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Some of the challenges that transgender and non-binary staff can face are due to the workplace culture of ‘heteronormativity’, which can impact inclusivity

The University of East Anglia (UEA) finds transgender and non-binary staff can face a lack of inclusivity at work, including subjection to discrimination, harassment, and violence.

Despite gender identity being a protected characteristic in many contexts, for instance, through the provision of non-gendered changing and bathroom spaces, many LGBTQ+ individuals can struggle in work with pronouns they identify as due to ‘heteronormativity’.

According to Eige Europa, heteronormativity is what makes heterosexuality seem coherent, natural and privileged. It involves the assumption that everyone is ‘naturally’ heterosexual and that heterosexuality is an ideal superior to homosexuality or bisexuality.

Heteronormativity reinforces gender binarism

This study helps to demonstrate how LGBTQ+ experiences can help us to see ways in which the working context might be changed to create a more inclusive environment, receptive to more diverse gender identities.

Looking at individual experiences and workplace culture, processes and working relationships, researchers produced findings on moments where diverse gender identities can be accepted or denied.

Some of these experiences can be very damaging for trans workers – but tell the story of employees being trans at work.

After meeting with 11 Italian trans workers to hear their stories, the researchers then analysed these to understand how their experiences challenged binary gender norms and how they could inform the transformation of workplaces, so they become more inclusive.

Co-author associate professor Angelo Benozzo, from the University of Valle d’Aosta, said: “Our encounters convey some of the stigmas and harms that trans workers can experience; however , we also heard about positive experiences.”

What are some ways we can make workplaces more inclusive?

Some ideas developed included providing awareness training for staff that embeds an understanding of gender identity as fluid and constructed.

The study is based on an understanding of gender that sees gender identity as something which is performative and potentially fluid rather than fixed and given.

Where cultural expectations of what constitutes ‘acceptable’ gender identities shape how people ‘do’ gender, for example, through the way they dress.

Angelo Benozzo added: “Departing from expected gender norms exposes individuals to vulnerabilities, although it may also prompt reflection on the nature of gender, thereby encouraging acceptance in the workplace and reducing vulnerability for others.”

Lead author Dr David Watson, associate professor in organisational behaviour at UEA’s Norwich Business School, said: “Our findings are important because trans and non-binary people do not have a strong voice in all workplaces, and where they are not inclusive or welcoming this can lead to significant harms.”

Rather we need to challenge binary gender norms in the workplace

Heteronormativity comes into play in this study, as the heterosexual model of gender is considered the default gender identity, and therefore pushes the concept of heteronormativity, which reinforces gender binarism – the idea that society only has two genders, male and female.

In this case, and in many workplaces, it is accepted that heterosexuality is expected, and other gender identities are regarded as less intelligible or even acceptable.

Dr Watson added: “The desirability of subverting gender norms depends on what those gender norms are, how they constrain or harm individuals and the potential consequences for those who challenge them.

“Therefore, our research does not point to the need for trans workers themselves to subvert gender norms, but rather we need to challenge binary gender norms in the workplace to enable all individuals to freely express their gender identity.”


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