The Job Search Experience: Perspective of a Nonbinary Professional

by | Nov 20, 2023

Equality and acceptance for nonbinary and transgender individuals is an important topic influencing ballots and boardrooms alike. In the United States, 1 in 20 young adults identify as nonbinary or transgender, according to a 2022 study conducted by Pew Research Center.

For companies committed to inclusivity, understanding various gender identities is mission-critical. Even so, the terminology, ideas, and identities of transgender and nonbinary individuals are still new for many; the word “nonbinary” didn’t appear in The New York Times until 2014.

a note on terminology:

Sex is a biological classification based on chromosomes and reproductive organs. For example, someone born XX is listed as Female at birth.

By contrast, gender is a social construct and refers to society’s expectations for the characteristics, behaviors, and norms of each sex. The norms for women, men, girls, and boys vary across cultures and can change over time. (For example, Hijras are officially recognized as a third gender throughout countries in the Indian subcontinent).

An individual’s sense of their gender is called Gender Identity. One’s sex (ie: Female) and gender identity (ie: nonbinary) aren’t always one and the same.

Transgender is an adjective used to describe someone whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth. A transgender man, for example, is someone who was listed as female at birth but whose gender identity is male. They may go by he/him pronouns.

Nonbinary is a term that can be used by people who do not describe themselves or their genders as fitting into the categories of man or woman. For example, someone who was listed female at birth but whose gender identity is neither male or female in a binary sense, is nonbinary. They may go by they/them pronouns.

Cisgender is an adjective that describes a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, someone who was listed male at birth and their gender identity is also male.

Language, meaning, and exposure to different human experiences can unite people and build a more inclusive workplace.

With that in mind, meet Cam. Cam is a sharp Product Manager who works at Lemon, a fintech startup simplifying financial management for small businesses.

At first glance, it’s hard to know if Cam identifies as male or female – that’s because Cam is both. Cam identifies as nonbinary and uses “they/them” pronouns.

The idea that gender is assigned and confined has always felt bogus to Cam.
Cam is nonbinary. Cam is also bi-lingual and a budding young professional at Lemon, where they lead new product development and serve as a member of Lemon’s ERG. Like all of us, Cam is many things at once. 

At work, Cam is a change agent. Cam and Lemon’s ERG team created 5 initiatives to improve gender inclusivity for their hiring processes and beyond. 

  1. Making Hiring Processes Gender Agnostic
  2. Encouraging Self-Expression and Open-Mindedness
  3. Expanding Inclusivity Beyond a Business Function
  4. Increasing Equality in Parental Leave
  5. Establishing Inclusivity Benchmarks

1. Making Hiring Processes Gender Agnostic

Pronouns are how we define ourselves, aside from our name. Using she/her and he/him pronouns in job descriptions can discourage a diverse range of candidates from applying. Further, as points out, nonbinary candidates struggle to hear back from employers as compared to their equally qualified, cis-gendered peers

Lemon was already using they/them instead to make job ads gender agnostic — but they needed to go a step further.

Anonymizing applications as much as possible can aid in more equitable talent selection. Lemon thus began to utilize an underused feature in their Applicant Tracking System, allowing full names and pronouns to be hidden during the applicant review process.

2. Encouraging Self-Expression and Open-Mindedness

Nonbinary people face many stereotypes that can act as obstacles in the workplace. For instance, there’s a common misconception that nonbinary is synonymous with androgyny. In reality, one can identify as nonbinary and still exhibit masculine or feminine traits

Encouraging self-expression and open-mindedness in the workplace helps put nonbinary people like Cam at ease. This might look like making pronoun usage commonplace in signatures or Slack names, or publicly celebrating LGBTQIA+ awareness moments, like International Nonbinary People’s Day.

Perhaps the most important ingredients in building an inclusive workplace is always assuming positive intent and a zero tolerance policy for bigotry. This reduces tension, increases curiosity to understand one another, and will help motivate your team to seek out opportunities to improve their understanding.

3. Expanding Inclusivity Beyond a Business Function

Too often, leadership pushes inclusivity onto a DEI team but, as Cam discovered, that team doesn’t always have the ability to fully evangelize their well-structured goals. It’s estimated that organizations require at least 75% of leadership to buy-in, in order to enable sustainable shifts. Commitment from the executive bench is essential to scaling DEI changes across an organization at all levels.

While the creation and implementation of inclusivity is partially a business function, to see transformational results, it must be championed by leadership, deeply rooted in your company’s culture, and show up everywhere, especially in your hiring practices. Each person at a company has an important role in building an inclusive workplace. 

4. Increasing Equality in Parental Leave

Companies that offer parental leave benefits are already a step ahead of the rest, but having separate maternal and paternal benefits, or focusing solely on maternal benefits, excludes alternative family structures. An inclusive parental leave program is equal for parents of all identities, regardless of how they welcome a new child, whether via birth, adoption, IVF, or other. 

Cam learned that 70% of employers in the US & UK who have established inclusive leave policies for parents, credit these policies in helping to attract and retain diverse, top-performing employees

While Cam knows Lemon’s parental leave policies won’t evolve immediately, their research and diligence in establishing the business case for inclusive parental leave has enabled the company to be fully informed as they begin to implement changes in their policies. 

5. Establishing Inclusivity Benchmarks

There is a gap in knowledge between what is researched regarding gender in STEM fields, and what is really going on, as much in-depth reporting on these populations is still in its infancy. For nonbinary individuals specifically, demographic information on this population in tech is scarce. 

However, we do know the percentage of adults who generally identify as LGBTQ+ in the United States make up 11% of all technology professionals, even though they represent only 7.1% of the overall population. To encourage the continued growth of these populations in tech, companies must be ready to support the experience of all identities within the LGBTQ+ umbrella, rather than approach them as a cluster.

Cam and Lemon’s DEI team agree that setting clear achievement markers in regards to inclusivity will enable structured support to relatively invisible populations. These benchmarks are scalable, with use cases across all demographics.

Ensuring Equity in Hiring Practices

Building an inclusive workplace won’t happen overnight. Even with the best intentions, it takes the right mix of people, processes, and perspectives to achieve and uphold a culture that is welcoming and supportive of a diverse range of talent. With the right resources and forward-thinking leadership, you can start taking strides to achieve that vision. 
If your company is seeking to revamp its practices to ensure more innovation, more inclusivity, and more impact, Digital Knack can help. Reach out to our team today to get assistance designing a better hiring experience.


Written by Sara Ledbetter