The logical idea for many people is that advocating for gender diversity is for the benefit of those who do not fall within the gender binary—that is, the classification of people into one of two genders, dictating acceptable behaviors and gender expression. Many are growing their awareness of gender diversity in order to respect and include those who do not fall into the traditional, predefined categories of man and woman. What often goes unnoticed and unrecognized is that binary categorization negatively impacts everyone.
Of course, we’d be remiss to not begin by acknowledging that gender binarism more adversely impacts those who do not fit within its categories—and often in critical ways. CDC data shows that 43% of transgender youth have been bullied on school property, and 29% of transgender youth, 21% of gay and lesbian youth, and 22% of bisexual youth have survived a suicide attempt. A survey of transgender individuals in the U.S. found that transgender adults were twice as likely to be unemployed as their cisgender (a person whose gender identity corresponds to their sex assigned at birth) counterparts, and 67% reported being fired or forced to resign, not being hired, or being denied a promotion.
Even in Finland, one of the world’s happiest countries with a high standard for education, research reveals that transgender and nonbinary identities were most strongly associated with involvement in bullying, suggesting that “bullying during adolescence may serve as a mechanism of maintaining heteronormativity.”
A large part of the harm that gender binary brings to those within the binary is that cisgender people are restricted to unspoken rules—a set of behaviors and policing based on their assigned sex at birth. In the workplace, this means limited access to opportunities, obstructed vulnerability, and meager, biased attempts at inclusion.
Women across the world have a long, tired history of facing discrimination in their careers, and still today have difficulty climbing the corporate ladder into leadership positions typically associated with men and masculinity. “Even as social norms around gender shift, there remains a tight prejudice toward female leaders based on the ‘incongruity’ between the stereotypes of women and the image of a leader,” says Tianna Barnes in The Gender Policy Report. “Prejudice against women as leaders thus remains the largest obstacle, resulting in the maintenance of the glass ceiling and motherhood penalties for women seeking leadership roles.” Women in Asia have distinct challenges in overcoming common cultural and systemic barriers to becoming leaders.
However, cisgender men are not spared. According to gender binarism, they, too, are expected to fit within a narrow expectation. Gender bias can disadvantage men who are less stereotypically masculine. An unconscious bias study shares that taller men have greater career success and higher incomes, and are more likely to attain managerial positions than shorter men. Similarly, the study presents an experiment in which identical applications from a man or woman contained an employment gap. It was assumed that the employment gap for women was related to childbearing and rearing, while the employment gap for men constituted “a gender role violation because men are stereotypically assumed to be the family’s breadwinner who needs to be continuously employed.”
Cisgender men are also taught to show less emotion and present themselves as self-assured and authoritative. The unconscious bias report mentioned previously shares evidence of male leaders “penalized for seeking help, presumably because this violated the male gender stereotype of being confident and independent.” This restricting stereotype obstructs the cultivation of psychological safety and inclusion that requires vulnerability.
Another factor at play is younger generations’ growing nonobservance of gender binarism, favoring gender fluidity instead. A 2019 report from The Pew Research Center found that roughly half of Gen Zers and Millennials think that society is not accepting enough of people who don’t identify as either a man or a woman. Members of these generations are much more familiar with gender-inclusive pronouns than their elders, with 74% of Gen Zers and 69% of Millennials reporting familiarity with them, and 35% of Gen Zers saying they personally know someone who uses them. Members of these younger generations will soon account for a majority of the global workforce, and as such, it’s important for us all to have a common understanding of gender fluidity.
Growing an awareness of gender diversity and advocating for equal treatment among genders in the workplace is paramount to successful business today and in the future.