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The State Department recently announced that those who identify as non-binary will have the ability to choose a third gender option on their passports very soon. 

supporting-nonbinary-employees-

Additionally, starting immediately, an applicant for a U.S. passport can simply check "M" or "F" as their gender—without needing to provide medical certification if that gender doesn't match their other documents. 

Why does this matter? 

Simple. Both of these steps provide a more inclusive experience for those who are transgender, non-binary, intersex, or gender non-conforming. 

Although there is a simple explanation as to "why" there isn't a simple path forward. It's going to take a while for passport databases to catch up just as it's going to take a while for benefits carriers to catch up to third gender options in benefits administration technology platforms, like Benefitsolver

Despite the complexities involved, employers should be very aware of how including and allowing a third gender option can both expand inclusivity efforts but also provides an opportunity for employees to bring their whole selves to work. Which is indispensable to both positive mental health and productivity for LGBTQ+ folx. 

I was given the opportunity to sit down with Alex Fisher, who was the chair of the LGBTQ+ Pride Month committee this past month, to chat about other things employers can do to be more inclusive, but also, more empathetic to those that identify as non-binary, intersex, and gender non-conforming. 

Watch the fill interview below.

HubSpot Video

 

Video Transcripts 

Iliana:

Welcome to another episode of Brews With Bruce. I am Iliana, and I am at the last ends of my cold brew, unfortunately, and I have to go pick up some more. We have a really amazing conversation headed your way today, and I don't want to take up any more time, so I'm going to pass it over to Bruce and get started.

Bruce Gillis:

All right. Thanks Iliana. So, today we're talking about an important topic. It's actually a topic that we've talked about a little bit in the past. But we're talking about in celebration of pride month, we're talking about why it's so important for employers to have a plan and start addressing non-binary gender employees in the workplace, their experiences at work and all the various considerations that go along with that. We're joined today by Alex. Alex, if you wouldn't mind introducing yourself for everyone.

Alex Fisher:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me. My name is Alex Fisher. I am a member services advocate here at Business Solver and my pronouns are they, them, their. So, thanks for having me here. I'm excited.

Bruce Gillis:

Well, you bring up in introducing yourself and introducing your pronouns, right? You bring up a very new and evolving topic and actually very cool to see that LinkedIn just in the last couple of weeks added pronouns to your profiles, right? So that, I updated my LinkedIn account with my pronouns and it was funny because we were having some internal conversations about how that seemed to be missing. And as if they were listening, they were added very quickly. So, I really appreciate you joining us for this conversation. As we were talking yesterday in preparation for the conversation, it's a conversation that I think a lot of people shy away from out of an air of saying the wrong thing or wanting to be sensitive. And so, I appreciate you joining the conversation and allow allowing us to learn and have candid conversations.

Bruce Gillis:

And at Businessolver, we've been doing a lot around our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives for a while now, but specifically, this is an area that we've been talking about in terms of benefits administration for over a couple of years now, several years now. So, real quickly, I'm going to have a lot of questions for you as we go, but real quickly. So, in your own words, why is it important to have these conversations and what do employees and employers get out of this?

Alex Fisher:

Absolutely. Yeah. So first and foremost, I always like to say that the queer community, for which I am a member of, we are all individuals. And so, me in my lived experience, it may not be true for all queer folks that you come across. So, definitely want to have that in there, the little disclaimer. But for me personally and for my experiences in the workplace and in benefits administration, I am finding more and more that we're seeing some push in the direction of introducing third gender option or non binary gender option because of wanting to be more inclusive and affirming and honoring the fact that we are all no longer within a box of male or female. And to be able to have those conversations with employers, particularly in the benefits administration space, I feel like that is such an intimate piece of being a queer identified human when we're dealing with healthcare and life insurance and those intimate pieces of a person's life and work experience.

Alex Fisher:

And to be able to have that affirming option as a check box that you can select when you're signing up for your benefits for the first time, you're excited for this new job opportunity. And I've absolutely felt the pang of disappointment when I have to select female rather than non-binary or other. So, it's definitely a step that employers can take to be as inclusive as they can also understanding that we are still working within the confines of a very dated system. It's not like it's going to shift everything overnight, but it is certainly is a very small, meaningful, impactful step that employers can take when they are onboarding folks and introducing benefits.

Bruce Gillis:

Well, it's really interesting because I think you bring a perspective or you understand our industry. You understand the fact that employers interface with their carriers. They have EOI processes and life insurance readings that are based upon, in some cases and in some components, gender. And at that same time, we've seen a big push. As of last year, I know there were at least 17 states that allow non-binary gender options or require non-binary gender options available on driver's license. Those states are, many of them heavily populated with almost 50% of the US population residing in those states that have these options. So, the odds, if you are an employer of decent size, and/or you operate solely in those states, there's a good chance you could encounter one of your employees that's going to be making a request to say, "Hey, I want to see my gender represented in our HRIS and our employee benefits processes."

Bruce Gillis:

So, it's an interesting challenge because I spoke at a conference last year, actually, right before everything shut down with COVID. It was a life insurance conference, and I was talking about compliance stuff because that's what I do. But one of the things that I was talking about was exactly that, the fact that the states are moving forward and we've seen a lot of states in just the last couple of years, we've seen a lot of states adding the non-binary gender option to driver's license. And it creates a challenge for employers because many employers want to move forward. They want to add the non-binary gender option.

Bruce Gillis:

And their HRIS system may support it. Benefits Solver can support a third gender option. The challenge is more from the fact that carrier processes and carrier systems, which are often using, as you were saying, they may be using a system that was developed 20 years ago and their ability to pivot their processes to reflect the evolving landscape is not quite as fast. But there was a lot of interest within the conference that I was speaking at, it was a hot topic because the carriers were definitely seeing it as a challenge they're facing, one that they don't have an easy answer to, because of the underwriting and the evidence of insurability processes that are pretty cornerstone to a lot of their programs. But it's really interesting how fast it's evolved.

Bruce Gillis:

When I look, and I think the landscape of gender [inaudible 00:08:13] I've had in the past, I've pulled some statistics and it was two and a half to 3% of the Fortune 1000 had gender identity as a part of their non-discrimination policies 20 years ago. And it's over 98% now, and that is in... While it seemed like it took forever, in the practical reality of the world, that's really fast to see that level of adoption, but I think it's also indicative of the evolving landscape. I was looking at some statistics and I'm sorry, I promise I won't do all the talking.but one other statistic that I thought was really interesting was, there was an article that was in the Washington Post. It was quoting a Gallup poll study that was done.

Bruce Gillis:

And one-sixth of Gen Z, Generation Z identify as LGBT compared with, and these numbers are up from prior years, five points, so those are statistically valid numbers. So I just think it's really, it's a topic, it's an issue. It's an awareness that I think, my perspective looking at it really from the legal perspective is, it is almost 50% of the US population living in states where your identity, we're, we've potentially passed that tipping point. And so, it's a very different situation. So, many questions, I know. So, trying to think... Well, let me just ask you this. Would you mind sharing your story?

Alex Fisher:

Yeah, sure, absolutely. I always love sharing my story because I think my very first strengths on the strengths finder is connectedness. And that is the biggest way that I can connect with folks is to share my story in the hopes that somebody will share theirs. So, I was born and raised in the south and came out my senior year of high school. And at the time, the word queer was not really used to identify. And so, I came out as an identity that I no longer identify as now. But from there, I essentially was starting on this path of self-discovery as we all do around that age and realizing that my gender assigned at birth was not how I maneuvered and identified myself in the world. And I luckily had the fortune of growing up in a family that was, for the most part, very accepting of whatever that ended up looking like.

Alex Fisher:

And it wasn't until my late twenties, I had moved about an hour and a half away from home to South Carolina from North Carolina. And oddly enough, growing up, we always talked down about South Carolina. We called it the lower Carolina. But moving down here, I actually ended up finding much more affirming community and was able to surround myself with folks who were navigating the ins and outs of what gender identity and gender expression and gender and sexuality politics and what all that looks like. And it opened a door up for me that hadn't been opened before in my hometown. And, for me, that looked like really pushing back against the very typical Southern norms of what a person that was assigned female at birth and raised and socialized as a little girl, what that looks like. And growing up, I just remember, my mom will probably kill me for this, but being forced to go to cotillion.

Alex Fisher:

I don't know if that's a thing in Iowa, but very dainty Southern Belle, wearing the dresses and it's being introduced to society. And it was just the polar opposite of how I wanted to show up. Now, in late twenties, now headed into mid-thirties, it's very much more of who I am and showing up as authentically as I can and how that weaves into my work experience is that I came to the benefits administration world after having owned my own business in the wedding planning industry, which is probably the opposite of benefits administration. And I, even owning my own business, didn't feel fully able to come out and be represent my fullness as a non- binary human, because I wanted people to take me seriously and I wanted to be seen as a professional in the wedding industry.

Alex Fisher:

And it actually wasn't until I started following a few non-binary professionals on social media, that I started to gain the confidence of how that can be seen as an asset and using my lived experience as a non-binary human to make organizations better just by existing in them and showing up as fully as I can. And I sold my business, and it was actually right before COVID. So, that was universe energy right there. But I did some odd jobs and then, I became connected with Benefits Solver and Business Solver. And I realized connecting myself to the greater organization, that I can be seen as a professional. And that it was my own internalized queer phobia and transphobia that was keeping me small in organizations and in conversations. And I have been able to really grow into my position here and get to know how I can be considered an asset and not tokenized.

Alex Fisher:

I feel like there are so many companies that do a disservice to the queer community by waving a rainbow flag during the month of June and then packing all of that away and going about your business. But with Business Solver, it is very genuine, the desire to want to grow in that direction of inclusivity and to be a part of that is really magical. And so, yeah, here I am in all of my non-binary glory hoping that we see some progress in this area. And I think, I'll say one more thing is that, it is such, to me, it seems like such a major thing. And I feel like this is very true for a lot of non-binary and trans identified folks is that to others, it seems like such a tiny thing to be able to check non-binary as an option.

Alex Fisher:

But, for us, it is the most affirming, and a piece of that too, is really ingraining that into the company culture, which I think Business Solver does a really fantastic job of, because it's not just about being able to check a box, it's about being able to create an energy and an environment that queer, particularly non-binary and trans folks, feel safe coming to work and feel welcomed and celebrated. And we can be taken seriously in this industry, even with a non binary-status, blue, bright blue hair, it doesn't matter. We are seen as contributors in this landscape. And I think that seemingly small piece of being able to incorporate one's gender into the equation is a really fantastic step in that direction. And I think we'll dive into more of what that could look like for folks here in the conversation.

Bruce Gillis:

So that's great. And I'm glad you brought up the hair because I'm loving the hair. So, one of the things we've talked about at Business Solver, and you and I are both involved in our diversity equity and inclusion initiatives here, which are year round, not specific to any particular months. But one of the things we've talked about is being an ally. And that takes a variety of different forms, right? It can be, we always talk about like sharing your voice. And it's been, I think, very positive for me. I've learned a lot how to be an ally, a better ally, a more vocal ally. And I think it's also, we're working to establish it as a non-negotiable within Business Solver, being an ally is the expectation.

Bruce Gillis:

It's the norm that we are all allies to someone. And so, I think that with our book club, and we've talked about on Bruce With Bruce in the past, we've talked about the book club where we've been reading for anybody who hasn't seen that through the organization, we're working on an initiative to read Subtle Acts of Exclusion, a book that talks about essentially exactly that subtle acts of exclusion, small items, smaller situations that may serve to disenfranchise individuals, make them feel excluded in some way. And again, as part of our global initiative to strengthen our DEI and our diversity internally, and as we always say, we want to meet people where they are. And, we, I think through the book club, through some of our other efforts, I feel good about our efforts. There's always more that organizations can do, but I really do feel good about what we're doing here. But with that, I want to invite you to talk about what we've got going on in some of the [crosstalk 00:19:46].

Alex Fisher:

Absolutely. Yeah. So, the most recent, obviously we're in the month of June. And so, we've had a lot of pride month related festivities. We also celebrated Juneteenth earlier this month and really highlighting the intersections of all of the different communities that we are celebrating here as a company. But with the DEI efforts, particularly this month, really had a focus on education. And, like you were saying, meeting folks where they are and making it an accessible point for educational purposes and growth and getting to know facts and different things about group of folks that you may not have known. And so, one of the main focuses this month was on those educational pieces. And we hosted with One Iowa. They did a couple of lunch and learn sessions, which were really powerful, got a lot of really wonderful feedback from allies and members of the community alike who were stating just how eye-opening those sessions were and really opening up the conversation to something more than just marriage equality or pronoun usage.

Alex Fisher:

Those are big and important, but it really went into the nuts and bolts of the queer community and how to show up as an ally in the workplace. And one of the things that I always go back to that is super easy for folks who are allied to participate in is adding your pronouns in your email signature. That is super-easy. You just add it into your signature line and you're good to go. And what that does is not only signal that you are a safe human for your colleagues and friends in the industry, but that you honor the fact that not everyone uses she/her or he/him pronouns, and that you're going to potentially be working with folks who would need different pronouns used for them.

Alex Fisher:

And so, making that known. Also introducing yourself whenever you're having a meeting or a gathering of any kind by incorporating your pronouns into that introduction, and just general DEI initiatives across the board. I feel like we as a company are doing a really fantastic job of integrating that into the bigger picture. It's not just a month out of the year or celebrating queer folks during June and packing all the rainbows up. We very much want to have this feel like it is part of who we are because it is. We have solvers from all walks of life, and we want to be sure that we are keeping the business practices accessible for all of those folks.

Bruce Gillis:

That's great, and it's interesting because in some cases, some things seem very easy, very simple, can be done, takes 30 seconds. I've got my pronouns on my email signature line. And it's funny, because I'll be honest, when I added them, I was thinking, adding them lets people know my pronouns. Not so much thinking about, it also lets them know that I appreciate the fact that sharing your pronouns is a welcoming. I honestly never thought about that component to it. It was just the right... I recognize part of the initiative that it's from, but I'm learning something too. But I've spoken with a lot of organizations over the last few years, and there are some challenges.

Bruce Gillis:

Realistically employers want to embrace this and want to move forward and want to evolve. It's, unfortunately, not quite as easy as, I think, many employers would like it to be because I've had quite a few conversations. HRIS systems, as I mentioned, they may be able to accept multiple gender options. Same with a Benefits Solver, we can accept within Benefits Solver male, female, non-binary or differing third indicator. And yet, it's not that simple. And some employers have found that... We did a poll, an informal poll a couple of years ago or three years ago now, in 2018. And we polled a bunch of carriers and we said, "Can you accept non-binary gender indicators in your benefits plans? And do you use it for claims adjudication? And what are your plans in the next 12 months?"

Bruce Gillis:

Most came back, if not all came back and said, "We don't use it in claims adjudication. We don't use gender and claims adjudication." Most did not, most required male or female only. They did not accept non-binary gender at that time. But the extreme majority said they were working to be in a position to accept non-binary gender options within 12 months. That was three years ago. Now, there's been a lot that have gone in the last three years, including 18 months of a global pandemic that shifted a lot of priorities for a lot of employers. But it's still a challenge. I know that while many of the carriers have indicated a desire, and certainly, a willingness to get there within 12 months, the practical reality is, it's not been that easy because the downstream implications of the changes on their side are involved.

Bruce Gillis:

But even when an employer is looking at some of those technical limitations and encouraging their vendors, I would assume to move in that direction, as we're seeing a lot of employers do, there are other things employers can do. When you look at your communications, your annual enrollment communications, there are a lot of pronouns that typically permeate that sort of communication. There are a lot of us, in our DEI discussions, we'll talk about heteronormative and things where the assumption is made and all of the examples and the documents always assume it's a husband and wife.

Bruce Gillis:

And so, there is that component to the communications. And one of the things we're seeing more of is, we're seeing employers that are looking at their communications, global communications through the lens of inclusivity and how can I, even if it's going to take another 12 months for my systems to catch up. And the IT components in the backend that are complicated processes, admittedly, especially when you're talking about underwriting and some of those pieces, what can I do now in communications? And one of the things I think that has made Business Solver, to me, feel like it's continuing to move year-round in the right direction is the transparency [inaudible 00:27:38] .

Bruce Gillis:

And so, for me, that's an important part that I want to make sure we call out. But as part of Bruce With Bruce, we always... So I can't remember if I've warned you, I'm just going to do this. We always like to have a call to action. So with that, knowing the challenges that employers face, you have a great perspective as both someone in this industry as an employee yourself, what would be your call to action? What would be your recommended action items for employers to consider and for employees to remember and consider as well?

Alex Fisher:

Yeah, certainly. So, I think I have a couple actually. So, the first being tied to adaptability, which I think is a huge, great way and an inclusive way to do that is yes, the systems may be behind by about a year or two in as far as us seeing carriers accepting and utilizing gender neutral or non-binary third gender options, is to look at the benefits that you're currently offering. There are benefits that are more accessible for the queer community, such as adoption and surrogacy accounts, benefits along those lines, your PTO policies. What does that look like for parents? And then, like you were saying, all of the language. I feel like, in our society, we do a really fantastic job of gendering everything down to razors and shampoos. So, being able to remove all of that gender specific language and make it more about the event rather than who was involved in the event, considering birth and adoption, we're seeing trans folks give birth.

Alex Fisher:

So, what does that look like whenever you're training your call reps to take those types of calls? What does it look like when you're training your number services, advocates, to take calls for parents who have children who are transitioning? Are you incorporating inclusive language into, not just your marketing strategy, but also your internal structures as well? And so, as far as an employer standpoint, I would absolutely take a deep dive into what all of that looks like now and how that could be improved. As far as colleagues and fellow employees, I've touched on it a little bit, but really utilizing those pronouns. It's a really fantastic, very easy way to signal that you are conscious and aware of trans and non-binary identities in your workplace, and being able to be more of a vocal ally. I think we see, this goes for not just the queer community, but black and brown folks, anybody that's in your circle that is typically considered a marginalized community.

Alex Fisher:

I think we owe it to our colleagues to be more inclusive and affirming for those lived experiences and existences. And taking a look at how you personally land in the midst of all of that, and looking at your own privilege and unpacking the areas maybe feel a little uncomfortable or rough around the edges. That's totally fine. We're all learning and growing at our own pace. And I think really acknowledging that it is a growth journey and we are all in this together. It's not a competition or us against them. It is all of us working together toward that place of equity and justice. So, that's my hope.

Bruce Gillis:

Thank you. And you brought up so many of us have an obligation to prepare their, to look at their communications, to evaluate their services, the way they interact with their employees. The reality is, as we talked about, when you look at the numbers and you look at the states where non-binary gender designations on driver's license are commonplace, employers, they don't just need to look at their communications and their policies, they need to make sure their frontline management teams understand the process because it will be, the frontline folks will be the first ones who are going to be looking at, from a hiring perspective and saying, "I need to make sure that my systems, I need to be able to communicate if our system hasn't caught up with our hiring, then we need to make sure that we are able to explain and be transparent and have those discussions."

Bruce Gillis:

Really, Alex, really appreciate you joining the Brews With Bruce today and the discussion. So much good information. I was actually watching the clock because I was thinking, "We could talk for an hour if we're not careful." But I really do appreciate it, and perhaps we'll be able to get you back at a future time and continue the conversation.

Alex Fisher:

Absolutely. Thanks, Bruce.

Bruce Gillis:

Thank you. And Iliana, back to you.

Iliana:

Thank you both so much for joining us today. This has been a really amazing discussion. I've literally been on the edge of my seat, just listening to every word. So much good information. I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful weekend, and we'll see you back here same time, same day in a week. Thank you so much.

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