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By now, most employers are aware of the updates to the Human Rights Act that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression. (If you’re not familiar with the changes, here’s what you need to know.)

In wake of those changes, many organizations now have it on their agendas to create more gender-inclusive workplace policies. But these types of changes sometimes don’t make it to the top of the to-do list, and chances are good most of us could be doing more to encourage gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Building great places to work means creating environments that are comfortable and welcoming to all.

You may have heard in the news about Service Canada’s recent updates, which include revising employee policies and forms with the aim of encouraging gender inclusion. Service Canada employees will also be trained on using gender neutral and gender inclusive language in their interactions with members of the public. In our books, creating more inclusive workplaces is an important step forwards!

Building great places to work means creating environments that are comfortable and welcoming to all, and gender inclusivity is an important way to encourage diversity as an organization. Following Service Canada’s lead, how can you incorporate more gender inclusive practices in your organization?

  1. Review your documentation. Employee forms and handbooks often contain gender-specific pronouns (his/her, he/she, etc.) and language. One simple solution is to do a quick find/replace for gendered pronouns. A few ideas for what to use instead?
  • Use “you” and “yours” for a more casual tone.
  • If your workplace is more formal, use titles such as “manager”, “employee”, or “client” in place of pronouns.
  • Make the noun plural and use the more conversational-sounding “they” and “their”

(Pro Tip: Ignore pushback from grammar sticklers and remind them that language is always evolving).

  • Drop the pronoun completely.
  1. Invest in training. To really walk the talk and work to change the patterns that perpetuate gender biases, invest in training that addresses gender-based bias and includes practical tips like:
  • Avoiding assumptions about gender by asking individuals how they like to be addressed, and using neutral terms like “parent” instead of “mother/father”.
  • Avoiding courtesy titles and gendered prefixes and using people’s names instead.
  • Avoiding using gender as a descriptor.
  • Avoiding stereotypical language like “ladylike”, “manly”, and generalizations based on gender.
  1. Build your culture. While broader society (and the law!) continues to shift towards greater acceptance and celebration of gender diversity, company culture can be slow to change. Especially in workplaces where biases and entrenched ways of thinking about and categorizing gender are deeply engrained, inclusivity won’t just happen because you roll out a policy on it and assign a gender-neutral bathroom (though it’s a good start!). It takes an intentional and consistent approach to develop a culture that truly embraces diversity.
  • Hire for diversity.
  • Take your cues from employees – Don’t just guess and hope you’re hitting the mark! Ask employees for input on policies and practices that may affect them.
  • Continue the dialogue. Communication and consistency is key. Share educational articles on gender diversity in all-staff emails or invite a subject matter expert in for a lunch and learn to start the gender inclusion conversation!

Your Engaged HR Assignment: Start with a small (but tangible!) step towards inclusivity this week, and make a commitment to spend twenty minutes reviewing your employee handbook for gendered language and replacing gender-specific or stereotypical language (Hint: don’t forget to look at your dress code while you’re at it).

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