Almost everyone at this point has heard of or seen President Obama’s recent letter to every school district in America basically saying that all transgender students should be allowed to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity.
While this isn’t an actual law the President did add wording to make school districts feel that if they didn’t follow this guidance, they could possibly lose federal funding. That is big because schools rely heavily on this funding to operate.
As you can imagine, this caused major outrage across America. The Washington Times released a poll that showed the majority of American’s actually are not in agreement with the President on this issue. Also, social media blew up with both sides defending their positions on this issue.
All of this leads to what’s the next step – the workplace!
We all know that if the President is going to take a stand on public schools and gender neutral bathrooms, it’s only a matter of time until government workplaces also are mandated, and then that rolls down to private employers as well.
As HR pros, it doesn’t matter what we believe regarding this position. Like many laws and mandates that happen, what we think about it ultimately is meaningless. What we are going to do about it becomes the true issue we face in getting our organizations prepared and compliant.
Here are a number of things you should be thinking about and starting to have conversation with leadership regarding gender neutral bathrooms:
- This isn’t a moral or political issue. This is a compliance issue. Regardless, this will be a hot issue to deal with in your workplaces. At one point in our society, the majority of Americans thought it was completely normal that Black Americans should have separate bathrooms. This issue is very similar. You need to think about how you will educate your employees on gender identity.
- Physical organization design can really alleviate this issue in organizations that can afford a design of private bathroom stalls for all. This becomes a funding and logistical issue. After a hundred years of having male/female bathrooms, moving to a design where you only have one bathroom for all with many private stalls (think much more private than current partial wall stalls) becomes cost prohibitive for most organizations, but ultimately might be the best overall design.
- For the most part, you will have no issues in this transition. Your employees are adults and this is about having a good understanding of what gender identity truly is. More than likely the issues you will face are bullying from a very few employees who refuse to try and understand this issue. Be swift and strong with how you deal with these outliers. This will curtail future issues.
As leaders and HR pros we need to understand that we will have people who are uncomfortable with this issue for a number of reasons, mostly from lack of understanding and change. You can’t gloss over and ignore this issue, it’s a real issue.
Get on the front side of this. Your employees are already forming opinions and talking about this because of Obama’s letter and their children dealing with this issue in their own learning environments. This is a great time for us as HR pros to be proactive and begin addressing this on our own, in our own way, before it gets mandated and we look like we’re running around with no plan.