What’s it like being non-binary in the workplace?

Christon Mallett

For non-binary people, the messages we receive around sexuality and gender can be at odds with how we feel, resulting in a weaker sense of belonging within society.

But feeling accepted and valued for my non-binary identity at work has had a ripple effect on my confidence.

It may not sound impactful at first, but the ability to wear what I want every day without feeling judged or excluded is remarkably affirming. It has given me the confidence to insist on the same acceptance in other areas of my life.

When I left university, I questioned whether my visibly queer identity would make me unpalatable for esteemed organisations. I considered going into stealth mode, keeping part of my identity invisible in order to build a career. Would colleagues judge my intelligence or strategic capabilities if I were to express myself authentically? Should I over-feminise myself for job interviews? Would I be confronted for my uniqueness?

Not many people look like me, think like me, or have the same experiences as me, so sometimes I feel a bit alien – especially with the way I dress androgynously. In previous jobs I felt pressurised to feminise myself in order to make other people feel comfortable.

When you try to suit others, you’re adopting a persona that isn’t authentically ‘you’. That isn’t just a problem for you as an individual – it’s a problem for your employer as well, because workplace wellbeing strongly influences an employee’s productivity. Stonewall found that employees are at least 32% more productive when they’re able to be out at work, partly because the emotional labour it takes to self-police and ‘edit’ is wasted energy.

So much changed when I joined Amazon – even during the induction, the sense of self-expression around the table was inspiring. I can wear whatever I want and be myself, in fact I was proud to see a guy wearing bright pink hot pants on my first day in the office!

I try to represent my true self as authentically as possible, and I’m pleased when that reflects positively on others and changes their attitudes, however they choose to self-identify. I don’t feel like I’m representing the entirety of my LGBT+ community because I’m not sure I fit into any one category – that feels great because I feel I can serve other people through my own self-expression.

Through my work as co-chair of glamazon, our employee affinity group for LGBT+ employees, I’ve come to realise that the best change begins at a grassroots level and that every person can make a difference.

One small but meaningful example: at Amazon I worked closely with the senior leadership in the business to update our internal phone directory of over half a million global employees, allowing employees to indicate their preferred pronoun to people across the company. It has been so encouraging to see junior and senior colleagues take up this option.

I also have the freedom to include my preference for gender-neutral language in my email signature, visible to both colleagues and external partners in industry. When somebody goes to the effort to learn and use my preferred pronouns, they’re telling me: ‘I respect and recognise who you identify as’.

By striving within your own workplace to change perceptions and behaviours, you can instigate real change across society.

For others who are working in a modern office as non-binary, I would recommend connecting with like-minded colleagues to get a sense of how other people experience the same workplace. This means you can pre-emptively develop support circles for other people going through the process of coming out.

It’s also important to keep up with what key organisations are doing around LGBT+ inclusivity, what the law requires and what best practice looks like. Being informed on your rights helps to arm you with practical details should you be faced with any difficulties when sharing your experience.

Despite the progress we’ve made, awareness is only the beginning of developing a culture of acceptance, it’s not the end goal. We need change locally and globally to protect our community from harm, which is why it’s so vital to be loud and proud when supporting employees, colleagues and customers. The more you do it, the more your confidence builds.

As the positive reactions and support starts to trickle in, it becomes increasingly easier. I believe we should expect and demand the same level of understanding and freedom from all other institutions in our day-to-day lives.

Christon Mallett is a Marketing Manager at Amazon

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