What’s all this Gender Business, and what does it have to do with my business?
By Dr. Margo Jacquot, Psy.D., CSADC, BCETS
From bathrooms to fitting rooms; laws to employer’s rights, the changes in how sexual orientation and gender equality are impacting both the workplace and workforce can be confusing. It can also be a great opportunity for business. Dr. Margo Jacquot, Psy.D., founder and director of The Juniper Center, has been helping businesses navigate the new laws and build more inclusive businesses with her talk, “What’s all this Gender Business, and what does it have to do with my business?”
Jacquot often opens her talk with a review of what the letters in the LGBTQ stand for: Lesbian: Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Queer or Questioning. Newer additions may include A for Asexual or Ally and I for Intersex, or having the biology and identity of both genders. “Language around gender and gender identity is evolving in an exciting way,” says Jacquot, with discourse that separates gender from sexual orientation and embraces a “continuum” model over a previously “binary” paradigm.
“Sometimes misunderstandings arise simply from lack of knowledge about a particular community. That’s where stereotypes can get in the way,” says Jacquot. For businesses, there are technical aspects with new laws related to gender and bathrooms in public spaces. But it is more broadly about creating inclusive environments and outstanding customer experiences for members of the LGBTQ community.
“It makes sense to have an LGBTQ inclusive business,” says Jacquot, who sites studies showing that 55% of those who self-identify as LGBTQ will research ahead of time to know if your business is welcoming. 70% will pay a higher price if they know you are welcoming, and 78% of friends, family and loved ones will switch brands. “Sometimes it can be as simple as displaying a rainbow flag decal on your door, or providing gender neutral bathrooms,” says Jacquot.
It’s important to recognize that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity is subjective, personal and private, and that labeling may be considered a form of discrimination. “It’s always best not to make assumptions—a simple ‘How can I help you?’ is a way to open the door to good and welcoming service.”
“It’s a topic that a lot of people have questions about,” says Sara Koveleski Kraut, PT, DPT, NCS, owner and physical therapist at Advanced Physical Therapy & Health Services, LLC, who attended a program presented by the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce. “It’s important as a community to be welcoming to everybody.” Kraut was interested in the topic both as an employer and also in terms of serving patients and building her business.
Be a Gender Pioneer
Many people assume that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act includes Federal Government protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Title VII “prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.” It applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments. In court, cases for transgender and LGBT plaintiffs have been won under Title VII, but often under the argument of sex discrimination (a protected class) based on gender non-conformity—not specifically on sexual orientation or gender identity. “There is a lot of legal protection now for LGB,” says Jacquot, “but not as much yet for those who are Transgender.”
Many states (22 states plus the District of Columbia) have filled the gaps inherent in Title VII with laws in place that protect against discrimination on this basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment in the public and private sector. Marriage equality is federal law. But that does not preclude discrimination or harassment at work. According to a study by UCLA’s William’s Institute, 21% of LGBT employees reporting said that they have been discriminated against in hiring, promotions and pay. That number jumped to 47% for individuals who identified as Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming.
Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, does an annual review of states and cities. The study gives a grade based on laws, policies and services that support LGBTQ people. Illinois represents a wide range of commitment and success, from a score of 42 in Naperville to 100 in Chicago, based on the 2017 review.
You can help by ensuring there are Gender Affirming Policies at your place of employment, or by supporting those policies that are in place. Here are more actions that your company or you can do to be gender pioneers:
Things Your Company Can Do:
- Having a written, visible diversity and inclusion statement that includes sexual orientation and gender identity
- Creating an LGBT Employee Resource Group (ERG)
- Providing training for leadership and staff
- Including the company’s non-discrimination policy in new employee orientation
- Recruiting, mentoring, promoting, including LGBT employees
- Demonstrating a public commitment to the LGBT community
Things You Can Do:
- Respecting your co-worker’s privacy
- Letting the employee decide who they tell and when
- Use names and pronouns as requested by employee
- Be vigilant against subtle forms of harassment: wrong pronoun use, exclusionary behaviors, etc.
- Don’t assume sexual orientation
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