Earlier this year, National Geographic sparked an impassioned discourse when it featured Avery Jackson, a nine-year-old transgender girl from Kansas City on its January cover. The magazine also explored the lives of people with a diversity of gender identities and the complex issues of gender in several countries. Comments flooded in from all over the world that ranged from disgust and fury to heartfelt expressions of gratitude. Even support.
May 17th is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia. In honour of this day and amidst this growing global conversation on gender diversity, how do you think Canadians have contributed?
According to a 2016 Angus Reid poll, “more than eight-in-ten Canadians (84%) support expanding non-discrimination laws to include gender identity.” I’m encouraged to see this shift in our national consciousness. It is a shift that has most certainly been reflected among the organizational leaders that I meet with as a transgender inclusion consultant, and it has similarly been supported with legislative updates across the country.
As of March 2017, all but two provinces and territories now have human rights protections for transgender people in Canada. The two remaining jurisdictions (the Yukon and New Brunswick), have proposed and tabled legislation, respectively. And here at home, the BC Human Rights Code was updated to explicitly include “gender identity and expression” as a protected against discrimination.
Whether driven by legislation compliance or a real desire to meet the needs of their employees and customers in an environment of ever-increasing social acceptance, many business leaders are asking: How can we prepare for this new reality?
Here are a few simple steps toward building more gender inclusive services:
- Be gender aware. Many of us have been socially programmed to believe there are only two genders: girl or boy (or woman or man). As such, spaces, operations and systems have been built upon that assumption and typically without much thought as to why and whether it serves the company’s purpose, values and goals. Conduct a scan of your organization to see where gendered practices and systems may be in play (spoiler alert: dress codes, customer surveys and registration forms, and washrooms are common examples). This initial investigation allows you to explore where transgender people may experience a lack of options or are unintentionally excluded.
- Equip your team. Are your staff prepared to support and interact with a transgender employee and/or customer? To help your staff feel more prepared and confident, consider resources and awareness training that can build your team’s confidence and competency.
- Practice inclusive language. Whether you are leading a meeting, hosting an event or greeting a customer, consider replacing gendered addresses such as “ladies and gentlemen” and “ma’am and sir” with the more inclusive, “Good afternoon, how may I help you?” These are simple gestures that have zero impact on your budget, yet can make a significant difference.
- Update washroom signage. Many businesses offer single-occupancy washrooms to their customers, yet continue to label them as “Ladies” and “Men.” Consider following the lead of progressive organizations that have updated their washrooms with gender inclusive signage and reach out for best practice advice. When spearheading such initiatives, it’s important to prepare your staff with an explanation of the signage to ensure they are equipped to respond to questions and champion the conversation.