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Trans People in the Workplace: The Issue with Gender-Neutral Restrooms

A few weeks ago, I conducted a workshop on gender equity for a client on-site. This isn't just my job at IN-VISIBLE, but also a deeply personal topic for me as a non-binary person. What was particularly satisfying for me this time was that many of the participants were already familiar with the subject, so I didn't have to start from scratch. We quickly engaged in discussions about gender norms and reflected on our own biases. Unfortunately, having informed employees doesn't always translate to inclusive spaces. So, despite the excellent workshop, I wasn't surprised when, during the break, I asked about the restrooms and my contact person apologized multiple times for not having gender-neutral toilets and suggested I (as a non-binary person) choose one.

What makes a restroom gender-neutral?

However, I was surprised when I stood in front of the restroom doors and realized they were completely gender-neutral. One sign showed a toilet, and the other showed both a toilet and a urinal – they didn't indicate who could use the restrooms, only what facilities were available. So why was I told the restrooms weren't gender-neutral? In fact, labeling toilets based on their type rather than potential users is one of the easiest ways to quickly make public toilets inclusive! Yet, in my client’'s perception, they still weren't gender-neutral. Why? Because gender norms run deep: We can't associate a urinal with women, even though it's just an object and there are women who could use it.

Trans people in the workplace: Companies can create inclusive environments.

What can we learn from this anecdote for the workplace? Making workplaces gender-equal and inclusive for trans, non-binary, and intersex people doesn't have to be difficult. Inclusive restrooms don't require new construction – a few signs are enough. In a professional setting, the symbols described above always work well, but I've seen many variations: from a simple "All" and "All" or "Toilet 1" and "Toilet 2" to lists of various gender identities, to fantasy symbols or mythical creatures. Why not get creative? This also helps address the biases associated with objects that we link to a specific gender. A urinal is considered masculine by many, but who knows what gender a dragon has?

Dispelling cis employees' fears of trans people

Allowing everyone to use the toilets sometimes raises concerns and fears. However, gender-neutral toilets are not less safe for (cis) women than gender-segregated toilets. That doesn't mean it's immediately comfortable for all employees to encounter people of a (perceived) different gender in such an intimate space – we're just too accustomed to this separation. Feeling uncertain initially is entirely normal and acceptable. This is where companies need to step in to address this uncertainty.

What can this look like? Here are three tips on how to embed the establishment of gender-neutral toilets communicatively:

  • Send out an email explaining the new policy and addressing concerns through links to relevant studies.

  • Offer a lecture or workshop on transgender issues or gender equity, providing not only information but also a space for discussion and addressing personal concerns.

  • Place signs in the restrooms explaining why the company chose to implement gender-neutral toilets.

If spatially feasible, single-occupancy toilets can also be installed. According to available data, however, there is no evidence that gender-neutral toilets actually lead to harassment or assaults. Logically, it makes sense: Those intending to harass someone won't be deterred by a sign on the door – or they'll do it elsewhere too. Neutral toilets, on the other hand, provide security: No matter one's gender identity, nobody has to wonder if they look "female" or "male" enough to perform a necessary bodily function without strange looks or comments. Anyone who has experienced this situation knows the relief it brings – and to achieve that, all it takes is two sheets of paper and a little ink.

What can I do for trans people in the workplace?

Of course, toilets aren't the only place where you can make life a little easier for your transgender, intersex, and non-binary colleagues (and anyone who doesn't quite fit into the images of "woman" and "man"). For those interested in what it means to be an ally for trans people in the workplace, I'm offering a free lunch talk on April 4th at 12:30 CEST.

Speaking about the needs of trans people in the workplace as a trans person

As a non-binary trans consultant for gender in the workplace, I bring twenty years of experience to the table. This knowledge includes personal insights into being openly trans and over fifteen years in LGBTQ+ work. I look forward to sharing my perspective with you.

Banner für Event zu trans Menschen  am Arbeitsplatz
Banner für Event zu trans Menschen am Arbeitsplatz


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