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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Anselme

Why does Siri sound like that and what can HR professionals do about it?

The way our society views gender roles and gender norms is constantly shifting. Different generations also tend to have different views on gender. When surveyed, Gen Z believe that gender is a non-binary spectrum more than any other generation. They are also very aware of the way organizational structure, products and marketing materials can all be gendered and are speaking up against it. Listening to members of this generation in the workforce, in my personal life and on social media has helped me to fine-tune my senses regarding gender norms. I personally never realized that many of the popular voice assistants--Alexa, Siri, Cortana--are all marketed at as women with more typically feminine voices. Is this because of the assumed relationship between women and servitude? Similarly, one can also bring up customer service workers assuming gender when interacting with customers; using words like sir or ma'am, which were taught to a lot of us as a means of showing respect. Though well-intentioned in its origin, this practice can be harmful to those with whom we interact.

The assumption of gender and the norms that go along with it can be so problematic in various situations. Have you ever dined at a new restaurant and asked an employee to point you to the restroom? Waitstaff assuming a customer's gender and pointing them in the direction of the gendered bathroom that they decided was the correct one instead of directing them to the general area of both bathrooms or sharing information on both and letting the customer decide where they want to go can ruin a diner’s experience. The same can be true of our workplaces. Organizations, especially ones with large offices, tend to have gendered restrooms in the workspace. We have seen a huge push towards gender neutral restrooms, or as we call them at home, restrooms. However, there is still much work to do within institutions open to the general public: restaurants, event spaces, gyms, etc. Allyship includes making these structural updates. It also includes not assuming, and it includes the realization that people know what bathroom they belong in. They don’t need you to tell them.

Furthermore, the restroom updates are great but what do they mean if we're not creating an inclusive workplace for our trans and non-binary staff members or if they aren't being promoted or given opportunities due to bias or discrimination? We sometimes fall victim to letting ourselves become content with small or targeted wins while so much more work is needed outside of our immediate purview. This idea begs the question, are we even paying attention? Within Human Resources, People Operations and DEI work, we must always be paying attention to the challenges faced by our employees. Whether we are collecting that data though surveys, feedback sessions and forms, or exit interviews, the information must then be applied into HR practices and policies. Quantitative data is often not enough for People Teams to truly understand why employees may be unhappy or resigning at a higher rate. It is in those discussions and within those relationships with managers and peers that decision-makers can realize what needs to be done for the good of the organization.

I once read an article about a transwoman who worked as a CEO and how her experience living as a man shaped her thinking. It was honestly a little cringeworthy. She talked about how transitioning opened her eyes to the experiences of women in the workplace. And while that sounds like great progress for her, it is also upsetting to hear how closed those eyes and that mind were before her transition. While working in that same position within the organization, she missed so much of what was actually happening. Everyone isn't going to transition and have the opportunity to walk a mile in another gender's shoes so how do we get everyone to understand the struggles of their peers? Within the DEI world, we often hear people promising to listen and learn. Though the genre may be new to you, or the lyrics may be unsettling and tough to understand at first, it’s important that we continue to listen and learn the songs of others. Only then, can we do something about it.

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