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I am asking for a friend. The situation will take place in northern Europe should this matter.

My friend is a manager in a multinational company and manages team of ~15 people. He has hired a high-skilled and ambitious software engineer who'll start working on his team in a few days. The new hire identifies as bi-gender. My friend throughout his career has only managed cis-gender people so he has no experience working alongside a bi-gender person. This is stressing him out because he would like to avoid any gender issues in his office.

He would like to prepare the team members as well as possible and at the same time he would like a new person to feel welcomed in the office. Therefore he seeks for a hints how to manage this person but he also has some specific questions:

  • Is it professional to ask the new hire's preferred pronoun ("he/she/...")? If it is not, what pronoun should the manager use when talking about the new hire? The official language in the office is English.

  • The toilets in the company for a women and men are on a different sides of the hallway. When giving the tour through the office which toilets/bathroom should he show to the new hire? Or would it be the best to arrange a new toilet and showers room for "other genders"?

  • Some after-the-work events in the company are only for a specific gender (i.e. "Geek Girls Night"). Should the new hire be invited to this kind of events?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. If you want to continue the discussion about gender, pronouns, "geek girls night", and so on, please do so in the chat room. – Monica Cellio Jul 17 '16 at 17:51
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    @MonicaCellio: TY for including a summary of what was moved to chat. I often find it frustrating when mods move interesting comments to chat, because I think future readers are a lot less likely to check a chat page than to read a couple already-highly-voted ones. But a summary of the topics might pique people's interest. Anyway, more of this please from mods whenever possible; it makes me feel like my effort spent writing those comments wasn't just chucked down the drain. (Sorry for the clutter of this comment; I should prob. just post about this on meta.SE) – Peter Cordes Jul 18 '16 at 1:49
  • @MonicaCellio This appears to ask three specific and well formed, quite answerable questions, and I'm confused: why is it too broad? (I know you didn't vote to close, but you're a mod and probably have much insight) – cat Jul 19 '16 at 14:07
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    @cat I agree with you. This doesn't seem too broad to me. Maybe it's the general "how to manage" part? – Monica Cellio Jul 19 '16 at 14:37
  • @MonicaCellio Well, yeah, but that's funnelled into specific points, not just left open wide with no specific questions asked. – cat Jul 19 '16 at 14:40
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Your friend is overthinking this way too much.

This is a "highly skilled and ambitious software engineer?" - I think they can figure out the bathrooms for themselves. I think if there are "general announcements" about "Geek Girls" events, this person can decide for themselves if they want to attend.

I've worked with a few people over the years who didn't "conform" to the M/F designations. They honestly were FAR more concerned about work than about their gender identity while at work. Your friend should be, too. Just worry about work. The rest is barely relevant.

If anything, your friend should just say, "We want you to be happy working here. We want you to feel comfortable being here. If I'm doing anything that is making you uncomfortable in how I refer to you, please let me know." Let it go at that. If they're managing right, your friend will spend more time worrying about their billing codes than about their gender or pronouns.

  • I don't think all those "We want you to..." will please him/her too much. I know they mean well but they risk to be just a great way to make him/her feel like an oddball. I agree with the purpose but I think the focus should be on dealing with him/her just like with anyone else. I think this is what would make him/her feel the most welcome. It's not a good idea to give the impression that his/her colleagues think he/she needs special care or consideration. – SantiBailors Jul 18 '16 at 13:07
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    @SantiBailors: Someone else suggested somewhere in comments I think that you can just ask if they need any kind of accommodations. That's open ended enough to include nut allergies, leaving early to play Ultimate [frisbee] on Thursdays, or whatever, and doesn't make the employer sound like being bi-gendered is a huge deal for them, but opens the door to talking about it if the person wants to. – Peter Cordes Jul 19 '16 at 1:11
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I'm a bigender person, and I was browsing Stack Overflow when I saw this. It is 100% okay to ask a person their pronouns, and it would be disrespectful to not ask and end up using the wrong ones.

The bigender community, while very small, is exceedingly diverse, and many say that no two bigender people can agree on the exact definition of of bigender. Consequently, I can't know exactly what bigender means for your new employee. So, I'm just going to give a few tips and recommendations.

Even if your new employee has pronouns that you haven't heard of before, or think seem strange (for a while I alternated between he/him and she/her on a daily basis) make sure that you and your existing employees respect that and use their chosen pronouns. If someone slips up they can quickly apologize and move on: everyone makes mistakes.

Also, please don't make a big deal of restroom usage -- have a quick conversation (or don't, this may be situation dependent, or your new hire might ask about this) with your new employee and a HR representative, and affirm that they can use the restroom with which they are most comfortable. (I chose to use the restroom one floor down so that if there was confrontation, it wouldn't be with anyone on my immediate team. Your new employee may want that or may want to use the restroom on the same floor because it's more convenient). Really, your new hire will likely be there less than five minutes probably less than twice a day, so what does it really matter?

Importantly, don't "out" your new employee to the existing employees without discussing it with your new hire first. Many people have different comfort levels about being out, and it can be a source of conflict, so respect them if they want to stay in the closet.

Regardless, you hired a software engineer, so treat your new employee as you would your other employees -- respectfully, like humans. Bigender people are not too much different than a male, female, non-white, glasses-wearing, or any other person, so it really shouldn't be a big deal.

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    Trans people get drawn to trans-related questions, it's our nature. :) Nice answer, welcome to Workplace! – cat Jul 16 '16 at 3:34
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    I'm a mostly-cisgendered part of the LGBT community. I was going to reply to this, but then I saw this. I'd recommend the manager be sure to introduce the new employee to your team in the new hire's preferred way (eg: "This is Sam, they are (or he is or she is) our new hire, we're excited to have them (or him or her) on board", etc) to reduce employee confusion about how to refer to this person, and so that the new hire feels you have their back about their preferences and respect them. – McCann Jul 16 '16 at 17:16
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    If "bigender" and "transgender" are the same thing, maybe you could clarify that in this answer? (e.g., perhaps on the first use of the term "bigender", put "(also called 'transgender')". I mention it because I've never heard or read the term "bigender" before and I wonder if it's British English or something like that, while in American English the term "transgender" is very common and means that a person has an internal gender identity that is different from their biological sex. On first read, "bigender" seems like someone who has a gender identity of two genders at the same time. – Todd Wilcox Jul 17 '16 at 8:12
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    @ToddWilcox No, bigender and transgender are not synonymous. Bigender is a gender identity which falls under the term transgender, which is often used flexibly as a blanket term to refer to those whose gender identity does not match that which they were assigned at birth or does not match their physical sex. All bigender people can be referred to broadly as transgender, but not all trans people are bigender. (Bigender refers specifically to those who identify as two genders, usually elements of male and female) (see here for more info) – cat Jul 17 '16 at 11:56
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    @cat Ah, ok. I think it's good to have that clarification for this question. Thanks. – Todd Wilcox Jul 17 '16 at 15:51
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My opinion, although I'm no expert, is that he should treat that person just like any other employee, except maybe for asking whether (s)he prefers to be addressed as a he or she (although this should become apparent from the way (s)he dresses, I would imagine).

Don't make assumptions about their gender identity - simply establish a dialogue, and don't make a big deal out of it.

This being Northern Europe we're talking about I think most people would be quite progressive in their views, so hopefully that won't be a problem. As far making an announcement that a bi-gender person will be joining the them, I think you might be walking on thin ice. I mean, if you were annoucing a new employee you wouldn't necessarily mention the gender (the name would imply it). Publicly stating that "Person X, who is bigender, will be joining us" could be considered discrimination by some people. Maybe find some mroe subtle way of expressing that, or, better yet, let the newcomer handle this him/herself

That being said, I think your friend should read up on how such people view themselves in the workplace, and inform himself about their view of the world (read blogs, of which there are tons). Not saying this person will need special treatment, but it's always better to be prepared than not.

Other pointers:

  • Regarding the washroom "issue": why even worry about it? Simply point out the women's washroom, and the men's. Let this person decide which one (s)he wants to use. Done. The only potential problem is if this person flip-flops between the two, and other people become uncomfortable, but that's not a problem yet, and hopefully won't ever be one.

  • As far as the gender specific events are concerned, you should, again, wait and see how this person identifies, and then go from there. Don't make a big deal out of it until it's actually a problem (which hopefully it won't be).

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    +1 for like all other people. They are just another person, Take them in the office and have an adult conversation. – Nick Young Jul 15 '16 at 17:01
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    she/he/they/etc. And it might not match how you 'read' their clothing choices – zacaj Jul 15 '16 at 20:07
  • Excellent point about like treatment like other people. After all, that is the point of equality, no? Everyone has needs, preferences, etc. which should be respected as long as they don't reasonably intrude upon others'. I also LOVE the tip about learning more about others' experience; getting the other side of the story is oftentimes the best way to resolve a social situation. – Juan Carlos Coto Jul 15 '16 at 20:29
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    Maybe find some mroe subtle way of expressing that - If the goal is just to let everyone know the new employee's pronouns then the easiest way is just to use them in the email. "Person X will be joining us. [Pronoun1] will be working on...Join me in welcoming [Pronoun2] to the team". (Though it's possible it can be read as a typo if the new employee uses multiple pronouns.) – BSMP Jul 15 '16 at 20:42
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I do believe it is appropriate to ask how this new employee prefers to be addressed if the new hire has made their status known directly (Just to make sure that the statement about how the new hire self-describes was in the context of the hire disclosing to the manager, that this isn't from the manager snooping this person's facebook, or other indirect means).

Beyond that, the best way for the manager to show that he wants this person to be happy and comfortable in the office is to ask directly if there are any accommodations that they require coming into the workplace. Rarely does anyone know the needs of an individual better than the person in question. This should not focus on the person being bigendered as need is not specific to being bigendered; it allows people to raise issues with allergies, ergonomics, etc., which may effect their ability to be effective in the workplace.

The manager should not 'prepare' the rest of the team in any way before speaking to the new employee about their need for accommodation - as it may include things like "I chose to disclose my status to you, but would prefer to keep it private from my coworkers", "I don't want any changes to the office environment that would make me seem different to my peers".

  • The first paragraph is very confusing. Are you saying that it is ok to ask the person how they would like to be addressed as long as they brought it up? – JasonJ Jul 15 '16 at 17:50
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    Yes, if the hire disclosed directly to the manager or makes this information available as part of their professional identity (ie. CV, professional website, linkedin) then it it appropriate to ask what pronouns they prefer. But if the manager knows this information from a non-direct source (like from a mutual colleague or personal social media) then it is better to let the hire raise the issue as part of a broader 'how do we accommodate you as a new team member' sort of discussion. – abase Jul 15 '16 at 18:09
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    The point about accommodations is excellent. In my opinion, it is often easy to forget in this type of situation that it is INDIVIDUALS you're dealing with. Everyone is different, by definition. Instead of trying to fit each person into a category, embracing the diversity of humanity seems much better. – Juan Carlos Coto Jul 15 '16 at 20:24
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    @JuanCarlosCoto - you said it much more eloquently than I did. A final thought on talking about accommodation - for a manager to convey that they are interested in accommodating employee needs and will actively attempt to do so can be just as important to creating an inclusive as any single actual change. – abase Jul 15 '16 at 20:37
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    Welcome to the site @abase, thanks for submitting an excellent answer. I fully agree that asking how someone prefers to be addressed and a general "what accomodations do you need?" (asked of all employees) are excellent strategies to use. Since you expanded on your answer in the comments, keep in mind that we encourage editing your answer to incorporate new or expanded information. It's usually also fine to include other's comments like Juan's if you feel that they would improve your answer. – Lilienthal Jul 16 '16 at 10:15
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First of all, as other answers have stated, they're a human being, and there's no reason to treat them differently or act differently around them because of their unique identity as a human being.

  • On the safe side and before the new hire clears it up (as they likely will), it's safest to stick to the singular "they" pronoun, which is widely accepted among the English-speaking LGBTQ+ community as completely gender-neutral and thus safe in all situations.

    It is always respectful and highly appreciated to ask what pronouns should be used to refer to a transgender person, if they don't tell you straightaway.

  • If your friend's building / organisation is old enough that there are no unisex single-occupant restrooms, then it's again more than likely the new hire will already know which bathroom they're most comfortable using -- it's not really anyone's business, anyways.

    Hopefully, the locale in question has provisions such that transgender people can use whichever restroom makes them most comfortable.

  • Again, this is mostly up to the person's comfort level, and it would be most beneficial to ask them (without interrogating them) which events they'd prefer or feel comfortable at.

Remember, the new hire will more than likely want it to be a non-topic and non-issue, which also means respecting their privacy and comfort zones so they can get to work writing code and making money. :)

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    I am willing to bet a given transgender person will scoff - Well, they're bigender, not transgender. – BSMP Jul 15 '16 at 20:26
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    @BSMP "Transgender" is used flexibly within the LGBTQ community to refer to anyone who isn't cisgender (i.e, whose gender identity doesn't match their physical sex), so bigender, gender neutral, genderqueer, agender, and the various other terms people craft to feel more comfortable do in fact fall under the transgender umbrella. – cat Jul 15 '16 at 21:05
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    @djechlin Since gender identity and physical sex are not the same thing, people born with ambiguous physical sex characteristics are referred to as intersex. I didn't realise that events especially for other minorities were a real thing, but if that is indeed the case, then fine -- I'm saying it's likely someone who scoffs at the typical gender binary or delineation among genders (as many trans people, nay, most LGBT people do) is also likely to scoff at events for specific genders. But again, I stand corrected. – cat Jul 16 '16 at 16:29
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    re: bathrooms: a friend of mine posted a pic of a sign that's in the bathrooms at the University of Guelph-Humber: it says: "If you're in a public washroom and you think someone's gender does not match the sign on the door, follow these steps:" / "1. Don't worry about it. They know where they belong." There's some graphic-design and a bit of other text, but that's the only step. :) Maybe not something you'd put up in a workplace, since it's less "public" and more like people that know each other, but worth mentioning anyway. – Peter Cordes Jul 17 '16 at 3:27
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    @PeterCordes Sadly, I wouldn't trust people to not abuse that. On the lighter end of the scale would be people who use it as an excuse to visit the other room out of curiosity, on the more serious end you'd have the people visiting for voyeuristic self gratification. Maybe I'm being paranoid or pessimistic, but there are a lot of people out there with dubious morals. – Pharap Jul 17 '16 at 13:47
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Generally, you manage them as you would manage any other individual. You ask what they prefer to be called and how they prefer to be referred to, and try to honor that request. You let them tell you if they have any other special needs and try to find ways to accommodate those in the workplace. You help the other employees do likewise, and mediate conflicts that arise (with assistance from HR and from anyone knowledgeable you can find).

Most of the adjustments are no larger than if you had an employee who was very observant in a religion you didn't know much about. You learn as you go, and you figure out what the company can do to make this person reasonably comfortable and productive while letting everyone else continue to be reasonably comfortable and productive.

Simply respecting each other as human beings goes a long way.

Re the toilets: This may not be an issue, depending on the individual's status. I am guessing that someone who is bi-gender (as opposed to a transgender male or female) would feel OK using the facilities that match their current body configuration, in which case it's no different from the gay employees you probably already have. If their identity actively disagrees with their anatomy, things could become a bit more complicated and you may need to work a bit to find an acceptable solution.

  • Cross-reference was indeed a spillchucker typo. Fixing. – keshlam Jul 15 '16 at 19:58
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    My point is was that our historical default has been that people with the same external plumbing can use the same plumbing, independent of their extracurricular interests. We are now starting to recognize exceptions to that default, but it doesn't sound like this specific case raises that issue. I could be wrong. – keshlam Jul 15 '16 at 20:09
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    Btw, "homosexual" has actually become a bit of a slur. Even though it really ought to be a perfectly reasonable term (IMO), particularly America's religious right or alt-right has eschewed the words "gay" and "lesbian" for "homosexual" and used it extremely derisively, and it's stopped being used for any sort of inclusive or "pro-gay" sentiment or discussion, even in professional settings. I'm leaving an edit on your message for it, I just thought I'd explain the rationale in case it seems overly "PC." – user42272 Jul 16 '16 at 15:46
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    "Transgendered" makes it sound like a disease we have -- that aside, it's just incorrect grammar, and the use here is somewhat ambiguous anyway, so I've suggested an edit it to imply transgender in the binary notion (which is what was actually implied) – cat Jul 16 '16 at 16:42
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    Language is still catching up with both social and medical evolution. Which is one reason I strongly recommend letting folks tell you how they want to be referred to. (On the other hand, I beg that it be kept simple enough for us dinosaurs to learn -- please don't change pronouns continuously, and please forgive us if our best efforts occasionally fail.) – keshlam Jul 16 '16 at 18:36
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Your friend is expected to be able to manage a team of people, he is not expected to be an expert on all aspects of human life.

I'd say wait until the person arrives, see what the person looks like (do they look and/or dress obviously male or female), what is the first name they are using (is it an obvious male or female name), and go from there. If after meeting the new employee in person you are not hundred percent sure, you ask. If flexibility is required, be flexible, but nobody should require you to be a mindreader.

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As someone who is trans, I would say to treat them as an individual. Find out from them how they wish to be addressed, etc. In the short term referencing them as 'they' is generally the safe option.

Bathroom choice is something that will stress the new hire more, and more down to how others will react to their presence. Possibly deal with this with other team members in advance and without reference to the new hire (maybe see if the local LGBT centre can recommend someone to provide a short presentation to the staff before the new hire starts). The same applies to gender specific events.

Don't announce anything public without their permission.

How different LGBT people react can vary massively. Some will be very relaxed about things, some will be very stressed. And some will be stressed by certain things (which may appear very innocuous to others) related to how others have reacted or treated them previously.

protected by Jane S Jul 16 '16 at 23:20

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