By Myra L Thompson, RHU, REBC, GBA
The gender identity of non-binary is not new. Throughout history and across cultures those who do not experience themselves as either male or female have been part of humanity. As an HR professional, I didn’t have any idea what to expect should someone who identified as non-binary apply for a job with my company or with any of the companies we represent.
My research indicated that this group of individuals see themselves as a third gender if you will. Although they identify under an umbrella title of non-binary, these individuals will present in their own unique style. Though you may recognize male and female characteristics in their dress and hair, make-up or lack thereof, they are a separate gender that encompasses male and female, or lacks them, in a completely unique gender category. With that in mind, this group will often ask you to use the pronouns “they” or ‘them” when you refer to them.
When I met Parker, who identifies as non-binary, it happened to be on a day when Parker was waiting for a callback from a job interview. I asked Parker to walk me through their expectations of this potential employer. Parker wanted two things; respect for their non-binary gender identity and an opportunity to do excellent work for the company. Respect meant that when they were referred to by a pronoun, that their peers and boss, to the best of their ability, use “they” or “them” rather than she or he.
I found Parker to be hugely sensitive to how difficult that may be for those unfamiliar with the concept of a third gender. Just try, Parker asked.
Then the pragmatic HR question surfaced. What type of bathroom situation would an employer be asked to provide? Parker is not completely comfortable in either a woman’s or men’s restroom. Optimally an employer would offer privacy through the use of stalls in a Unisex bathroom or a single bathroom. Both of these options, added to the existing men’s and women’s bathrooms in a company, would allow everyone a space to be comfortable. Having said what was optimal; Parker was prepared to use whatever was available.
I should add that during our walk, Parker was offered and accepted the job. I asked where in the interview process Parker presented the specific issue of gender identity and the requests related to changing the behavior of “their” new colleagues. It would happen at onboarding, which was to be the following Monday. At some appropriate point during new hire orientation, Parker would offer information regarding their gender to the HR person and boss. Parker was clear that there was nothing legally that would prevent the company from walking them to the door at that point. Parker only hoped that since the company had selected them for the skills, knowledge and abilities they offered that the company would choose to keep them.
I share this conversation to you as I expect your HR department, if it has not already, will be having this conversation in the days to come.