How companies are redefining gender at work

Just a few years ago, the clock on social justice for transgender Americans and transgender workers in particular was ticking along. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began tracking for the first time workplace complaints by transgender workers. Facebook had expanded its user profile options to 50 choices, including terms like bigender and pangender, recognizing that gender, for many, is not a simple this-or-that question.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Defense officially declared that transgender Americans could serve openly in the military, and could not be discharged “just for being transgender.”

What was changing, too, was our understanding of the number of Americans who identify as transgender. Estimated at 700,000 in 2013, by 2016 better data and perhaps braver self-reporting suggested a number much higher: 1.4 million, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA Law.

Many employers responded to awareness of transgender workers by developing new policies aimed at accommodations, in part because of complaints and lawsuits claiming discrimination. But even though awareness has increased, the reality today for many transgender workers is that the path to getting a job, keeping it, and achieving the same career success as their cisgender counterparts remains fraught with obstacles.

The question of gender in the workplace has only grown more complicated, in part because “gender in general has been in the air with the #MeToo movement,” says Nancy Rothbard, a Wharton management professor. “That really brought gender to the forefront of people’s conceptualization around what’s going on in the workplace—what influences how we experience work.”

Some of these issues are playing out now because the social and cultural norms related to how we can present ourselves in the workplace have evolved, says Stephanie Creary, a Wharton management professor and an identity and diversity scholar. “There wasn’t as much expectation for being authentic at work until around 10 years ago. And that has changed.”

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.