When I was a child, I was taught that I lived in a man’s world, and that as a woman I would have to do more than men to succeed. My father in particular repeated this teaching. He wasn’t saying that it was the way the world should be, he was arming my sister and I for the reality we would eventually discover when we started work.
Our parents also taught us that we could pursue any career we wanted. From a young age, I liked being in charge, so I decided to become a military officer. There’s more to it than that, but that’s a story for another time and place.
When I eventually met someone, I wanted to spend my life with and we married, I never doubted I could be a mom and an officer at the same time. I was promoted from Major to Lieutenant Colonel, in 8 years, which in those days was about the average time for a Logistics officer. All three of our children were born while I was a Major. The week I became a veteran, our youngest child started grade 1.
The world was a less inclusive place when I started my military career. About a year after I was commissioned, a friend from my military college days and I were talking on the phone. Like many young people we talked about our social lives. They told me that they had met someone new. I asked about the person (assuming that they were a different gender than my friend). My friend told me that they were dating someone of the same gender. My response was to ask my friend if the person made them happy. As long as they were treating my friend well, I didn’t care what gender they were.
Since those days I’ve read that more than 82 genders have been identified. Recently while preparing to deliver an Inclusion session on gender, I went looking for the research. It’s all very well and good to say there are 82 (or more) genders, however I wanted to be able to back that up by science. I found that the World Health Organization (WHO) has a Genomic resource centre which details many combinations of the X and Y chromosomes, resulting in a variety of genders including: 45X, 45Y, 46XX, 46XY, 47XXX, 47XYY, 47XXY, and more.
I also discovered that there are many cultures around the world that accept and have understood that there are more than two genders for millennia. For example, I knew that some of the Indigenous cultures in North America understand that there are 5 genders: female, male, Two Spirit female, Two Spirit male and transgendered. If you’d like to learn more, this article in Indian Country gives an overview.
You can start making your organization a more inclusive place today, by consciously choosing to say and write “all genders” and “hello folks” instead of “both genders” and “ladies and gentlemen.” You can also add pronouns to your signature block and social media profiles. This signals that you are likely to be an ally and a safe person to talk to.
Trust me, even if you’re a cisgender heterosexual person, like me, it’s OK to include your pronouns after your name! I started early in 2020, and so far, I’ve only had two comments. A client asked me “why I made the change?” which led to a short and hopefully educational conversation on gender. A transgender colleague that I’ve known for more than 30 years thanked me.
Are you interested in learning more about gender inclusion? Register for the 2021 Human Resources Professional Association (HRPA) Annual Conference and sign up for my session called “The Workplace Business Case for Gender Equality.” It will be broadcast at 11 am on Wednesday January 27, 2021. I’ll be there live to answer your questions!