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

This installment of the Research Spotlight Series on Dr. Katina Sawyer & Dr. Christian Thoroughgood's recent publication, "Gender non-conformity and the modern workplace: New frontiers in understanding and promoting gender identity and expression at work," dives into how we see this research in real world practice in organizations. For a refresher on what this research is all about, you can check out the kick-off post about the article, and also watch the #VUHRDConversations discussion with Dr. Sawyer and Dr. Thoroughgood.

One of the major risks for organizations when it comes to not supporting gender non-conforming individuals in the workplace is the financial cost and risk. According to the Human Rights Campaign, over "2 million professionals and managers leave workplaces each year due to unfairness, costing US employers $64 billion annually." In conjunction, most employees who experience unfairness or discrimination at work due to their gender expression typically will not recommend that employer to potential employees, including their employer's products and services.

In the case of Dr. Lynn Conway, who transitioned in 1968 and previously worked for IBM but was

fired after her sex-reassignment surgery, IBM incurred a significant opportunity cost. After Dr. Conway's termination from IBM, she invented a method that "led to the creation of supercomputers that can take enormous amounts of data and compile them to look for patterns." IBM lost out on this opportunity to spearhead this design, as Dr. Conway went on to work for another company and launched her innovations there.


Over 2 million professionals and managers leave workplaces each year due to unfairness and discrimination, costing US employers $64 billion annually.


While the the financial and opportunity costs of not establishing an inclusive environment for gender non-conforming individuals can be high, it is arguably not the most important rationale for creating such a culture: as HR leaders, we should seek to include and make all employees feel safe and welcome in our organizations, without discrimination, because it is the right thing to do for our employees.

Employees who do not conform to typical gender norms face both outright and more subtle, yet hurtful, discrimination and exclusion at work. In the case of Josie Paul, a male to female transgender woman, she came out to her coworkers but faced vocal objections as well as exclusions from workplace social activities. Those coworkers who were kind and supportive of her did not necessarily outweigh the hurt she experienced from those who were not.

As HR professionals, we need to consider how to proactively create both policies and cultures that support gender non-conforming individuals. Jillian Weiss, a lawyer and consultant who works with organizations on issues surrounding transgender individuals, explains: "By the time someone comes into your office and says, 'I have to tell you something,' you're behind the eight ball. You should have a policy in a glass case that says, 'Break here in case of transition.'"


"By the time someone comes into your office and says, 'I have to tell you something,' you're behind the eight ball."


Simply reacting and becoming compliant with laws doesn't inherently create an inclusive environment where gender non-conforming individuals feel supported; the culture stems from how the leadership chooses to build it.

Dr. Katina Sawyer and Dr. Christian Thoroughgood make several recommendations on actions that employers can take now to build a culture that supports gender non-conforming employees. Stay tuned for our final post on Wednesday in this Research Spotlight Series to learn about their recommendations.

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