When Employees Aren’t ‘He’ or ‘She’

By Barbara Frankel

Photo by Shutterstock
Photo by Shutterstock

Not all of your employees are “he” or “she.”

Many people prefer neutral pronouns and other identifiers.

How do you navigate these distinctions in the workplace?

The guidelines below apply to transgender employees, including those transitioning, as well as to gender-nonconforming employees who chose not to specifically identify as male or female.

Gender neutrality also includes the idea of being “gender blind” or eliminating gender distinctions in all discussions. Since most corporate employees identify with a gender, this is not commonly used in corporate settings.

Here are guidelines on how to communicate with people without offending, courtesy of GLSEN and the Federal Office of Personnel Management:

• GENDER IDENTITY: A person’s deeply held sense or psychological knowledge of their own gender. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the gender assigned at birth. Most people have a gender identity that matches their assigned gender at birth. For some, however, their gender identity is different from their assigned gender. All people have a gender identity, not just transgender people. Gender identity is an innate, largely inflexible characteristic of each individual’s personality that is generally established by age 4, although the age at which individuals come to understand and express their gender identity may vary based on each person’s social and familial social development.

• GENDER EXPRESSION: The manner in which a person represents or expresses gender to others, often through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, activities, voice or mannerisms.

• TRANSGENDER: An adjective describing a person whose gender identity or expression is different from that traditionally associated with an assigned sex at birth. Other terms that can have similar meanings are transsexual and trans.

• TRANSITION: The process in which a person goes from living and identifying as one gender to living and identifying as another.

• GENDER NONCONFORMING: A term for people whose gender expression differs from stereotypical expectations, such as “feminine” boys, “masculine” girls, and those who are perceived as androgynous. This includes people who identify outside traditional gender categories or identify as both genders. Other terms that can have similar meanings include gender diverse or gender expansive.

Here are other guidelines on gender neutrality for corporate users:

• For employees transitioning from one gender to another, always use the name and pronouns appropriate to the gender the employee is presenting at work. Make sure to use the correct name and pronouns in employee records and all communications to or about the employee.

• GLSEN, which helps LGBT students, says they may refer to themselves as trans, transsexual, transgender, male-to-female (MTF), female-to-male (FTM), bi-gender, two-spirit, transman, trans woman, and a variety of other terms. “Terminology and language describing transgender individuals can differ based on region, language, race or ethnicity, age, culture, and many other factors.” The same applies to corporate employees. A good general guideline is to use the same terminology the people use to refer to themselves.

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