How to Build Towards a Gender-Inclusive Workplace

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Published on
Jun 24, 2021
Written by
Syd Benjamin
Syd is a Client Strategy Manager on the Entertainment & Media team. They've spent the last two years moving from New York to Oregon to Vermont. When not at work, Syd is usually getting lost in the woods somewhere with their puppy, Nessie.
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Coming out as non-binary—and having my team’s full support—has helped me bring my best self to work.

I waited until after our winter break to come out to my coworkers as non-binary and ask that they start using my new pronouns: they/them. Attentive gives us a full week and a half off at the end of the year, and that space was essential as I alternated between organizing my thoughts and pumping myself up to make what felt like a life-changing announcement. 

I was nervous about how my coworkers—and, even more so, my clients—would react. I had been at Attentive for a year and a half, and everyone there knew me as a woman. We didn’t have anyone at the company openly using they/them pronouns (that I knew of), especially not in a client-facing role. 

I’d spun up a lot of anxiety-inducing scenarios in my head; primarily, that my coworkers wouldn’t care and wouldn’t bother to adapt their language for me. I was afraid of what my managers would say, and prepared myself for a lot of awkward discussions about how the singular “they” is actually grammatically correct. 

I was also nervous about how my clients would react—what would happen if a client wasn’t accepting of my transition, or was openly hostile towards me?

At the end of the day, coming out at work wound up allowing me to show up as my best self. My hope is that my experience at Attentive can serve as a model for how to begin building a more gender-inclusive workplace—and inspiration for anyone who’s unsure where to start. Inclusivity is a moving target; it’s all about consistent effort, rather than reaching a destination. Here are a few ways to start the conversation.

Foster community through Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) 

The first place I explicitly mentioned my coming out at work was in our LGBTQ+ ERG Slack channel. I posted about realizing I was non-binary, and asked my co-workers if they had any advice about coming out at work. 

One of the newer managers on my team who was also a member of the ERG reached out to me privately. He gave me a few resources and offered to connect me with a non-binary friend of his who had recently come out in a very public way.  Most importantly, he offered to tell all the other managers on my team about my transition. This meant that my teammates could start using my new pronouns, and I wouldn’t have to do all of the work of educating them myself. 

Offering to help educate my teammates was one of the simplest and most deeply appreciated experiences of allyship that I’ve encountered so far—it removed so much pressure and stress from my plate. 

Many other ERG members and leaders provided similar support, from starting conversations with HR around building supportive structures for coming out at work, to leading initiatives to bring trans and non-binary speakers to our virtual “office.” This is one of the key parts of using gender-inclusive language at work—it’s truly meaningful when paired with direct action.

Show up for your teammates 

My team was so celebratory when I came out to them. It was awkward at first (I didn’t know how much was too much to share), but I quickly realized that vulnerability and integrity have just as much of a place in the office as they do anywhere. Awkward—but meaningful—conversations can go a long way toward fostering a brave and kind work environment.

My teammates caught on pretty fast to the language adjustment. They asked questions when they got confused, and practiced using my pronouns even when I wasn’t in the virtual room. What’s mattered even more to me has been seeing their names pop up on Zoom during our ERG’s trans allyship workshops. The support I feel by seeing people actually show up can’t be overstated.

Look to leadership to set the tone 

For upper management—people who are usually double or triple-booked 24/7—every word and action counts. My team’s SVP is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, but he made time to message me on Slack after hearing about my pronoun transition. He said, among other things, “You know this, but as a reminder, we support you and cherish you for who you are.” (This absolutely did not have me tearing up at my desk at 10am on a Tuesday.)

Leadership sets the tone for the rest of the team. I’ve seen various company leaders step up to show their support in more public ways, but the simple, private note here showed me that this support wasn’t performative. Centering genuine care for individuals in marginalized communities is more important than the appearance of care. I’m grateful to have leaders here who model that value.

Lean in to strong relationships with customers 

I haven’t gone too deep into my gender journey with most of my clients. My pronouns are in my email signature, and when I meet new clients I’ll introduce myself with my pronouns—but that’s usually the extent of it. It does make me smile every time I see a client use my pronouns correctly in an email, or refer to me as “they” on a call. 

I did explicitly come out to one client, though. We’ve had a great working relationship for over a year, and we’ve gotten into the habit of sharing big life moments with each other. At the end of our first call after winter break, I blurted out, “Actually, on a personal note, I’ve recently come out as non-binary. I’m using they/them pronouns now.” My client looked directly into his camera and beamed at me. “I’m so, so happy for you,” he said. “Congratulations. And thank you so much for telling me.” He sent me an email later that day telling me he was honored that I would share that piece of my journey with him. 

My two big takeaways from my interaction with that client: first, my role at Attentive has allowed me to work with some truly spectacular individuals. Second, authenticity directly fosters connection.  

Remember that creating change is a company-wide responsibility 

Systemic change is notoriously difficult and slow. Building a truly inclusive workplace at the institutional level requires more than one happy coming out story. It’s lifelong work, for all of us. 

Attentive now has an explicit hate speech policy that lays out the kind of content we will not tolerate from clients, giving employees a clear path forward if situations arise where they feel a client is using discriminatory language. 

As a Client Strategy Manager in particular, I represent Attentive every day. My clients look to me to be a voice for the company. And now, it’s in writing: Attentive values the authenticity in my voice, and will go to bat to protect it.

Here’s the thing about being able to use my correct pronouns at work: it makes me better. 

Feeling seen and respected in my truth is inherently healing. It allows me to show up in a way that makes me more comfortable building connections, stepping up to take on leadership roles, and asking deeper questions. My queerness is at the root of my creativity; when I can engage with my work through that lens, I am more dynamic and innovative. 

But the most important part of being able to use they/them at work? Not having to hide anymore. Performing as a false self for most of the day is subtle, complicated, and exhausting beyond words. Coming out has allowed me to put all that energy back into my day. I’m more awake, more relaxed, and more here. 

I’m not alone—hear more stories from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum captured by StyleByU.

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