Prepare your business for the difference in how gender is viewed between the generations, explains Joanne Lockwood

I often hear people use the phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen” when addressing an audience (and on train station platforms). Whilst this seems a traditional and accepted way to welcome people, it excludes and marginalises a whole group of people who identify outside of the gender binary. It is a juxtaposition to the ever-evolving landscape of work, where there is a growing movement in the importance and visibility of gender diversity and nonbinary identities, but there is also a difference in how gender is viewed between the generations.

When we are workforce planning through the next decade and beyond, we must face up to the fact that there may be a generational divide when it comes to gendered and nonbinary identities. 

Determining Generations

Clearly not all individuals within a generation will share the same characteristics or experiences; however:

Baby Boomers were born between 1946-1964 and are generally known for their impact on politics and the economy.

Generation X were born between 1965-1980 and are thought to be particularly independent, resourceful and adaptable.

Millennials (or Generation Y) were born between 1981-1996 and are characterised as being tech-savvy, diverse and socially conscious.

Generation Z (or Zoomers) were born between 1997-2012, have grown up entirely in the digital age and are associated with being entrepreneurial, pragmatic and focused on social justice.

Generation Alpha includes individuals born from approximately 2013-2025 and are expected to be a diverse generation that places increased importance on global awareness and sustainability.

Data from a OnePoll survey of 2,036 people found that 23% of Generation Z adults in the UK are now identifying with genderless pronouns (e.g., they/them). Workplaces will need to look beyond the current polarised debates and opinions on gender identity and acknowledge we must respect and address these changes. 

Generation Z is leading the charge but hot on their heels is Generation Alpha, who will enter the world of working in the not-too-distant future. There is already more than a strong inkling that Generation Alpha will embrace gender-neutral pronouns even more. Millennial, Generation X, and Baby Boomers generations are generally still sitting more comfortably with traditionally gendered terms and pronouns (such as he/she).

There are many examples of businesses that have successfully embraced gender diversity, showing strength and innovation. Major organisations like HSBC and Aviva have adopted gender-neutral options on their forms and provided comprehensive training programmes, which not only foster a more inclusive workplace from a gender identity perspective but also set the culture across the entire organisation. These companies have recognised that the future of work lies in harnessing the full potential of a diverse workforce, embracing all generations and identities, and then reaping the benefits.

So How Do You Prepare Your Business for the Impact of Genderless Identities and Differences Between the Generations That May Well Develop?

Start the conversation

Encourage open discussions and ensure you create safe-space environments for both the younger and older generations to come together to have these conversations. Yes, things have changed in the last 10 years or so, but looking through a different lens is here to stay, particularly because having your own unique identity is really resonating with the younger generations. The best way to be inclusive is to talk and to show gentle openness. The fear of getting it wrong is still a major barrier. 

Education is key

Provide educational resources and training on gender identity and pronoun usage, and include nonbinary identities. This will make a significant difference in your workplace. Leaders must equip the workforce with the knowledge to understand and support their colleagues.

Revisit your policies

Review and update your HR policies to accommodate diverse gender identities. It is highly likely that most of them have been developed with a binary gendered lens. Review your uniform or clothing policies, healthcare and even changing and toilet facilities to ensure that they work for everyone.

Normalise pronoun sharing

Allow your teams and colleagues to share their pronouns in email signatures, name badges, staff profiles, etc. Make it optional, but encourage those who wish to and educate people about why this is important. Whilst it is a small gesture, it goes a long way in demonstrating respect and support for all our colleagues.

Collaborate and connect

Work with organisations that support LGBTQ+ communities. Establish internal staff networks and support groups. Actively ensure that senior leaders participate in events promoting gender diversity and inclusivity to normalise and ensure sponsorship.

Have respect at the heart of your work culture

Ensuring respect for all colleagues and having a diverse and inclusion-rich culture will move us toward everyone having the right to feel safe, accepted and valued at work.

Ensure psychological safety

This is core so everyone has the right to be who they are without fear of discrimination or microaggressions.

Avoid assumptions

Avoid assumptions about someone’s gender identity based on how they present, look or sound. Encourage people to share their pronouns so you communicate appropriately and avoid misgendering, and write yours as a part of your email signature to show allyship.

Measure progress

It is important to regularly assess the effectiveness of initiatives and efforts. Speak to your team members and listen to their workplace experiences. Be open to course correcting your approach based on feedback received and changing circumstances.

Understand boundaries

Every person has their own journey, and the same applies to those thinking about their gender identity. People will share their personal details when they feel ready to. Don’t push someone to talk about things they aren’t ready to talk about. Be compassionate and warm so that when the timing is right, you can show support.

Modern businesses are working towards creating a workplace where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute to the best of their abilities and where their gender identity is understood and respected. The younger generations are demanding a more inclusive culture, and it is important to lead from the front and not be left behind.

As Individuals, How Can We Support Those with Different Gender Identities?

Pay attention to the words you use and make sure to differentiate between gender identity and sexual orientation while avoiding any biased language. Take the initiative to enhance your knowledge and understanding of topics that may seem confusing to you. Ask questions, conduct research, and show your eagerness to learn. It’s important to remember that we are discussing real people with real experiences. Try to make a positive impact by showing kindness and initiating conversations with those who may feel marginalised. You might be surprised by the significant effect a single friendly gesture can have.

Joanne Lockwood is the CEO and founder of SEE Change Happen, an equality, diversity, inclusion & belonging practice specialising in LGBTQ+ and transgender awareness. She delivers keynote speeches, seminars and workshops and offers support to ... (Read More)

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