title VII, small companies cannot use differing state laws as a defense.
The Acceleration of a Gender-neutral Workplace
While states and local courts amp up protections for non-binary employees, 11 states have allowed a gender-neutral option for driver's licenses, accelerating the need for employers to address federal documentation, such as the EEO_1 form. But it doesn't stop there. Small businesses and employers also need to consider gender-neutral options in human resource software systems, application and employment conditions, and health insurance plans. Also leading the expansion to a new gender-neutral reality are Millennials, who make up a large part of our future workforce. They are more receptive and readily identify with non-binary terminology than previous generations.
More and more companies like Netflix, IBM Cloud, and TIAA have embraced the expansion of gender-neutral language in their communications, training customer support to ask for preferred pronouns and updating restroom policies and dress codes.
But how do small businesses stay current and compliant while embracing the need for more gender neutrality in the workplace?
It's more than just the 'Pronoun go-round for Small Businesses
Working with small businesses, we've realized that there is an operational aspect to a more gender-inclusive work environment and a cultural one.
Portals, forms, and HR software systems entirely built on a binary platform need updating to meet accommodations. However, it's not just about making information systems more gender-expansive; the human side of the workplace includes the culture behind a more gender-neutral, friendly workplace.
For instance, IBM Cloud has a policy that allows employees to list pronouns in their email signatures, internal directories, and HR systems as he/his/him, she/her/hers, or for gender-neutral workers, they/them/theirs. While this is a new corporate practice, non-profits and academics have led the charge on addressing gender neutrality with 'pronoun go-rounds.' This is where people introduce themselves and their pronouns at meetings and conferences.
But this can be challenging considering how we're taught pronouns and grammar in elementary school. For example, if you're confused about which pronouns to use, the simple answer is 'theirs' for the possessive, 'them' for the object, and 'they' for the subject. But pronouns are not the only terms that are gendered. For instance, we may say 'Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, when we should be saying 'Welcome folks' or 'Welcome everyone.'
As with any cultural change in a small business, gender neutrality goes beyond addressing company directories and pronouns. It means taking that newly-found awareness and training your employees receive and putting it into practice.
Below we've listed a few pointers and resources on how small businesses can introduce and maintain a friendly, gender-neutral work environment while remaining compliant with federal law.
Read the EEOC's Protections for LGBT Workers and their available resources at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/wysk/enforcement_protections_lgbt_workers.cfm#examples.
Develop guides or hold training on how to address non-binary and transgender employees.
Here are a few sources to help:
How to talk about pronouns in the workplace: https://assets2.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/TalkingAboutPronouns_onesheet_FINAL.pdf
How to ask others their pronouns: https://www.mypronouns.org/asking
An excellent website on how to use gender-inclusive language: https://www.mypronouns.org/
Download and read OSHA's Best Practices' A Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Employees
Read the comprehensive guide from The Muse, 'A Guide to Using Pronouns and Other Gender-Inclusive Language in the Office' about using gender-inclusive language.
Train employees about the EEOC's protections for LGBT workers.
The Lynch Law firm understands that this is a huge compliance and cultural issue for your organization. Contact us to discuss bringing some of these large company best practices to your organization.