Learning from the Genderbread Person

The Genderbread Person is a visual aid created by Sam Killerman in 2021 that aims to explain the complex nature of gender and break it down into different components. It has since been used as a tool to promote understanding and discussions around gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation. The Genderbread Person aims to provide a detailed and nuanced understanding of these concepts compared to traditional binary models. 

As a person who has dedicated time to unpacking the ideas of what it means to be gender diverse, I’m well aware of my own experiences. However, when talking with colleagues about the nuances of woman-ness/femininity/femaleness and man-ness/masculinity/male-ness, it can help to have an infographic to illustrate these concepts. Having a visual representation can enable conversations that use common language to better understand each other and our unique perspectives.


The Genderbread Person includes four aspects:  

  1. Gender Identity (woman-ness and man-ness): a person’s internal sense of their own gender. It's how they see themselves in terms of being a man, woman, both, neither, or something else entirely. 
  2. Gender Expression (femininity and masculinity): how a person chooses to express their gender to the world. It encompasses behaviours, clothing, hairstyles, and mannerisms. It's important to note that gender expression doesn't have to align with social norms. 
  3. Biological Sex (female-ness and male-ness): the physical attributes often associated with being male, female, or intersex. It includes factors such as chromosomes, genitalia, and hormone levels. 
  4. Sexual Orientation (sexual and/or romantic attraction to persons who are women/feminine/female, and/or men/masculine/male): who a person is sexually or romantically attracted to, such as being heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual, bisexual, asexual, etc. 

Killerman created the Genderbread Person to start conversations around gender and sexual diversity. The infographic helps people understand that these dimensions can vary independently from one another. It emphasizes that gender is not a simple binary but a complex and multifaceted experience. 


What the Genderbread Person can teach organizations 

The Genderbread Person can help employees internalize the concepts and nuances of gender, enabling people to have open conversations that foster inclusion. The Genderbread Person can help employers explore the many ways that gender can impact the workplace. When organizations understand the nuances of gender, they can start to address: 

  • The complex nature of what it means to work as someone who is 2SLGBTQI+. 
    • The nuances between gender identity, gender expression, and anatomical sex 
    • The difference between gender and sexual orientation 
  • How to confront cis-heteronormative assumptions that all employees are cisgender and straight, which perpetuate gender stereotypes and marginalize individuals who do not conform to these norms.


Challenges faced by the 2SLBTQI+ community in the workplace  

Organizations can fail to understand gender identities and expressions which can lower the diversity and inclusion of employees. Not understanding 2SLGBTQI+ employees can increase the rate of HR complaints of discrimination around gender. When these employees do not feel included, it can create an unwelcoming environment and decrease the engagement and participation of 2SLGBTQI+ persons at work.  

Challenges faced by the 2SLGBTQI+ community include: 

  1. Policies that do not recognize the unique experiences of 2SLGBTQI+ individuals 
  2. Physically and psychologically unsafe workplaces 
  3. A lack of awareness about gender diversity 
  4. Invalidation of gender identity 
  5. Disadvantages during recruitment and promotion 
  6. Benefits that do not address the unique needs of all employees


What organizations can do 

Here are six ways for organizations to address the unique needs of 2SLGBTQI+ and gender-diverse employees in the workplace. 

1. Implement policies that support 2SLGBTQI+ individuals: Organizations can put in place formal mandates that support 2SLGBTQI+ persons. This shows employees that their unique identities are valued at work and that they can feel safe to be themselves.

  • Have explicitly trans-inclusive policies to demonstrate tangible commitment to 2SLGBTQI+ employees. 
  • Include policies and transition plans that enable teams to support employees through transitions. 
  • Review policies with a Gender-Based Analysis Plus lens to assess how policies may impact different groups in unique ways. 
  • Draft equity and inclusion policies that are intersex-affirming to offset the erasure of intersex identities. 
  • Implement policies that explicitly permit and protect all gender expressions to support employees of diverse gender identities. 
  • If a dress code is needed, avoid gender stereotypes. Provide details to outline the appropriate ways that employees can feel comfortable presenting themselves in their preferred work attire. 
  • Ensure sexual harassment policies are not heteronormative in their definitions of harassment to protect 2SLGBTQI+ persons from specific forms of sexual harassment. 
  • Examine policies through a lens of inclusion diversity, equity, and accessibility to create an inclusive and fair workplace for 2SLGBTQI+ employees

2. Provide psychologically and physically safe workplaces: Organizations can take actions that acknowledge and address that feeling safe is a fundamental need for everyone, and that for members of disadvantaged communities, it’s not a given. 

  • Safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of any information related to a person’s gender identity to not “out” trans people. 
  • Make gender-neutral washrooms and locker rooms available to help employees feel free from judgement and able to use facilities that align with their gender identities. 
  • Create Employee Workforce Resource Groups for trans and gender-diverse employees to provide communities that share experiences and encourage one another. 
  • Create safe spaces for discussions and reflections about gender to foster workplaces where people feel safe to bring their whole selves to work. 

3. Offer training that supports allyship: Organizations can teach about the nuances of gender and enable employees to feel equipped to support their 2SLGBTQI+ colleagues. 

  • Develop trans-specific diversity training to help cisgender employees develop the skills to become informal champions of their transgender colleagues. 
  • Provide instructor-led training for HR, recruiters, management, and staff. Topics can include 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion to promote 2SLGBTQI+ inclusivity and understanding, and gender diversity in the workplace to explore the importance of gender diversity and inclusion.  

4. Affirm diverse gender identities and expressions: Organizations can foster a sense of belonging by honouring the way people want to be known and understood.

  • Add optional pronouns in email signatures to remove any ambiguity about how to address and refer to colleagues. 
  • Encourage employees to introduce themselves with their pronouns to normalize the concept of diverse gender identities. 
  • Incorporate fields for preferred names and personal pronouns into forms and during onboarding to recognize these identifiers as an important part of one's identity. 
  • Review the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion’s resources on LGBTQ2S+ inclusion and Creating a transgender-inclusive workplace to learn more.  

5. Practice inclusive recruitment: Organizations can diversify their staff by using practices that recruit and promote 2SLGBTQI+ candidates.

  • Remove gendered language in job postings to prevent deterring gender-diverse candidates from applying. 
  • Train managers to respect candidates whose name and gender have changed through their employment history to provide fair treatment during recruitment. 
  • Use the name the candidates provide, even if it differs from official documents to respect people who may not have formally changed their name as a part of their transition. 
  • Avoid questions that may require a candidate to disclose that they’re transgender, to respect their right to privacy. 
  • Conduct a Diversity Meter to understand the makeup of your workforce and determine areas where targeted recruitment efforts may be needed.

6. Offer 2SLGBTQI+ specific benefits: Organizations can retain 2SLGBTQI+ employees by taking into consideration their unique circumstances and needs when providing benefits.

  • Provide benefits packages that cover the full range of medical procedures related to the process of sex affirmation to support employees undergoing these processes.
  • Include benefit information for same-sex spouses and domestic partners to recognize non-heteronormative relationships. 
  • Provide equitable parental leave benefits for adoptive parents,  parents using surrogacy or IVF and chosen family to serve a full range of diverse family structures.  

Using tools like the Genderbread Person can support conversations with 2SLGBTQI+ employees about their needs, to produce more informed policies and practices. When gender diverse persons are included, understood, and valued in these conversations we feel welcome to come to work as who we truly are. Organizations that commit to creating space to talk about gender can help their 2SLGBTQI+ employees feel included and can learn from them about how to maximize their potential to achieve the best outcomes. 

CCDI Consulting is here to help you have these important conversations.

Our newsletter and blogs feature personal opinions and diverse viewpoints. We aim to create a safe space for our team to share their perspectives on diversity and inclusion. Please note that individual articles may not align with every reader's view or comprehensively cover a topic. We appreciate the diversity of opinions and respect our team's contributions.