Today, addressing new perceptions and realities around gender isn’t simply about creating inclusive policies, changing internal information systems, or including pronouns in email signatures. It’s about understanding how gender is approached across the entire company — from market research and customer experience to the products you sell.
Organizations that respond to this change may start to recognize the much bigger business opportunity in front of them: as we wrote in the Harvard Business Review, a chance to create products and experiences for a growing body of consumers and employees that no longer buy into traditional conceptions of gender and the stereotypical, binary classifications attached to it.
But before we explore how gender bias is impacting your organization and counsel, we must first understand how gender identity and gender norms are evolving today.
Millennials and Gen-Z are Challenging Notions of Gender Identity and Gender Norms
Millennials and Gen-Z are some of the largest challengers to traditional understandings of gender identity and gender norms. Examples include:
- 56% of Gen-Z know someone who uses a gender neutral pronoun, and shop outside their gender (J. Walter Thompson)
- 12% of Millennials identify as transgender or gender non-conforming (Harris Poll)
- 23% of Gen-Z expect to change their gender identity at least once during their lifetime (Irregular Labs)
- 88% of Gen Z workers feel a recruiter or potential employer should solicit their gender pronouns, with 65% reporting feeling strongly that such questions should be part of the recruitment process, however, only 18% report being asked about their gender pronouns by a recruiter (Tallo)
What these trends ultimately reflect is younger generations pushing back against gender norms, expectations, and binary ways of thinking that no longer suit how they identify nor how they express themselves. Despite this shift in behavior and perception, the gender binary still plays a heavy role in influencing businesses from the ways they market to audiences to what they sell to how they recruit job applicants. A narrow understanding of gender is likely influencing your organization and counsel without you even knowing it.
How is the Gender Binary Impacting Your Organization and Counsel?
While there are a number of ways the gender binary influences and manifests in your organization and counsel, the areas below are common in many organizations so a good place for begin:
- Using sex terms vs. gender terms – Organizations large and small continue to interchange sex and gender identifying terms incorrectly — in many cases, we see companies use “female” (a sex identifying term) when they mean to use “woman” (a gender identifying term), for example. Consider where your organization may be using sex terms incorrectly in blog posts, job postings, healthcare intake forms, op-eds and more. Explore this further on the Reimagine Gender website.
- Product development – Many products are needlessly gendered and often isolate other potential audiences who may not relate to or subscribe to the gender expectations associated with the target audience being marketed to. Also consider how you may be associating different versions of a product or services with a specific gender, and what assumptions you are making about your target demographic based on their gender.
- Marketing – Many marketing campaigns adhere to gender norms and expectations due to a common (although harmful) binary understanding of gender and how people perform gender based on their sex assigned at birth. Question how gender expectations are being represented in any marketing material, if the content challenges or perpetuates gender stereotypes, and the gender diversity of those represented within the content.
- Recruitment – As shared earlier, many organizations still use sex terms instead of gender terms in application forms, which can be incredibly disheartening for gender diverse people. Work with your HR department to understand where sex terms are being used to help existing and potential employees self-identify, review job listings for gendered language, and develop methods to safely disclose pronouns throughout the recruitment process.
Gender Diversity is Required to Challenge Gender Norms and Expectations
How do we continue to challenge gender norms and expectations in our workplaces and counsel? One answer is clear, but often difficult for many workplaces to enact: true gender diversity among employees. This must go beyond having strong representation of cisgender women in the workplace and in positions of influence compared to cisgender men, but also include transgender, nonbinary, and other gender-diverse people. Having an employee base with gender diversity can help us understand where gender bias and norms exist in our work, who is in the room helping to make decisions, and whose voice is still needed. It is through the consistent challenge of gendered language and norms that we can create the most culturally competent — and innovative — counsel and workplaces.