Gender classification in the workplace is not an easy situation and there are no convenient ways to address questions or concerns. According to Nicol Myburgh, Head: HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies, the only relevant aspects should centre on how an employee identifies themself and whether they can do their job.
“Most South African businesses want to act in good faith. However, because it is an area in which they might not have an understanding, it becomes easy to make simple (and offensive) mistakes. The best intentions are often foiled by a lack of knowledge. Unfortunately, the reality is that many individuals experience negative treatment and transphobia related to their gender identity,” he says.
For an organisation to effectively support these employees, it is critical to have a plan in place with which both parties agree. Certainly, human resources teams must ensure the broader company policies reflect this more dynamic environment, but it is on an individual level where the most benefit can be had and give the company an understanding of what the person is going through.
Planning for change
As part of this, there are several examples of best practice to consider. These include considering flexibility in terms of requirement for titles and genders on application forms in the recruitment process, providing quality diversity and inclusion training to staff at all levels, providing access to an employee assistance programme, and having equal opportunities and specific gender identity policies in place.
“Regardless of these measures, companies must manage data carefully and make a plan with the employee as to how their information will be updated. It is imperative to avoid non-consensual disclosure and only retain previous identity documents that are required, for example, for pension purposes. The company must also provide reassurance about records and that disclosure of the person’s history will only be controlled by that individual,” Myburgh says.
Other considerations should be installing gender-neutral toilet facilities, offering gender-neutral uniforms, and reviewing anti-bullying and equal opportunities policies frequently to ensure they are aligned to current requirements.
“Companies must pay more attention to how they approach gender classification. It could be something as straightforward as changing traditional company greetings from ‘ladies and gentlemen’ to ‘welcome all’, or it could be as fundamental as addressing issues of discrimination and bullying from senior management.”
One of the best ways to address most concerns is to have open channels of communication available. Employees must feel safe and comfortable in sharing issues of gender with their direct managers and human resources departments. And for those employees who may be resistant to accommodating transgender colleagues, it is essential for management to help guide them with resources and education.
“Simply put, an employee’s gender is not relevant to their job performance. Decision-makers therefore need to examine issues on a case-by-case basis, understanding that there is no singular approach that can be readily applied to everybody,” Myburgh concludes.
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