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Creating a safe and supportive culture will benefit all employees

By Charles Benayon


Gender identity has become an important topic of conversation over the past few years. Trans-identifying individuals specifically suffer from an increased risk of suicide – nearly 45 per cent are reported to have attempted suicide at one point in their lives.

In honour of Human Rights Day, which was held Dec. 10, gender visibility in the workplace is playing a highly prominent role in the conversation. It’s vital for businesses to be aware of gender identity in the workplace and what can be done to make their work culture both safe and inclusive.


Gender identity and human rights

The Ontario Human Rights Commission passed a Human Rights Act prohibiting the discrimination or harassment of any person based on their choice or expression of gender identity. This includes transgender and non-binary individuals, as well as anyone who chooses to express their gender identity through any mannerism or form of outward appearance, such as dress, makeup, hairstyle or voice. This has generated the necessity of instilling policies such as a gender-neutral dress code in the workplace to enhance the comfort of all employees (e.g. not requiring high heels, skirts as an option for all genders, etc.)

Despite gender-based discrimination being banned from the workplace since 2012 and the availability of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), harassment experienced by members of the trans and non-binary community continues. In terms of employment with trans individuals, an alarming 17 per cent were later declined a job they were originally offered because of the lack of resources for a safe, trans-positive environment. In Ontario, 96 per cent of transgender people have experienced a form of transphobia in their everyday lives, ranging from being perceived as “abnormal” to being physically threatened or harmed.

Although gender inclusivity has come a long way over the years, there’s still a lot of work to do. Every employee has the right to feel safe and included in their workplace culture, regardless of their race, gender-identity or sexual preference. Employers need to make gender inclusivity a priority in order to create a better environment and ensure that all forms of gender-biased harassment are strictly prohibited.


What can be done to promote gender inclusivity in workplace culture?

Gender equality has become more than just a question of equal pay. The entire gender spectrum has been called into question, as well as the apparent lack of opportunities to prospective employees due to gender bias. This has given employers a lot to think about in terms of changing company policy, including hiring procedures, as well as creating an inclusive work environment.

As with most major workplace changes, the correction of gender imbalance needs to come from company leaders and HR managers. Employers must be committed to inclusivity through facilitating change by allowing all employees, regardless of gender identity, to feel as though their voices are heard.

These are some things that can be done in the workplace to create a stronger, more inclusive environment.


Allow everyone the opportunity to speak

It’s important that every single member of the team feels as though their experiences are valued. The inclusion of diversity through these experiences is not only what makes a team environment safer, it also makes it thrive. By ensuring that each employee has their physical and emotional needs met, a culture of inclusivity is established, providing an atmosphere that employees of all genders can feel comfortable taking part in.


Facilitate forums to promote healthy conversation

Some of your employees may have questions about gender diversity and what they can do to be more inclusive. Healthy discussions are a key aspect of not only educating employees, but also creating a space where everyone feels safe sharing any existing issues in the workplace, as well as any possible solutions. Scheduling meetings with all employees, while being mindful of the comfort level of all gender groups, is essential to establishing an
inclusive environment. 

In order to take the healthy conversation further, the establishment of a healthy workplace committee is essential. This committee would be charged with overseeing any matters surrounding gender identity discussions and be tasked with constructing workplace initiatives to increase awareness of gender diversity.


Be mindful of existing gender diversity

If a team has a gender imbalance in any regard, whether it be on a particular project or in the company as a whole, it’s an indication that something needs to be changed. Making an effort to open up new positions to trans or non-binary persons through an implemented diversity policy will not only enhance company diversity, it will also create a stronger work culture.


Have a gender-neutral washroom available

Having a gender-neutral washroom is crucial for the comfort of employees who do not subscribe to any form of gender identification. This offers a solution for anyone who is not comfortable with the “male” or “female” labels that are typically enforced in public restrooms, and helps all employees feel safer expressing their own sense of gender identity.


Provide educational seminars to staff and management

As the gender spectrum opens up for deeper discussion, there will be a need for continuing education for all members of the team. Periodic educational seminars on gender identity can be implemented by HR managers to keep all employees up-to-date with changes in terminology, dialogue and sensitivity training.


A word on intersectionality 

Intersectionality is, “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism and classism) combine, overlap or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.”

In the workplace, there will be employees of different cultural or socio-economic backgrounds that are also in the trans community. In these cases, cumulative harassment can be an issue for any person who is facing a number of challenges associated with intersectional discrimination.

HR managers and employers must be aware of the complex issues surrounding intersectional bias and harassment. It is their duty to educate themselves and their employees about the imperative nature of observing inclusivity and sensitivity for persons who would fall in these categories.


Observance of mental health and safety

An emphasis on mental health in the workplace, specifically in accordance with gender identification, has become increasingly important. Protection and sensitivity for those living with mental health issues has come to the forefront of the conversation, giving employers a lot to examine in the work environment.

EAP services are an invaluable recommendation for anyone who has struggled with mental health issues as a result of gender-identifying harassment. These services provide medical referrals, counselling services and family counselling to any employees who need them. These programs are not only integral to the health and wellness of a business, they can also save lives.

Leading by example, as well as encouraging positive discussion surrounding mental health and gender identity, are promising steps towards enhancing company wellness. When employees feel as though there is space for them to speak and be heard, they will not only feel safer in the workplace, they will feel as though they are part of the team.

Above all things, employers and HR managers must always let employees know that they can speak to them about any concerns with discrimination, especially in terms of personal choices relating to gender identification. By leaving room for an open dialogue, businesses will make a positive effect on their employees’ lives, enriching the work environment with strong diversity and meaningful, change-oriented conversation.

Charles Benayon is the founder of Aspiria Corp.




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