Since coming out as nonbinary just over a year ago (my pronouns are they/them) and finally letting myself present in a way truly reflective of who I am, I’m often asked, “What is it like being nonbinary in the business world?” I interpret this as, “How are you treated walking into a board room in a dress and heels?”
How I identify and how I present my gender are two different things – an important factor to consider for businesses expanding inclusionary practices. Sometimes, I’ll be in a button down and jeans, which fits into most people’s experience as “how a man dresses,” but that perception doesn’t make me any less nonbinary than when I’m in a Diane von Furstenberg dress and Kate Spade heels.
The business implication I’d like you to consider is: Start a meeting with introductions where people share their name and their pronouns. Regardless of how someone presents, which may be influenced by how they believe they would be treated if they dressed in a certain way, their gender identity may be different. Prior to this, ensure your staff feels safe sharing who they are with you and their coworkers.
Photo | Erika Sidor
From the 40 Under Forty 20th anniversary (from left) 2013 alumni Amy Lynn Chase, 2019 winner Joshua Croke, 2006 alumni Jose Antonio Rivera, 2019 winner Dani Babineau and 2019 winner Lisa A. Drexhage at Allen Court Alley in Worcester
This discussion is about how people are valued in the workplace, which is a microcosm of a longstanding societal issue: who is given equal respect and opportunity. I have the benefit of being white and perceived as a male regardless of what I’m wearing; and I can be perceived as a straight white cis-man if I choose to put on that false character.
So, why would I, as a queer nonbinary individual, be treated differently? The simple answer: sexism. Women continue to be treated less than equal in the workplace, and they must work harder to achieve less than their male counterparts. (This issue is amplified for women of color.) The traits of my identity often mocked and compromising my opportunities are the ones considered feminine. “You throw like a girl.” “Don’t be a sissy.” “Man up.” These statements were too familiar to me growing up, and they are all statements reinforcing that women are not as able as men.
We have to ask questions and be open to empathizing with other’s lived experiences. I will never know what it is like to be a black trans woman. We simply need to trust women when they talk about experiences in the workplace.
These calls for attention to issues are continually ignored. Women; our queer, trans and nonbinary community; communities of color; people with varying abilities – our system has been built to actively push against their inclusion.
If we are to improve the workplace conditions for someone like me; we need to improve workplace conditions for everyone. Our companies have a great responsibility to create an ecosystem where employees can learn, explore, and feel safe having uncomfortable conversation. Our goal is not to diminish the value of men but to uplift women, queer people, and other marginalized communities. All people have value; all people are valid; and our unique differences bring additive value to our collective success.
Joshua Croke is the founder of Worcester business Action! by Design and president & co-founder of nonprofit Love Your Labels. Reach they at [email protected]
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