How to support your employees coming out as non-binary

Steven Copsey, CMI Qualifications Director and Senior Inclusion and Diversity Inclusion Consultant, explores how to support non-binary people in the workplace.

We have a (maybe not so) surprising lack of data on non-binary people in the UK, but in the US, mental health non-profit, The Trevor Project estimated last year that over a quarter of LGBTQ+ youth identify as non-binary, with an extra 20% questioning whether they might be non-binary. That leaves only 54% of LGBTQ+ youth categorically identifying within the binary.

Keep reading to learn more about what it means to identify as non-binary, and how to support the non-binary community.

What does it mean to identify as non-binary?

Non-binary is an identity embraced by some people who do not identify exclusively as a man or a woman.

Non-binary people may identify as being both a man and a woman, somewhere in between or as falling completely outside of these categories.

So being non-binary simply means sitting outside of the socially constructed norms of being male or female.

Binary itself is a term we’ve been using for years in different contexts but in all cases suggests an absolute of “must be one thing or the other.” A lot of our workforces might have grown up with the concept of binary code – it’s been taught in schools in the UK for over 40 years and it’s written entirely in 0s and 1s.

This might be a great way to start engaging with people on the topic of binary and non-binary. Binary is a set of two choices that in some social constructs everyone must fit into (including the UK legal system).

In coding, we’re talking about a 0 or a 1. But we know outside of coding context these numbers aren’t as simple as that.

We know 0.5 exists between these two numbers. We know 0.25 and 0.75 exist between them too. 0.0225, 0.7755…. I could go on… literally forever.

Why? Because from a purely mathematical perspective, there’s an infinite number of numbers between 0 and 1 – never mind the numbers beyond 0 and 1.

We seem to have got to grips with this concept as a society, heck, we start teaching kids about decimals in school between the ages of 8 and 9 – so understanding that every single person on the planet might identify slightly differently from someone else should be a piece of cake…

Understanding the challenges of coming out as non-binary

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. We do live in a world where everything has been gendered in the binary for so long, that it’s become systemic.

Even though we might have started to see a shift in the last couple of decades jobs are still heavily gendered. Clothes are still gendered. Language is still gendered. Even colours!

Growing up in a world where you’re constantly forced to choose “Am I this, or that?” when you feel you belong to both or neither, adds a lot of stress that those who do identify in the binary don’t often have to deal with.

On top of that, there’s also the fact that they might not be sure how you’ll react as colleagues. They may be used to seeing LGBTQ+-phobic language regularly in their social media feeds (transphobic tweets are shared every 8 minutes in the UK and the USA).

They may have had bad coming-out experiences in the past and don’t want to go through it again. They might feel apprehensive because of legal or societal issues we’re experiencing at the moment.

There’s the ever-awful conversation of bathrooms and who should be using which. Did you know that only 2% of employers have gender neutral toilets?

As well as great stress and anxiety, the energy and effort that goes into someone hiding who they really are might also lead to a loss of enthusiasm, job satisfaction and an increase in the likelihood of them leaving.

In fact, 50% of agender, non-binary and genderfluid workers have left a job due to an unwelcoming environment.

How to support your employees coming out as non-binary at work

Non-binary employees should have appropriate support in the workplace, no matter the stage of their journey.

Take a look below at how you can do this.

Use inclusive language

When it comes to inclusive language in the non-binary space, the most important point is moving away from those gendered phrases. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen” can become “good morning everyone.”

Policies and processes that use he/she can be changed to they so easily. Making sure we don’t misgender people, or if we do, correcting ourselves there and then.

Raise awareness

Awareness raising initiatives are great when they’re done right. However, we need to make sure that we’re not just continuously preaching to the choir.

Think about ways you can engage in awareness raising that’s going to reach those that might not usually get involved in inclusion and diversity initiatives.

Undergo inclusion training

There’s plenty of inclusion training on this topic. At Inclusive Employers, we offer sessions on Gender Identity, Trans Inclusion, and LGBTQ+ History but we can tailor this training to specific teams and groups as well – HR, Recruitment, Line Managers – ensuring that this training is not only about awareness raising and educating, but it’s also relevant.

Add pronouns to your email signatures

Adding pronouns to your email signatures, your Zoom logins, is a powerful way to show allyship. If you happen to be someone that was assigned male at birth, still identifies as a man and has never had any question about how they identify, you might think “well it’s obvious, everyone knows I’m a he/him.”

Let’s use that power to show that actually, this is a safe place for everyone to share their pronouns no matter who they are.

Offer support

Make sure those that identify as non-binary not only know there’s support for them within the organisation but know how to access it as well. This doesn’t just have to be formal support, this could just be your everyday casual chats, or 1:1s too.

How Inclusive Employers can help with supporting non-binary employees

As mentioned above, Inclusive Employers can offer training on a wide range of topics, in “off-the-shelf” webinars or entirely bespoke workshops for specific teams.

We also have some great resources on our website, including blogs on Trans Day of Remembrance, Why we Use Pronouns and A Quick Guide to Allyship.

Our podcast on non-binary experiences in the workplace with guest Ali Hannon is also on our website or free to download on your preferred podcast provider.

If you’re a member, get in touch with your account manager. If you’re not yet a member and want to learn more about non-binary inclusion, contact us today to see how we can help.