The Benefits of Offering Gender Neutral Bathrooms in the Workplace

 

By Kylie Ora Lobell December 6, 2019
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The Benefits of Offering Gender Neutral Bathrooms in the Workplace

​Discussions about the rights of transgender people in the workplace are starting to take place in earnest. Conversations on employees' gender identity, as well as how to protect and respect individuals who identify as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth, are starting to occur. Cities and states are even establishing laws to ensure that transgender and non-binary individuals feel safe using the bathroom.

In response to these changes, some companies are offering gender-neutral bathrooms in the workplace. At Baker McKenzie, a multinational law firm, there are single-use, gender-neutral bathrooms on each floor of its London office. "We're cognizant of the shifting demographics and how, in our current and future world of work, we will have non-binary colleagues," said EMEA D&I Associate Director Fatima Choudhury. "We're keen to strengthen our position as an employer where diverse talent can build a career and be successful, and by working with relevant stakeholders and communicating our progress and developments, we demonstrate the way in which we're building inclusive environments for all colleagues."

Companies that want to follow suit and install gender-neutral bathrooms may find that doing so ultimately benefits their employees and the brand reputations in many ways, say workplace experts.

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion

If a work location offers only gendered bathrooms, it might make employees feel uncomfortable and as if they aren't being recognized.  

"You could be forcing people to make a choice that doesn't necessarily align with their gender identity in order to use the bathroom, which is a basic human need," said Cristina Jones, SHRM-SCP, chief people officer at New York City's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. "This creates a work environment that is nonaffirming to anyone [who] identifies as transgender, genderqueer, gender neutral or non-binary and only affirms those [who] identify on the gender binary, particularly cisgender people."

An office that has gender-neutral bathrooms fosters an inclusive environment that shows that the company cares about diversity. It also demonstrates that a company doesn't just tolerate workers' differences, but affirms them, according to Jones.

Mildred Perez, director of people and culture at Lambda Legal in New York, said that having gender-neutral bathrooms "sends a clear message that the organization does not just talk about diversity and inclusion; it acts on it. It sends the message that the organization respects and values every person for who they are and what they contribute, not by what sex they were assigned at birth or their gender identity."

Communicating Organizational Values

Installing gender-neutral bathrooms also helps a workplace communicate its values, said Kevin Carrington, vice president, senior consultant and federal practice leader at Washington, D.C.'s Segal Consulting. He said that the majority of Millennial and Generation Z employees believe that gender-neutral bathrooms should be the norm, so if a company values its younger employees' opinions, it will install the bathrooms.

[See: Glossary on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation]

"An organization's leadership needs to define their values and the culture they want to create and find ways to communicate and reflect those decisions with how they treat employees and visitors," said Carrington. "Once the values are defined, gender-neutral bathrooms are one way to show how an organization lives those values daily."

Attracting and Retaining the Top Talent

Given the very tight job market, candidates and current employees have more options when choosing where they want to work. Gender-neutral bathrooms can be an attractive feature that convinces some candidates to apply and can make current employees feel more comfortable.

These bathrooms may also encourage employees to be themselves in the office. "People want to be able to bring their authentic selves to work, and companies and organizations are going to have a more engaged workplace if people feel that they belong and are valued in their workplace," Jones said.

Having gender-neutral bathrooms will also show that a company is accommodating to its employees' needs, said Nate Masterson, founder of Maple Holistics in Farmingdale, N.J. "This will make qualified employees more likely to want to work for your company over another, as they'll know that the company values employee needs and has an understanding environment. In an age where people place a tremendous amount of importance on office culture, being known as a people-friendly office is a big plus for potential employees."

Managing the Logistics

Though it could cost thousands of dollars to install new bathrooms, the expenditure may be justified if a company is able to make workers feel valued, appeal to and retain the best employees, and improve their workplace culture and values, said Carrington.

Logistically, many companies that have the space are providing both gendered and gender-neutral facilities so that every worker feels comfortable. Carrington said companies typically will have a gender-neutral bathroom with a single stall and a locking door, while the gendered ones will have multiple stalls.

"The challenge lies more in older buildings with limited space, or office suites with shared hallway bathrooms where the use policies are based on building management and not on a specific organization's value policies," he said. "The current best practice is moving toward allowing people to use the facilities that align with their gender identification, but this is still evolving in many states and is not the law in every state."

According to Ballotpedia, as of June 2018, 18 states and Washington, D.C., had adopted laws prohibiting discrimination against transgender individuals in employment, housing and public accommodations. At least one state, New Mexico, joined the list in 2019. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, cities like Philadelphia, New York, West Hollywood and Austin require public restrooms to be marked as all-gender.

No matter how local laws evolve, companies can lead the way on inclusion and demonstrate their dedication to their employees through installing these bathrooms, said Perez.

"It is always better to listen to your staff and respect your employees for who they are and how they identify, and that goes from bathrooms to respecting their pronouns, their names, and their gender identity and expression," Perez said. "By listening to your staff and enabling affirmative and inclusive spaces and dialogues, the organization would head in the right direction and retain a diverse and talented workforce."

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