“Inclusivity stems from not seeing what makes us different, but from what makes us the same. Keeping that idea at the core should help non-binary people feel happier and safer in all spaces, not just LGBTQ+ spaces.”
Quebei Mitchell, Technical Problem Analyst at CGI, spoke to myGwork about improving methods of support towards the non-binary community. They also give advice to those who wish to expand upon their allyship, as well as relaying their personal experience as a non-binary person in the workplace.
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your career?
I am a 34-year-old non-binary trans-femme individual and I have worked for CGI for 9 years. I joined in 2013 as a 1st-line technical analyst, answering help desk calls and fixing a broad range of IT issues. After 2 years I moved to an engineering role within end-user device management, creating solutions that would change thousands of devices at once. Finally, I moved into an investigative analyst role, performing complex problem root cause analysis, and creating solutions for them. I came out as non-binary in 2022, and my company, CGI, have been supportive and helpful in allowing me to just be myself, both working from home and from our offices.
What does allyship to the non-binary community look like to you?
To me, allyship is treating people with respect and dignity, allowing them to have the space to express themselves and to be themselves. This means not judging, having open conversation, and being prepared to explain and listen – something we’re not always good at. I don’t believe every ally needs to be a morality or ethics warrior, often you just want someone to see you as you, and not as what hundreds of years of social conditioning tells us we “should” see.
Specific allyship to the non-binary community to me just means also accepting that people can change their presentation whenever they feel they wish to, and so one day they may be presenting very feminine, the next very masculine, and the day after somewhere else again. It’s not a sign of anything other than the individual being who they want to.
Why is it important to have conversations on non-binary inclusion in the workplace?
True inclusivity comes from normalization. Normalization comes from something being commonplace enough that it no longer sparks comment at being unusual. I know and acknowledge that non-binary individuals make up a very small percentage of the overall population, so waiting for normalization to happen through visual exposure may take a while.
We are conditioned to fear or mistrust anything we don’t understand, and this has led to exclusion and discrimination against groups of people throughout history. Being able to have conversations about non-binary people will improve people’s knowledge and understanding, which then lowers fear, intolerance, and passive biases. It also begins that normalization process in people’s minds earlier so that when they come face to face with a non-binary person, it will be less likely to have a negative outcome.
What are a few things that workplaces can do to ensure they are welcoming for their non-binary colleagues?
One of the biggest helps I had was access to an LGBTQ+ Microsoft Teams channel, where I could find and reach out to other members of the community for support and assistance navigating some of the HR challenges that arose (such as changing my name and gender on my HR record). For any smaller businesses that may not have such a presence, providing access and signposting to external help and support organizations is vital, along with provisions to grant time off for any transition-based activities and mental health reasons.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience coming out at work?
My overall timeline for coming out was very short. From the moment I really questioned and researched what being non-binary meant to when I came out in full was under 3 weeks. Once I had told friends and family members, it seemed such a logistical nightmare to remain not-out, I thought to myself – let’s just rip off that plaster – and so I told everyone right out, via email to be sure, and covered on a team meeting too. It did take some time for people to get used to using neutral pronouns for me, and later on to my change in name as well (though that didn’t come about till 10 months later). It’s been so positive that I would heartily recommend to anyone in my own company that they don’t have to be reluctant about it, and that there are loads of people in the community available to support them if they have any questions.
What advice would you give to a non-binary person nervous about coming out at work?
Firstly, that its totally understandable to be nervous and it’s okay, all of us were nervous when we approached coming out too. If the big-bang approach doesn’t seem right for them, then start with one person, whoever you feel is going to be the most receptive. It might be a colleague you’ve worked with since day one, it might be a current or former boss, or it could be the person manning the car park you say “hi” to every morning. You don’t need to rush, and you can take your time - but if you are, let people know as you do so that that is your plan – that way you’ll avoid them outing you by accident, and giving you control of the information.
What are some of the biggest challenges we still have in creating an inclusive workplace and how do you think we can overcome these?
One of the biggest challenges I personally face is people refusing to change because they are “old school” or “too old to change”. A preposterous statement, as one of the LGBTQ+ social groups I frequent has many of its members past retirement age, and a good many of those are transgender. Language changes constantly, and people change with it so long as the people around them change too. It’s important to challenge outdated language or purposeful use of incorrect names and pronouns – not in a hostile manner, as there’s no need to ostracize someone who you ultimately want on your side, but in a positive and constructive manner that enlightens someone and improves their understanding and mutual respect. Similarly, any stereotypical behavior or treatment should also be challenged, as this can be harmful to more than just non-binary individuals.
Have you always felt welcome in LGBTQ+ spaces? How can we ensure that LGBTQ+ spaces are fully inclusive for non-binary people?
Even within the LGBTQ+ umbrella, non-binary people can suffer from discrimination because of a lack of understanding or respect. It’s a very complex thing to describe to someone, especially if their world view has been bound by the gender binary for their entire life, and LGBTQ+ people are as likely to be in that position as a non-LGBQT+ person.
I have thankfully always been welcomed in LGBTQ+ spaces, but I have heard of people who have experienced things differently. Inclusivity stems from not seeing what makes us different, but from what makes us the same. Keeping that idea at the core should help non-binary people feel happier and safer in all spaces, not just LGBTQ+ spaces.
What is the importance of non-binary visibility to you and how do you think we can increase authentic representation?
A term I’ve been using recently when talking about this is “Normalize it, don’t Spotlight it”. Seminars newsletters and PRIDE coverage doesn’t appeal to those who aren’t interested, and so the only way to reach them in a conflict-free manner is to just include non-binary representation in everyday ways. The next time you have a briefing on health and safety, or GDPR procedures, or anything not specifically about LGBQT+ matters, include a non-binary speaker/panelist.
How do you think you can personally contribute to changing your organization’s culture for the better?
By being out, by being open, and approachable and a source of good information, I hope to gradually improve everyone’s knowledge and acceptance of diversity in the workplace and not specifically just for non-binary people. Writing for our internal newsletter and articles like this for myGwork will also help.