Understanding gender diversity and how to be an ally.

Gabrielle Duggan from Engineering New Zealand, together with Rainbow Youth and InsideOUT, shares some information on what gender diversity is, how to support gender diverse people in the workplace, and some key terminology.

What is the difference between sex and gender?

Your sex is what you are assigned at birth and appears on your birth certificate. Typically, this will be either male or female, although approximately 1 in 2000 babies born each year are intersex – that is, they are born with naturally occurring variations in sex characteristics that do not fit within typical notions of either male or female.

Your gender is your personal understanding of your relationship to masculinity, femininity or to neither, and is influenced by your social and cultural context. Examples of how one might identify their gender are as a  man, woman, or another gender such as non-binary. People’s external gender expression may vary considerably from their actual gender identity. For this reason, you can never know someone’s gender from looking at them.

How common is gender diversity?

Diverse gender identities have existed in many cultures around the world for centuries – Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and Hawaii all have ‘third gender’ traditions, and multiple different gender categories exist in the traditional cultures of many parts of South East Asia, as well as in pre-colonial North America and Central Africa, and parts of pre-Christian Europe. 

Visibility of gender diversity in New Zealand has been on the rise in the last few years thanks to the evolution of language, the ability for people to use technology to network and find support to live openly as they identify, and a more inclusive and tolerant society. 

There are no accurate numbers of how many New Zealanders identify as trans or gender diverse, although Statistics New Zealand intend to include questions in the next national census to capture this information. A recent survey of New Zealand high school students conducted by the University of Auckland found that approximately 4 out of every 100 students did not identify with the gender that they had been assigned at birth, stating they were either transgender, nonbinary, or otherwise questioning their gender.

As the number of people openly identifying as trans or gender diverse in New Zealand increases, they will become a greater part of the workforce, protected from discrimination under the Human Rights Act and wanting to find workplaces in which they are respected and able to perform their roles. 

So how can you support creating a workspace that is safe and inclusive for trans or gender diverse colleagues that you have now or will have in the future?

Five steps to create a more inclusive workplace

1.Check your use of gendered language & terminology 

HR policies, job descriptions, and newsletters to staff may all include gendered language. The removal of gendered language from policies and job descriptions can reduce unconscious bias in hiring and management practice.

Ensure that your Bullying and Harassment policy includes reference to people being protected from unwelcome treatment due to their gender or sexual identity.

As you do your next refresh of them, check for whether you have used “He/She” and replace it with “They”. There may be other policies that have bias, for example a ‘maternity leave policy for pregnant woman’ is not inclusive, but a ‘parental leave policy for staff expecting a baby’ is more inclusive. 

Even in day to day language, you may be unconsciously using gendered terms. Greeting a team meeting or starting an email with ‘Hi guys’ or ‘hi ladies’ is assigning an assumed gender to the entire audience. It’s a small change to switch to saying ‘hi team’ or ‘hi all’ that will have a big impact on the sense of inclusivity.

2. Normalise Pronoun sharing

Non-binary people may use a non-gendered personal pronoun such as they/them instead of she/her or he/him. By encouraging all staff, regardless of their gender, to share their pronouns, you remove the assumption that people can guess a person’s pronouns by their name or how they look, and create an environment where those using non-gendered pronouns feel more welcome to do so.

You and your team can include pronouns:

  • In your email signatures
  • On your business cards
  • In your LinkedIn profiles
  • In your roundtable introductions at the start of a meeting (e.g.: “My name is Jo Simmonds, I am the Senior Project Manager, my pronouns are He/him”)

You can learn more about the importance of sharing and honouring people’s pronouns at insideout.org.nz/pronouns/

3. Inclusive facilities

Bathroom debates have become a hot topic in the United States, but even in New Zealand a significant number of trans and gender diverse people will limit how much fluids they drink when away from home to avoid having to find a restroom that they can safely and comfortably use, and others base decisions on where they apply for roles based on having a bathroom available that they can use.

Having a unisex or non-gendered bathroom available in your workspace creates a space where those who do not feel comfortable using the ‘mens’ or ‘womens’ bathroom can relieve themselves. When looking for a new office space or renovating your current space, look for ways that you can accommodate this. Many recently refurbished office spaces will have a unisex wheelchair accessible bathroom, and this can double as the non-gendered bathroom for your office.

This should also be a consideration when booking venues for offsite meetings and staff social events – is there a non-gendered bathroom available for use?

Other facilities your workspace may have that should be made accessible include space for changing or feeding babies. Check that these are labelled with inclusive language and not in a space where they cannot be accessed inclusively (for example, if the only baby change station in your building is in the women’s bathroom, this prevents dads and non-binary parents from accessing it).

4. Educate yourselves and your staff from reputable sources

There are a lot of great resources available to help you learn more about gender identities and how to support them in the workplace. There are also a growing number of training and workshop options available to support team-wide initiatives. Look for resources or training developed by groups that advocate for trans and gender diverse people. Two great providers of workshops for employers, schools, and community organisations are RainbowYouth and InsideOUT.

5. Lead from the top – make a statement, hold people accountable

Workplaces supporting a safe and inclusive work environment can pursue the Rainbow Tick to publicly show their support of gender minorities and the rainbow community. Engineering New Zealand also supports joining the Diversity Agenda.

As an individual, steps you can take include: 

  • Normalise sharing pronouns by doing it yourself
  • If you hear someone use the wrong pronouns when talking about someone, politely but immediately correct them
  • Talk to your manager about what the workplace can do to educate itself about diverse gender identities, and to create an inclusive and welcoming work environment
  • Ask about inclusive facilities when choosing venues for social events

Key Terms You Should Know

Sex – a person’s sex at birth refers to the sex recorded on their original birth certificate. It is typically assigned based on externally visible characteristics

Sexuality – how a person identifies who they are attracted to (sexual orientation, e.g. gay, lesbian, straight, queer), or the degree of their sexuality (e.g. asexual, demisexual). 

Gender – a person’s social and personal identity as man, woman or another gender such as non-binary. This may or may not relate to their sex and is separate from their sexuality. Gender may include the gender that a person internally feels (‘gender identity’) and/or the gender a person publicly expresses (‘gender expression’) in their daily life

Cisgender or cis – a person who identifies as the gender that corresponds to the sex that they were assigned at birth

Transgender or trans– a person who identifies as a gender different than the one that corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth

Non-Binary – an umbrella term that encompasses people who do not necessarily identify with being transgender and may not feel their gender fits into the binary of man or woman. This term can also be used as an individual identifier of someone’s gender.

Gender Diverse – an umbrella term for a diverse range of gender identities, including culturally specific ones. This term especially relates to identities that fall outside the gender binary of male/female

Agender – A person who does not have an internal sense of being any gender

Intersex – an umbrella term for people born with variations of chromosomes, hormones and internal and/or external sex anatomy, resulting in bodies that don’t fit in the typical understandings of ‘male’ or ‘female’ sex. Approximately 1.7% of the population are born intersex.

Trans Man – a transgender person who was assigned female at birth but isa man

Trans Woman – a transgender person who was assigned male at birth but isa woman

Rainbow Community – and umbrella term for people whose gender or sexual identities fall outside of being cisgender and heterosexual

“Out” – when a person openly shares and lives as the gender, sex or sexual identity that they identify as

“Outed” – when a person’s gender, sex or sexual identity is disclosed without their consent by another person, potentially placing that person at risk of discrimination or abuse.

Passing” – where a trans person’s gender presentation outwardly aligns with the gender that they identify as. While many trans people aspire to ‘pass’, many others struggle with discrimination if they are not seen as ‘passing’.

Ally – a person who is not a member of the rainbow community but supports and advocates the rights of the rainbow community

Pronouns – a word that takes the place of a noun when talking about someone, such as he, she, or they. 

Sources and further Reading

A map of gender-diverse cultures

‘They’ Is the word of the year (2019)

RainbowYOUTH Gender 101

Counting Ourselves

InsideOUT More Than Four


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