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#VUHRD Research Spotlight Series | Gender non-conformity and the modern workplace

This week we kick off our Research Spotlight Series. Over the next four posts on the blog, we will dive into a recently published article, "Gender non-conformity and the modern workplace: New frontiers in understanding and promoting gender identity and expression at work" by Dr. Katina Sawyer and Dr. Christian Thoroughgood, #VUHRD faculty members.

Dr. Katina Sawyer and Dr. Christian Thoroughgood address issues surrounding gender non-conformity, which extends to transgender individuals, in the workplace and how HR practitioners can help to foster inclusive work environments for all individuals. The goal of this piece is to provide HR professionals with concrete steps in order to achieve this type of workplace culture.

Gender non-conformity refers to “the spectrum of people who do not align with societal expectations for gender expression” (Sawyer & Thoroughgood, 2017, p. 2). While transgender individuals are included under this category, one need not identify as transgender in order to be considered non-conforming to stereotypical gender norms and expression; this discussion encompasses all individuals who may not conform to typical gender expression, including transgender individuals.

Research conducted points to the fact that when employees feel safe to authentically express themselves at work, such as when their expression doesn’t conform to typical gender norms (like a woman wearing a pantsuit and tie, for example), they will be happier and healthier (pp. 1-2). Ultimately, the goal is to develop a workplace culture and environment that is not merely tolerant of gender non-conformity, but one that embraces it and encourages all individuals to freely be themselves at work. This leads to a happier and more productive workforce.

In addition to the moral responsibility that leaders and HR practitioners have to foster and maintain inclusive environments, there are also legal issues within the workplace to be considered where organizations are required to be compliant. Although it wasn’t the original purpose of the law, gender discrimination is protected and under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This protection has been extended to transgender individuals because of the fact that most discrimination situations that they encounter are related to gender discrimination. However, some states have passed laws “which aim to actively strip transgender employees of equal protections” (pp. 2-3). This is a reason why it is even more important to develop more inclusive work environments; organizations must be proactive and create safe spaces for all employees, rather than merely being compliant with laws (p. 3).

Follow along with this Research Spotlight Series to hear Katina and Christian discuss their work, why it is important in today's climate, and what it means for you as an HR practitioner!


Sawyer, K. & Thoroughgood, C. (2017). Gender non-conformity and the modern workplace: New frontiers in understanding and promoting gender identity expression at work. Organizational Dynamics, 1-8.



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