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Organizational Change
Your Gender Story:
Why Embracing Our Human Complexity Is Key for Regenerative Leadership

Creating truly gender-inclusive workplaces requires more than just including pronouns in email signatures. Reimagine Gender CEO Lisa Kenney explains why a broader understanding of gender is critical for leaders going forward and why getting to know our own Gender Stories is the first step.

As socially conscious Gen Z — with their values-driven approach to everything from shopping to job-seeking — become the largest cohort in the workforce, the companies with which they engage are increasingly expected to share their values, and walk their talk on topics such as equality and inclusivity.

But in order to authentically reflect these values and connect with this growing contingent of principled workers, companies must now consider new dimensions of inclusivity. The nonprofit Reimagine Gender helps companies to embrace a more expansive understanding of gender, in order to create truly inclusive workplaces in which both employees and leadership can feel free to achieve their full potential.

But to create a workplace free of the constraints of gender requires more than just creating more inclusive policies or including pronouns in email signatures. We caught up with CEO Lisa Kenney, ahead of her keynote next week at SB’21 San Diego, to learn more about why a broader understanding of gender is critical for leaders going forward and why getting to know our own Gender Stories is the first step.

Your upcoming keynote is about how storytellers can embrace our human complexity for greater impact — how does this relate to your work with companies through Reimagine Gender?

Lisa Kenney: Gender is a deeply personal and complex topic. Millennials — and Gen Z, in particular — understand this, and increasingly no longer see gender as a binary. Companies operating with binary notions of gender must commit to evolving and expanding their understanding of gender if they want to stay competitive with customers and attract top talent. That means embracing the beautiful complexity of gender — instead of pretending this is a fad that’s going to pass.

To meaningfully evolve and create a workplace free of the constraints of gender requires us to reimagine solutions beyond inclusive policies, changing internal information systems, or including pronouns in email signatures. It’s about understanding how gender is approached across the entire company — from market research to customer experience to the products you sell — and how every employee is affected by limited gender norms.

While gender is certainly complex, it doesn’t have to be confusing. At Reimagine Gender, we help companies navigate this process — helping them gain literacy, creating safe spaces for questions and opening their eyes to the business implications, including for storytellers and marketers. Organizations that can embrace an expansive understanding of gender will recognize the opportunity for impact: a chance to authentically connect with the increasing number of consumers and employees that no longer buy into outdated notions of gender.

As we’ll explore further during the keynote, embracing human complexity as it relates to gender means going beyond simply adding the "other" binary gender in marketing and advertising (e.g. showing men doing laundry) in order to reflect gender diversity. Every day, we navigate our gender choices in the larger context of who we are, which are impacted by different parts of our identity beyond gender — including race/ethnicity, geography, social/economic background, faith community, professional realm and personal characteristics. We are constantly calculating a complex equation within ourselves that balances and honors the complexities of who we are, while still caring for ourselves in the context of societal expectations.

Can you describe what a "Gender Story" is? How can someone start to discover their own Gender Story, and why is this important in a business context?

LK: We should start by acknowledging that everyone experiences, understands and is impacted by gender. This means that we all have our own unique Gender Story. At Reimagine Gender, we describe a Gender Story as the set of messages, experiences and interactions that ultimately shape the lens through which each of us sees gender in our personal and professional lives. By taking the time to unpack and understand our own Gender Stories, we familiarize ourselves with how society’s socializing of gender can influence how we carry ourselves, show up in personal and professional relationships, and choose to present to the world.

Understandably, getting to know your own Gender Story is a lifelong journey and it can be confusing to know where to start. For those who are starting this journey, we've developed a few initial questions to get grounded in your gender story.

As you sit with these questions, we recommend writing your answers down and sharing them with those you trust to inspire more conversation and understand how others perceive their own Gender Story.

How does understanding your own Gender Story help you lead more effectively?

LK: For leaders, doing the foundational work of first understanding your own Gender Story can help you cultivate the empathy and understanding needed to meaningfully support people and address gender within your organization. Once you have a better understanding of how gender has shaped your professional and personal life, you can understand the range of ways that your employees may also have been affected in their own lives — and the impact this can have on the choices they make at work and the dynamics that can play out in any group. You will also be better able to see how assumptions about gender impacts your organization through things like human resource-related policies and practices, product development and marketing campaigns, and even how teams collaborate. Understanding your gender story is the first step in reimagining a workplace that frees all employees from limited understandings of gender. This kind of freedom will unlock new ideas and innovation, and create a space where all employees feel empowered to show up as their full, authentic selves.

You've said that a Gender Story helps employees across all groups develop a gender lens. What does this mean and how could this affect their approach to work?

LK: We all have a gender lens created from the gendered messages, experiences and interactions we’ve gathered over our lifetime. It informs how we see and interpret gender for ourselves and others. When we engage with those messages intentionally by examining our gender story, we not only see and understand our gender more clearly, but we also bring a more expansive lens to our work lives, and we come closer to creating an environment unchained from narrow gender norms. This gender lens helps us see how gender impacts our people, processes and systems often in surprising ways and allows us to ensure that we are building equity for people of all genders in our organizations. The gendered messages we’ve received over our lifetimes may influence us to reinforce harmful stereotypes or norms. Applying a gender lens to our work lives inspires us to reimagine services and offerings free of gendered limitations that empower people — including both customers and employees — to show up as their true, authentic selves.