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How to be inclusive of non-binary people

We ask the experts how startups can support non-binary employees and build well-informed and inclusive teams.

By Miriam Partington in Berlin

Christopher El Badaoui and Araxie Boyadjian are the cofounders of LVNDR, a healthtech platform developing inclusive sexual health solutions for the LGBTQ+ community. In their view, relying on the right resources and experts — and ensuring managers are wised up and prepared to educate their teams — is crucial for ensuring non-binary people ( those who identify outside of the traditional gender binary) feel welcomed at work. Here are just some of their tips. 

Make sure non-binary individuals are heard

If new employees have already identified as non-binary before joining your team, chances are they will have some concerns. Common ones might include: how do I come out to my team in terms of my gender and what pronouns I use? Do I correct my colleagues when they misgender me? Is it ok for me to speak up in meetings that involve people external to the company and correct them? Creating a space safe for non-binary people means really understanding what matters to that specific individual — as what might be important for one non-binary person may not apply to another person. As a manager, have a one-to-one chat with your new employee before they join and ask how you can best support them. If you are employing a non-binary person for the first time, ask them 

whether they’d like to address themselves to the team (some individuals are happy to share information and educate people, as it’s a wonderful feeling to know others are open to learn) or 

whether they would like you to introduce them before they meet everyone. Most importantly, make it clear that you will always have an open door for them to discuss their needs or concerns.

Tweak your hiring strategy

It’s estimated that a third of non-binary people experience discrimination in the hiring process — due to unconscious bias, many employers tend to hire candidates that look like or behave like themselves. It’s important for companies to proactively reach out to LGBTQ+ recruitment networks — such as Out in Tech, Women in Tech and Lesbians who tech in the UK — to build a talent pool of candidates from diverse communities. At LVNDR, we’ve gone through our job descriptions and online job postings with a fine tooth comb to ensure our language is gender neutral, and therefore inclusive of all gender orientations. Examples of this include using terms like ‘you‘ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ when describing a role, and using gender neutral titles in job descriptions such as ‘engineer’ or ‘developer.’ Be wary of gendered adjectives (such as ‘competent’ or ‘outspoken’) in job postings and instead focus on key skills for the role. If you’re unsure whether your language is gender neutral, using a gender decoder tool is a good place to start.

Train your managers in D&I

All team members — especially human resources and hiring managers — should have diversity and inclusion training by people or organisations who actually identify as LGBTQ+ and can speak first-hand about the challenges that these communities face. Training can be done in a variety of different ways. In the UK, there are

organisations such as Gendered intelligence — which offers consultancy services and workshops such as trans awareness training — and Stonewall, which works with companies on LGBTQ+ inclusivity. You could also invite experts/consultants to speak at your company. If you’re in the UK, our recommendations include Rico Jacob Chace, Jude and Ben Pechey. At LVNDR, we have a monthly ‘Big Queer Quiz’ where the team educates each other on the different sections of the LGBTQ+ community in a quiz format. For example, participants have to guess which flag represents which community, share information about it and offer tips and tricks about what language you should use when speaking to or describing this community etc. 

Understand priorities and take action

As a manager, it’s your job to listen and immediately respond if negative incidents arise (such as repeated misgendering or active discrimination) that cause employees frustration, distress or lack of motivation. For example, a LVNDR employee recently came to us and said that the people in the office space we were working in made them feel uncomfortable and that they couldn’t be themselves. Within a month we had changed offices. Since then, we’ve seen our employees actively exploring their wardrobe and feeling more at home — and as a result, productivity has increased. 

Use appropriate language

Encourage team members to add their pronouns (he/him, she/her, they/them) to email signatures, Slack and their social media accounts. This sets a precedent among teams that they shouldn’t assume someone’s gender and pronouns — and it creates an open space for employees and new hires to share their identities. Don’t go overboard with trying to omit all gender-related language: for example, a lot of non-binary or transgender individuals may not have an issue with the word ‘guys’ as it’s become a staple of language. It’s more important to use the correct pronouns and address the person with the right name. Individuals that have transitioned to a different gender or have come out as non-binary, might choose to be called by a name different to the one they were given at birth, and it’s crucial that you call them by the name they identify with now — calling someone by their previous name is referred to as deadnaming. 

Have regular check-ins

Be mindful that every person’s journey is different. Some individuals may begin a new job having already identified as non-binary. Others might discover their identity while working. Equally, a person that identifies as transgender and non-binary could very well, in a couple of months, come to terms with the fact that they’re actually transgender and they want to learn more about that. Having regular check-ins with employees is extremely necessary as people and their needs evolve. At LVNDR, we hold a meeting every few months where employees re-introduce themselves to each other. So, if someone identifies differently now than they did a few months ago, they have the opportunity to introduce themselves again and relish in that moment. 

Miriam Partington is Sifted’s DACH correspondent. She also covers future of work, coauthors Sifted’s Startup Life newsletter and tweets from @mparts_

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