Gender identity can be a sensitive subject but the need for awareness is ever growing. In Australia, sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status are all protected under The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SDA). It is unlawful to treat any person differently because of these reasons. Being aware and considerate of someone’s identity is not silencing your opinion or forcing ideas onto you, it is a way to protect your business and employees.
The term “gender identity” refers to when a person self-identifies as a different gender to their biological sex. Many people limit this to being transgender – identifying as the opposite sex to what you were born – but it also applies to those who identify as non-binary, someone who doesn’t feel they have any gender. You also need to be aware of the term “transitioning”, this refers to when a transgender person is undergoing physical changes to align themselves with the gender they identify with. This may be permanent alteration like surgery or material changes like clothes or hair.
Direct and Indirect Discrimination
Along with obvious prejudice and intentional mistreatment, you can also indirectly discriminate against a person. Provisions put in place in a contract or workplace rules can unintentionally disadvantage people who identify differently. The SDA cites the example “a company policy that offers benefits to an employee’s husband or wife, such as discounted travel or gym membership, may disadvantage employees with a same-sex partner because of their sexual orientation and/or relationship status”.
What to do
It is important to be mindful that there are people out there who struggle with gender identity. Not everyone is open about how they identify or is comfortable talking about it in the workplace. It is considerate to avoid using pronouns such as he/she or enforcing gender stereotypes that may be insulting or derogatory. Apply the same consideration you would to general rights of workers and provide an inclusive environment.