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, an increasing number of 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, gender queer, or gender nonconforming.

In July of 2019, more than 200 corporations including IBM, Zillow, and Accenture urged the Supreme Court to decide in favor of federal civil rights law to extend protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender workers against discrimination on the job. Currently 200 cities and counties as well as 20 states prohibit this type of discrimination according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. Even if your small business is located in a state or city that does not have laws prohibiting sexual identity discrimination, employers need to understand that anti-discrimination prohibitions under Title VII still apply. Under Title VII, small businesses 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 forms, 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 expansion of gender-neutral language in their communications, in training customer support to ask for preferred pronouns as well as 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

In working with small businesses, we’ve come to realize that there is an operational aspect to a more gender inclusive work environment as well as 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; there is also the human side of the workplace that 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 practice to the corporate world both non-profits and academics have led the charge on addressing gender neutrality with ‘pronoun go-rounds.’ This is where people introduce themselves and the pronouns they use at meetings and conferences.

But this can be challenging considering how we’re taught pronouns and grammar, in elementary school. If you’re confused as to 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.


Resources for Small Businesses

A Trans Toolkit for employers produced by the Human Rights Campaign provides guidance on how to be more gender inclusive in the workplace.

A nice website about what it means to be transgender along with guides on how to be supportive of both transgender and non-binary people.




The Lynch Law firm understands that this is a huge compliance and cultural issue for your organization. Contact us to chat about bringing some of these large company best practices to your organization. 

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