In August, the honorific Mx was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. It is used by men and women who do not wish their title to convey their gender and is similar to Ms, which is used by women who find it unnecessary for their title to indicate marital status. The term’s inclusion is the latest example of an increasing awareness of gender identity. Some banks and city councils have added Mx as an option on forms and the Swedish language recently added the gender-neutral “hen”. Meanwhile, Facebook offers 71 sexual orientation and gender markers and allows users to add their own.
So what is in a name and why should it matter? To many trans people (a wide range of individuals who do not see themselves in traditional gender terms) the use of correct names and pronouns is very important as this gesture signifies respect and understanding. We are quite comfortable respecting academics with titles such as Professor and Dr, aristocrats with Lord or Viscount, and those knighted by the Queen, and their wives, as Sir and Lady. We do this — in some cases, whether we agree or not — because the individual sees such honorifics as a fundamental part of who they are.
The LGBT community has so many labels that it is unsurprising some people find the subject of gender identity confusing, or even infuriating. There are some basic concepts to keep straight: sexuality is simply who a person is attracted to. Most people are either straight, gay or bisexual, although there are many others who define themselves differently. Gender identity and gender expression, meanwhile, are distinctly separate constructs.
The former refers to how someone feels internally and affects whether they are comfortable in the body with which they were born. Some people make the transition to another gender.
Gender expression, however, is an external presentation of gender. An individual may choose to present as male, female or androgynous for various stints of time. But generally, these people have no desire to change sex.
I, for example, consider myself as gender fluid or gender variant. I like to be Phil one day and Pippa another, using different forms of dress and make-up to do so. I do it at home and at work. I am straight, have been married for more than 20 years and have two children.
I understand that for some people it may be hard to accept. They argue that at almost every place of work we have to conform in one way or another. Indeed, gender expression still operates within some boundaries, such as dress code.
But there is a real value in allowing employees to bring their authentic selves to work, whether they be gender variant, gay, women, Sikh or simply eccentric. Companies are beginning to understand such openness increases employee engagement, discretionary effort and productivity while developing an inclusive culture within the workplace that benefits retention and recruitment.
Though the trans community is small, the way we are treated is a barometer of workplace inclusivity and diversity, which is important to staff, potential employees and customers of all walks of life.
The growth in the number and strength of corporate LGBT Ally programmes shows the tide is turning from diversity simply being tolerated to now being embraced and celebrated.
Of course, there is still some way to go. Two in five of people who want to change gender feel unable to do so in their work environment and, as a result, work under high stress and are far less likely to achieve their full potential, says Trans*formation, a financial services networking group for trans professionals.
Hiding your true self is unsustainable: almost three-quarters of closeted LGBT employees are more likely to leave their job within three years compared with those who are out at work. Such turnover creates significant costs for organisations. It is smart to allow people to be authentic. As Oscar Wilde said: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
Mx Pippa/Phil Bunce is global head of FID IT engineering at Credit Suisse
Podcast: Do leaders have an obligation to be out?
Jan Gooding, group brand director at Aviva, the insurer, and Ivan Massow, an entrepreneur, discuss why they believe LGBT people in executive leadership positions have an obligation to be out. This is a selection of excerpts from the podcast. For the full recording go to: ft.com/podcast.
JG: At the core of leadership is this idea of authenticity, that you can’t lead others if you are not prepared to be honest about yourself. Your sexuality is part of who you are
IM: I have dealt with people from all kinds of backgrounds . . . often they don’t want it [diverse sexual orientation] for their own family, but they are very understanding when it comes to other people.
IM: When I was younger and I used to hear lads talking about the City culture, and not being able to come out as traders; being on the trading floor and how robustly heterosexual it was and how they were all frightened that they simply wouldn’t get the deals or the trades. Now they are using their sexuality to their advantage. They are finding that the authenticity that comes with fessing up is read as honesty, as something that brings them almost to the front of the queue
JG: We know that there are people who are not out at work, a significant number and that is very troubling. I worry about it. Why is that the case? What would stop someone from being out?
I know that for some they feel that they are from a generation where, frankly, it was illegal. And until 2003 and the Equality Act you could lose your job for being gay and you had no recourse in law.
IM: When you do speak to people like Lord Browne, they consider the periods they lied as missing years, almost as if their life was not lived. That is the biggest travesty.
JG: The difficulty with coming out is you’ve been dishonest. It’s quite difficult to say to colleagues: “I did not trust you with this information.” It’s marginally offensive.
IM: It is a beautiful, wonderful, brave new world in my metropolitan London existence and I would love that to spread not only throughout Britain, but the rest of the world.
JG: My hope is that in a generation we can declare victory at least in this country. But in most of the Commonwealth countries it is still illegal even to be gay.
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