Today marks the tenth anniversary of International Non-Binary Day, the focal point of a week of events and campaigns aimed at celebrating non-binary people and communities.
This notion of celebration is important. The day was established in 2012 with the specific intention of encouraging others to endorse and salute the concept and lived experience of non-binary people, and to make their own world more welcoming.
Yes, International Non-Binary Day has always been about using social cheerleading to improve and increase awareness, of course (because what would be the point of it otherwise?).
But it has also felt more inclusive and honorific, somehow – less inclined to that undercurrent of embattlement that dogs so many other awareness initiatives.
What is also important is that as a linked series of events International Non-Binary Week has assumed a cultural relevance that perhaps even its early organisers may not have quite foreseen a decade ago.
Because wherever you look right now, Gen Z is busy tearing up the rulebook on social politics as it sets about reshaping the world in its own image.
In a global community that is more connected than ever, accepted norms of gender definition have been rendered obsolete by teenagers liberated by the absolute certainty that they can be whoever they choose to be.
It’s an insistent clamour that the rest of us should ignore at our peril. However unfamiliar some may find this, non-binary thinking will become increasingly influential in shaping and informing social norms.
So, what does that mean for the workplace today and in the future?
Well, for a start it means business leaders and HR professionals need to get up to speed on what being non-binary means, and then develop Inclusion and Diversity (I&D) strategies that are fit for purpose.
The challenge businesses face is in avoiding the trap of stereotyping. Identifying as non-binary is about more than simply using an appropriate gender pronoun to refer to an assigned person who identifies differently.
Not surprisingly, the concept of non-binary is itself non-binary. There is no single right answer. As American author and LGBTQIA+ activist Jacob Tobia observed:
“We have to get visibility for non-binary folk, for assigned female folks who are non-binary… we have to have visibility for hairy transfeminine non-binary ladies like me, just as we need visibility for non-binary older folks, as well as younger folks.”
So, businesses need to double down on their learning around non-binary, trans, and intersex culture in order to make unconscious acceptance and understanding of those issues – and the external social challenges they present to non-binary and trans people – an inherent part of their workplace culture.
Ultimately, much of the progress businesses need to make is around creating an ally mindset as much as it is about changing attitudes and policies around recruitment, development, and retention.
Among other things, good allyship is about understanding how difficult someone may find it to explain their gender to someone who’s never heard the term ‘non-binary’ before. It’s about learning the lexicon of non-binary and trans issues.
And it’s also about ensuring the workplace is a safe space for everyone to be able to educate themselves and be educated. It is too easy, too predictable and, frankly, too dangerous for the likes of Boomers and Gen X to mistake the reality of gender politics in the here and now for the fleeting faddishness of youth.
Yet for an issue that has gathered so much momentum in a relatively short period of time, there is a surprising amount of work still to do in terms of entrenching non-binary gender identity into the statute books. So far, fewer than a dozen countries and only a handful of states in the US have created a legal right to identify as non-binary in official government documents.
In the UK, the Equality Act and Gender Recognition act have a long way to go to provide the protections and acknowledgement that Non-Binary people deserve.
It is only a matter of time. Gen Z, already enlightened and hyper-alert to matters of inclusion, and armed with the full might of the social media channels they control, will see to that in relatively short order.
Because the step from galvanising hundreds of thousands of suited and booted teens into cinemas for the new Minions movie to changing the global politics of gender identity is much smaller than you might imagine.
If you’re ready to take inclusion within your business to the next level, we’re here to help you do it. Please contact us – we’d love to work with you to make a difference where it really matters.