The following is a blog post for the Graduate Society of Women Engineers (GradSWE) written by myself and Rachel Tenney. You can see it on the GradsWE blog here..
According to genderspectrum.org, “gender-expansive” has the following definition:
An umbrella term used for individuals that broaden their own culture’s commonly held definitions of gender, including expectations for its expression, identities, roles, and/or other perceived gender norms. Gender-expansive individuals include those with transgender and non-binary identities, as well as those whose gender in some way is seen to be stretching society’s notions of gender.
We offer a few ideas on how we can move forward in our work to be more gender expansive and gender inclusive.
1: Beyond the Binary – including nonbinary engineers
At SWE, we welcome all engineers into our organization. This includes nonbinary engineers who do not to identify as men or women. When collecting records in the workplace, the lab, or in our research, let’s provide more than two demographic choices. Below is an example of a gender-inclusive demographic question from the Human Rights Campaign:
What is your gender?
- Nonbinary / third gender
- Prefer to self-describe _______
- Prefer not to say
In all we do, let’s provide more than two options for gender. This small shift increases our gender inclusivity. It allows nonbinary and gender diverse engineers to not feel invisible, but instead recognized.
2: Gender expansive teaching and inclusive language
If we normalize the use of gender neutral language, we all will feel included. Women, nonbinary individuals, gender nonconforming individuals, those of us with complicated relationships to womanhood, and those of us with different understandings of womanhood. As detailed in the overview of this post, gender is complicated, and reasserting binary gender difference actually limits all of our potential.
We can use gender neutral pronouns for our peers and in our gender activism. They/them/theirs are the gender pronouns that are singular and solidly rooted in the English language. This is proper English as described by Merriam-Webster. You likely say it all of the time without realizing it. Before calling someone “he” or “she” we can ask for their pronouns or say “they” by default. We cannot tell what someone prefers if we never ask. On that note, if you accidentally misgender someone, use pronouns they don’t prefer, or are corrected, simply acknowledge the mistake and move forward. Additionally, integrating gender-inclusive language into your vocabulary is easier than you think–replace “guys” with “y’all,” “folks,” or “friends.” If you are comfortable with your gender identity, it is also a good idea to share your pronouns with others when you introduce yourself. For example, “Hello, my name is Logan, and I use they/them pronouns.” This practice helps create a safe environment in which all people who may want to share their pronouns for any reason are able while normalizing the practice of sharing your own and using others’ pronouns.
Interested in learning more about gender neutral prefixes beyond Mr. or Mrs. such as Mx.? Check out this handout available from MIT which explains various honorifics that affirm nonbinary people. Brienne Harbin’s article Teaching Beyond the Gender Binary in the University Classroom is another essential resource to explore practical strategies for gender expansive inclusion. She provides vocabulary and the following list of best practices for STEM educators, many of which can be apply to workforce interactions as well:
- Only call roll or read the class roster aloud after providing students with an opportunity to share their requested name and pronouns, and what they care to disclose to the class.
- Allow students to self-identify the name and pronouns they prefer.
- Set a tone of respect on the first day of class as part of the course expectations and connect this discussion with honoring one another’s requested names and pronouns.
- Acknowledge when you’ve made a mistake about someone’s pronoun and correct yourself.
- Honor students’ requested names in all university settings including (but not limited to): office hours, classroom, student group meetings, or when speaking with other faculty or staff.
- Politely provide a correction whether the person who was misgendered is present or not.
- Do not ask personal questions of gender non-conforming people that you would not ask of others. Such questions include inquiries about a gender non-conforming person’s body, medical care, former name, why or how they knew they were gender non-conforming, their sexual orientation or practices, their family’s reaction to their gender identity, or any other questions that are irrelevant to the classroom context unless the student explicitly invites these questions or voluntarily offers this information.
- Do not disclose students’ gender identity unless you have obtained their consent.
3: Becoming educated and aware of gender diversity
Overall one of the most powerful things we can do as women or allies to those who do not identify strictly (or at all) as women is to become educated. he resources, education, and legal & policy implications at genderspectrum.org. The article “Understanding Gender” is powerful in its discussions of the dimensions of gender, its difference from sexual orientation, and what to do with that knowledge. Central is understanding that our physical body parts are not gender.
While our gender may begin with the assignment of our sex, it doesn’t end there. As described by genderspectrum.org, a person’s gender is the complex interrelationship between three dimensions:
- Body: our body, our experience of our own body, how society genders bodies, and how others interact with us based on our body.
- Identity: our deeply held, internal sense of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither; who we internally know ourselves to be.
- Expression: how we present our gender in the world and how society, culture, community, and family perceive, interact with, and try to shape our gender. Gender expression is also related to gender roles and how society uses those roles to try to enforce conformity to current gender norms.
Each of these dimensions can vary greatly across a range of possibilities. A person’s comfort in their gender is related to the degree to which these three dimensions feel in harmony.
Understanding these facets of gender and integrating the above ideas are initial steps we might take together to expand gender inclusion in engineering. The paper began with language we may be using too often that alienates or prevents nonbinary, LGBTQ+, or gender diverse women in engineering. Here is what inclusive and gender expansive comments might look like in the future:
“Hi friends!” “Hey y’all.” “What a wonderful person.” “An accomplished individual.” “They are not only a parent, she’s an engineer.” “Gender diverse individuals in engineering bring unique skills.” “We need to hire more engineers that bring gender diversity.”
If you are interested in contributing in any way to GradSWE’s Diversity & Inclusion team (such as assisting in blog posts, brainstorming ideas, sharing ways we can become more inclusive, or developing outreach initiatives) please contact Diversity & Inclusion Liason Andrea Haverkamp at firstname.lastname@example.org We look forward to working with you!