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Does Your Organization Have a Blind Spot When It Comes to Gender Expression?

During a time when almost one million Americans identify as non-binary, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your organization is being thoughtful and intentional when it comes to supporting and promoting gender expression. In this post, you’ll learn about what gender expression is, how PayScale leaned into gender expression, as well as steps your organization can take to do the same.

Gender Expression Definitions

Before you can begin to think about how to support gender expression in your organization, you need to have a clear understanding that gender comes in multiple dimensions and is not limited to simply checking a box that says ‘male or female’. According to the Gender Spectrum organization, the primary dimensions of gender include:

Gender and Body

Body is the physical feeling of experiencing your own body, or how society identifies you and interacts with you based on the appearance of your body. This dimension of gender expression is primarily focused on physical perception but goes beyond one’s reproductive functions. In this context, our bodies themselves are gendered in the context of cultural expectations. Masculinity and femininity are associated with certain physical features which label us as more or less a man or women based on the degree to which those attributes are present.

Gender Identity

Gender identity is the dimension of gender that involves our internal, deeply-held sense of gender — whether that means identifying as male, female, a blend of both, or neither. This dimension is who you know yourself to be on the inside. Gender Spectrum explains that a cisgender person has a gender identity consistent with the sex they were assigned at birth, whereas a person who identifies as transgender has a gender identity that does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

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Gender Expression

Gender expression is how we present our gender in the world. It’s also how society, culture, community and family perceive, interact, and try to shape our gender. This dimension of gender is mostly associated with how society uses gender roles to enforce current gender norms. Another way to think of this dimension is that this is the way we present our gender to the world around us, whether that be through clothes, hairstyles, mannerisms and more.

Why You Should Care About Gender Expression

Making an effort to become educated on what gender expression is can be a great first step in the right direction for organizations looking to create a more open and supporting work culture. But before making any sweeping changes or implementations, organizations should first ask themselves why gender expression is important to them and to the business. Every organization has their own unique reasons for honoring gender expression, however these are some of the most common and obvious reasons.

1. Your Workforce Won’t Stop Changing.

While there is still no federal law protecting the rights of employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the United States, the world around us has still changed quite a bit in the last decade. For example, it is now legal for same sex couples to be married in the United States. Additionally, some states now provide three options when it comes to gender identity (M, F or X). As the society we live in becomes more accepting and open to gender expression, organizations should be doing the same. Employees may also have the expectation that the places they work will be similarly accepting and supportive of gender expression.

However, being accepting and open is just one side of the coin. On the other side, organizations should be intentional when creating an environment of openness. This means not only supporting those who want to express their gender at work, but also having a zero tolerance policy for bullying or harassment. During a time when many transgender employees experience harassment or mistreatment on the job, it has never been more important to get gender expression in the workplace right.

2. Diversity Is a Recruiting Strength.

In recent years, many organizations have been prioritizing the building of diverse teams. Even HBR noted that diversity and inclusion will no longer be “nice-to-have”. Instead, diversity is becoming a required leadership skill set. “Pretty much universally, this topic seems to be critical for most organizations, especially around gender balance,” said Brendan Browne, LinkedIn’s vice president of talent acquisition. The biggest benefit? Having a workforce inclusion program for LGBTQ individuals makes it easier to expand your talent pool by recruiting individuals from a demographic that is largely ignored in terms of being a talent-rich demographic. Essentially, organizations without diversity or inclusion programs are missing out on a low-hanging competitive advantage for recruiting efforts.

3. Supportive Work Cultures Create Satisfied Employees.

When organizations create a space that fosters and promotes diversity and openness, employees become more satisfied with their role and the organization they work for. That is because employees in 2018 want to work at organizations where they can bring their entire authentic self to work. The world we live in now,  which is tethered to the Internet of Things and the transparency of social media, has created employees who are more accustomed than ever to sharing concerns and ideas going on within their personal lives. This is especially true as millennials and generation Z start to dominate the workforce. An HBR article from 2018 explains that “the freedom of the outside world is banging at the corporate door, demanding to come inside. Yet most leaders are still afraid to open it, because they continue to view freedom and frameworks as antagonists in an intense tug-of-war.”

4. Open Expression Is Better for Business.

If creating a work culture where people feel safe and welcome isn’t a large enough case to make a change, heed the fact that promoting a culture of open gender expression is actually better for your organization’s bottom line. There are a few different ways this happens. In 2018, nearly nearly 62 percent of LGBTQ employees overheard lesbian and gay jokes at work while 43 percent heard bisexual jokes and 40 percent heard transgender jokes, according to a study by Catalyst.

In the absence of support and education for LGBTQ groups, organizations are more likely to find themselves in costly legal situations. With an expression program in place, organizations can have an instant effect on individual employees and managers which can help reduce LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace. Additionally, when organizations create a positive environment for LGBTQ workers, stress and anxiety levels can be reduced which leads to less health issues and less work-related complaints. It has been estimated that the United States could save nine billion dollars annually if organizations were more effective at making diversity programs and policies a reality, according to a study by Out Now Consulting.

Discover Your Blind Spots


Photo by Joshua Fuller on Unsplash

The main vehicle for how we at PayScale communicate with our users, a salary survey, had been built with some unintended biases. For example, when we asked users to tell us their gender, we only provided two options, male or female. We also asked users to identify their race and ethnicity but only allowed them to check one box. Not only that, but we had no logic behind  the order in which the different ethnicity and race options were listed. We accepted that we had some blind spots and needed to fix them.

We Built a Business Case for Stakeholders.

PayScale’s diversity and inclusion task force was informed of the issue. They needed to create a business case  in order to get all stakeholders to revisit the survey structure and language. Initial push back was expected as previous changes to similar questions in our survey had shown negative business results. With extra advocates from our internal diversity and inclusion task force, permission was granted to revisit the questions with the caveat that our survey answer rates did not decrease.

Our business case hypothesized that if PayScale provided more options in the survey around things like race and gender to users, we would see a higher response rate because users would experience more inclusion. The three primary business reasons we gave for revising the survey included:

1. Data Accuracy

Unless we were able to add options and capabilities that were inclusive of all users, we ran the risk of collecting inaccurate data which could harm the business and our customers.

2. Groundbreaking Research Opportunities

Because PayScale is a company obsessed with data and reporting trends on the workforce, we need this type of data to produce impactful research that could inform and drive traffic to our website.

3. Behind The Curve

As a technology company, we were used to doing things fast. If we didn’t do this quickly we ran the risk of our competitors beating us to the punch and missing out on market share.

We Ran a Test to Prove Our Point

After we revised the language and options, we ran a test to determine if the newly revised gender and race options had performed positively or negatively. For gender specifically, we saw that there was an increase in the amount of users who continued on to the next portion of the the survey after answering the gender question. After enough data was gathered from testing, we implemented the changes survey-wide. Now PayScale users have the ability to pick more than one race and choose from more than two genders. While the answer rates for the new survey only resulted in a 0.9 percent increase, we were able to make our technology inclusive without negatively impacting the business.

How to Introduce Gender Expression Into Your Organization and Culture

If you’re working for an organization without a diversity and inclusion program, create one. Invite everyone from your organization to participate and discuss ways in which you can be more inclusive. The only cost to creating a task force is time, which means it is affordable on any company budget. If you work in an industry like technology, do some reflecting and learn whether or not your technology may be biased towards certain ethnicity and genders. If you’re in a human resources role, consider performing regular pay audits to ensure that you’re paying all employees fairly.

Do You Have a Gender Expression Program at Your Organization? Tell Us About It!

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