What are Gender Expression Policies, and Do You Need One?

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Photo Credits - Amy Elting via Unsplash

Although many organisations are championing their DEI programmes designed to support employees, few of them have put in place gender expression policies. Gender expression is a protected characteristic under Equality Act 2010, and thus discrimination based on it is illegal. Having a specific policy to support gender expression, can go a long way for employees who are transgender or non-binary and help them feel more comfortable and secure at work.

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Gender Expression Policies

As defined by Very Well Mind, gender expression is the way that an individual presents their gender to the world. It can refer to how they dress but can also mean other elements of their behaviour and appearance – including pronouns, body features, hairstyles, voice and mannerisms.

This aligns with Stonewall’s definition of gender identity which has been described as an individual’s inherent sense of their gender – which may be different from the sex assigned at birth.

As mentioned before, gender expression is protected by law. Gender expression policies are used to further an organisation’s stance on supporting gender expression in the workplace to create a safe and comfortable environment.

Other than Equality Act 2010, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 has also set out minimum requirements to protect and recognise trans individuals. Within this act, it has been laid out that employers or prospective employers may not disclose “protected information” to anyone with a Gender Recognition Certificate. Having the certificate allows the affirmed gender to be legally recognised in the UK.

Universities are among the institutions that have implemented gender expression policies, such as the St George’s University of London and the University of Southampton. The policies that have been laid out concerning gender identity and expression are implemented to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for both employees and students.

The Need for Gender Expression Policies

Although gender expression is legally protected, reports have shown that discrimination and conflict in the workplace are still happening in the UK.

Stonewall has conducted a report on the experiences of over 800 trans and non-binary individuals. Within the report, it was found that 12% of respondents have been physically attacked by a colleague or customer. Further, 51% of trans individuals in this report admit that they have hidden their gender identity at work due to the fear of being discriminated against.

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More recently, CIPD has also reported LGBT+ perspectives on workplace inclusion. Through this report, they have found that LGBT+ employees are more likely to experience harassment and conflict at work compared to their heterosexual, cisgender colleagues. This research found that only 29% of heterosexual, cisgender employees experience such conflict – compared to 55% of trans employees and 40% of LGB employees.

These findings suggest that there is more that needs to be done by employers to support and protect gender expression in their workplace than simply relying on current legislation. Having internal gender expression policies will help establish grounds to eliminate discrimination and harassment, as well as further progress of DEI initiatives. Employers should meet the requirements to avoid workplace discrimination but is also recommended to implement further support to retain and attract diverse talent.

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