We caught up with Reimagine Gender CEO Lisa Kenney, to discuss why it's critical for businesses to embrace a broader understanding of gender.
The non-binary community is seeing ever more representation in popular culture — just look at TV shows such as “Orange Is the New Black,” "Billions," “Supergirl,” “Pose,” “The Good Doctor” and even “Grey’s Anatomy”, to name but a few — which points to a paradigm shift toward broader acceptance of gender fluidity into the public consciousness.
But has this acceptance made its way into ‘Corporate America’? We caught up with Reimagine Gender CEO Lisa Kenney, ahead of her keynote this week at Just Brands ’21, to learn more about the now more broadly recognized nuances of the gender spectrum and its implications for businesses.
With the ongoing ‘awakening’ as far as people’s understanding of gender identity issues goes, how and when does RG connect with companies to assess and work through them in the workplace?
Lisa Kenney: The truth is that companies are generally really early in their work on gender. Initial inquiries often come from the head of HR or DEI, but other corporate leaders reach out, too — including CMOs, Heads of Innovation, CEOs or ERG groups. Even for companies who have been working on gender equity issues for some time, the focus is often only on women’s issues or the needs of gender-diverse people, rather than a more comprehensive view on gender.
A lot of it boils down to the fundamentals: When we talk about gender, what are we really talking about? We help organizations understand the differences between sex and gender, and gender and sexuality. We break down what gender is, and the need to look beyond identity and into other aspects. My take is that gender is complex, but it doesn’t need to be confusing. There’s a lot of misunderstandings; but it doesn’t take much for folks to feel more comfortable once we unpack these things, so they can be seen more clearly.
We’re all affected by gender constructs — what are some common examples of this, and how can they negatively impact people in the workplace? How the binary and the patriarchy can negatively affect women is visible and well-documented — how would you say they negatively affect men, as well?
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LK: Gender affects everyone — in different ways and to different degrees. Men included. I’ve spoken with men who feel that their choice to leave the office at a reasonable hour in order to do daycare pickup was frowned upon. Or those who felt there was a certain pressure in tech or sales jobs to display characteristics generally associated with masculinity. I know many men who are great fathers but felt less comfortable than women did having their kids appear on Zoom during the early days of the pandemic. All of this adds up to people not feeling comfortable showing up as their authentic selves at work, which tends to be the enemy of innovation.
On the customer side, here’s where retailers should take note: A man I’m friendly with wanted to buy a pair of shoes in a particular color, but it wasn't available in the men's section. He ultimately left the store empty handed after learning they only created that model in women’s sizes.
At Reimagine Gender, we talk a lot about the idea that everyone has a gender story. Here’s a resource to help you learn more about yours and why it matters.
The concept of gender is changing — half of Gen Z and 56% of Millennials believe that gender is fluid, according to a recent survey. What are the implications of this for businesses?
LK: The implications for businesses are huge. This is not a passing fad. It’s not something that only affects gender-diverse employees.
Younger generations have a fundamentally different understanding of gender; and companies that aren’t taking that seriously will pay the price when it comes to attracting and retaining talent and customers. Creating HR policies or an ERG won’t cut it here; to compete in the future, businesses need to fundamentally reimagine gender across the organization.
What questions should companies ask when seeking to adopt more gender-inclusive policies? How does Reimagine Gender partner with businesses through this process?
LK: Companies can start simply by noticing where and how gender shows up across the business, and then start asking deeper questions. For example, are we segmenting a product by gender when there may be other, more profitable ways to define our customers? Are we letting gender assumptions and bias drive our research processes — and might this be getting in the way of true innovation? How and when are we asking prospective job candidates about gender?
Through our workshops, trainings and content, Reimagine Gender helps companies learn more about gender and adopt an inclusive, expansive lens that can be applied across different areas of the business. While there are certainly best practices, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution; so, we often partner with organizations to help them navigate this journey authentically. Once organizations have the “a-ha moment,” they immediately start to see the value of this work and that’s when we can really dive in together.
How (if at all) has the renewed attention on racial/social equity since last year helped fuel attention to LGBTQ+ issues for companies?
LK: We’re seeing a general trajectory toward making both workplaces and products more inclusive — companies understand this isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s smart business. This renewed attention on equity creates an opportunity for companies to reevaluate their approach to gender and do some soul searching. It’s also important to note that gender and race are two important intersecting identities, and that’s something that should always be acknowledged.
The Human Rights Campaign's annual Corporate Equality Index shows continued growth in the number of US employers committed to implementing LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices. According to the 2021 Survey, 94% of Fortune 500 companies have gender identity nondiscrimination policies and 71% offer some kind of transgender-inclusive benefits. Does this reflect what you’ve seen in your work? In your experience, how well are companies not only implementing these policies, but integrating them into their corporate culture?
LK: We are making great strides in gender-inclusive policies, though we still have a lot more work to do. But policies are only a small part of the gender work that needs to be done, and gender-diverse folks — whether diverse in identity or expression — are not the sole audience to keep in mind. As I mentioned, everyone is affected by society’s constructions of gender, in different ways and to different degrees. We pay a significant price in the gendering of everything from colors, clothing and interests to emotions and professions — with no real benefit. Policies alone can’t address this — it requires a cultural awakening.
You spoke on the state of gender and inclusion in business at our Detroit conference in 2019. How has your work changed/grown since then?
LK: In core ways, my work is similar: helping folks understand and address gender so they can help others and their organizations thrive. The specifics are evolving, though.
My work now is much more corporate-focused; and more of the corporate focus is on marketplace opportunities, rather than responding to “crisis” work generated from employee issues or marketing mistakes. Companies are beginning to see the competitive value in doing deeper work on gender.