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How to increase the inclusion of gender-diverse employees

I recently published a paper Managerial influences on the inclusion of transgender and gender-diverse employees: A critical multi-method study in the Australian Journal of Management. The paper discusses the influence leadership can have on increasing inclusion of gender diversity in the workplace. The following post reflects on my findings.

What comes to your mind when I ask you about gender equity in the workplace? Well, my Google alert is mostly making me aware of news and research papers about the significance of women on boards and general leadership positions with these prompts.

We are still far from equity for women in the workplace as this year’s gender pay gap again sadly established. Nevertheless, gender diversity and equity should also include acknowledgment and inclusion of gender-diverse employees or people with trans experience. Especially, with a growing number of Gen Z and Gen Y people identifying as non-binary.

The increasing necessity for organisations to include diversity, equity and inclusion as vital parts of their institutional structure and workplace culture emerges to become a minimum expectation of most employees. However, the Australian Human Resource Institute (AHRI) published a report The State of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Australian Workplaces (2023) that clearly indicates the gap between the employer’s awareness, intent and action when it comes to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives.

As Trans Awareness Week is in November, organisations should be conscious of taking actions that resist the temptation of rainbow washing.

Thankfully, an increasing number of organisations acknowledge that systematic change of structures and workplace culture is necessary instead of purely changing the individual. The link between the organisation’s mission, values and aims, and the staff member’s engagement, loyalty and contribution is embodied by managers.

Consequently, managers play a central role when nurturing an inclusive work environment for diverse people to thrive to their best potential. This includes the expansion of the workplace dialogue beyond the gender binary to be inclusive of gender-diverse people.

To increase the inclusion of gender-diverse employees, managers can impact three areas: building an inclusive organisational infrastructure, fostering a safe psychological environment, and supporting diverse impression-fit management.

Every organisation has its own infrastructure, such as documents, uniforms, and workspaces.

Although filling out forms can be a mundane task, it is even more frustrating and distressing if your gender identity is not recognised due to the limited options of titles or gender boxes. Reflecting on the mandated collection of binary information or the relevance of gathering specific gendered data in the first place is a relevant exercise for all managers.

The significance of psychological safety in the workplace has been underpinned by various legislative and policy changes in 2023. A healthy team environment and a trusted relationship between employee and manager are crucial to psychological safety at work.

Feeling unsafe by being unable to speak up and share ideas risks damaging the security of the psychological environment at work. Leaders function as role models and therefore, should apply principles of inclusive language and universal design to their leadership approach.

Did you ever join an occasion in the wrong outfit which consequently made you feel at least uncomfortable? This is a sign that you might have missed the mark for the right impression-fit management.

In the workplace, you may want to think of the (unwritten) dress code that corresponds with certain expectations, some of them gender-related or prejudicious. Reproducing occupational gender stereotypes based on assumptions, such as assigning a gender (woman or man) based on a person’s voice, can be harmful.

Managers can intervene by being role models, and step in if they hear inappropriate language or give autonomy to the employee to design tasks in a way that reduces the risk of being misgendered. Work flexibility is not merely about where we work, but also how to craft the process to achieve the required aim of the work task.

Instead of micromanagement, leaders can showcase trust in the employees’ capabilities by giving them the autonomy to fulfil their responsibilities.

A lot of the recommendations on how managers can support gender-diverse people in the workplace come at a low cost of personal determination of leadership.

Another positive side effect is the benefit to other marginalised or underrepresented employees. It might even be supporting gender equity for women in organisations after all, instead of increasing the gender divide.

This article was first published on BroadAgenda on 10 November 2023. Photo: stock.

Words by Robin Ladwig. 

An Associate Lecturer at the Faculty of Business, Government and Law at the University of Canberra with a focus on Queer Theory and Diversity Management, Robin takes pride in making a difference by combining academia, corporate influences, and activism.

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