Written by Charlie Butterworth
Non-binary people are more visible than ever, but what does that mean for your business?
More than you think.
The non-binary demographic is growing every day, and a huge discussion around gendered language has been thrust into the mainstream. You may be alienating a substantial market of people without even knowing it. If you want your business to be truly inclusive, go beyond sensitivity training with these simple tips – from me, a non-binary person.
1. Understand what ‘non-binary’ means Non-binary isn’t a third gender. Non-binary identities exist outside of the gender binary, aka beyond male or female. It’s an umbrella term for many gender identities. Non-binary people are trans because they do not identify with their assigned birth sex, but not all trans people are non-binary.
Two non-binary people can have wildly different identities, pronouns and gender expression. For example, I am gender-fluid: my pronouns are subject to change, and my style oscillates between feminine to boyish. On the other hand, my co-worker Saskia is agender and solely uses they/them pronouns. Our experiences are not universal, so don’t stereotype.
2. Normalise establishing pronouns It takes two seconds to ask someone what their pronouns are. Don’t leave it until later, because you may end up misgendering them, which is just awkward for everyone. When you introduce yourself to someone, say your name and follow up with what your preferred pronouns (how you like to be referred to) are.
Many platforms (LinkedIn, Instagram) are introducing pronoun sections to people’s profiles, so it’s easier than ever to check someone’s pronouns if you’re unsure. Another thing you can do is get everyone to add their pronouns to their email signature, that way when you’re communicating it’s less likely you make a mistake.
If you find yourself struggling to get someone’s pronouns right, try practising. Eventually it will become muscle memory. If you do misgender someone, don’t panic! Just apologise right away.
3. Relax your dress code Gender dysphoria is common among non-binary folks, where features of our biological sex cause us to feel uncomfortable. For example, sometimes I prefer to wear oversized clothes to create a silhouette that’s less feminine.
Non-binary doesn’t mean androgynous. Non-binary folk may dress in a way you associate with male or female – or they might not. For some of us, it’s safer to pass as cisgender (when your gender matches your assigned birth sex) to avoid discrimination. A non-binary person can wear make-up, skirts and heels every day, and that doesn’t make them less non-binary!
4. Unisex bathrooms Everyone deserves to feel safe using the bathroom – including non-binary folk. Projects Beach and Projects The Lanes both offer unisex bathrooms: each cubicle has its own sink and mirror inside, so at no point are you sharing the space with another person, thus cutting down any opportunity for potential harassment. Having said that, if harassment is something you are worried about, that causes for some introspection into who is working at your company.
5. Inclusive language This is a non-binary person’s first indicator if a business is worth their time. Simply switching multiple choice on forms to a dotted line avoids so much discrimination. There are many guides online that go into detail on this: here’s one that I find helpful. This may seem pedantic, but I can tell you that these little details mean a lot to us.
6. Don’t probe Life outside of the gender-binary can be rough even in the most accepting households. Many of us suffer with dysphoria, experience bullying and have our identity invalidated. If a non-binary person wants to open up to you, they will. Otherwise, don’t ask questions you wouldn’t ask a cisgender person.
7. Advocate, even when they’re not around One simple way to show allyship is, if your non-binary friend is misgendered, then correct the person making the mistake – even if the person being misgendered is not around. This sets a precedent that your business is serious about inclusivity, not just saying so for show.
If any of this advice has left you with questions or a desire to learn more, check out Stonewall’s training programme for advancing non-binary inclusion in the workspace and their guide to being an ally to non-binary people.