This past spring in her Honors Business Communications class, Professor Katie Gerst asked a question that she has asked Honors students at the Fox School of Business for years: how does gender affect doing business in another country?
Most students responded by talking about the differences between women and men. But Tae Schaible, a junior accounting major, shared their perspective as a nonbinary individual.
“I wasn't even sure if I should mention it,” recalls Schaible, who uses they/them pronouns. “I didn't know if anyone else would consider it, because why would they? Almost everyone else wouldn't need to. But I still brought it up, because I think that business is changing and more people are coming out.”
Schaible is right; gender expression is increasing with each generation. More than 5% of young people between the ages of 18-29 identify themselves as either transgender or nonbinary, compared to 1.6% of adults 30-49 and less than 1% of adults over 50, according to Pew Research Center.
Schaible’s willingness to share their story prompted Gerst to rethink the way she approaches gender in her class. Gerst asked Schaible if they would be comfortable having a larger conversation around gender identity and self-expression in business education.
“I always want my students to feel comfortable, because I think you can learn more if you feel comfortable,” says Gerst. "You need to feel like you're safe in the classroom.”
Schaible did find a more comfortable environment after arriving to Temple University than they had during their high school experience.
“I think that I have found myself a good network of friends, and also, professors that have just been supportive and awesome,” they say.
“That's not to say that it was completely without challenge or that I was completely comfortable. While I could use my preferred name and people could refer to me with my preferred pronouns at school, there are [still] challenges.”
Schaible notes that queer representation is still in the minority, and that the Temple community can be more thoughtful about the spectrum of gender identity. For example, they recall being shocked when a professor suggested using the prefix “Mx.” when emailing someone whose gender identity is unknown.
“I just thought that was awesome,” says Schaible. “I like that, creating inclusive environments for everyone who's not just one or the other.”
Normalizing pronouns is another avenue for inclusion. "Just destigmatizing the fact that it's not a big deal. It's just what you like to be identified as; it's what you feel comfortable with,” says Schaible.
Identifying one’s pronouns is becoming more common, but even with the best of intentions, mistakes still happen. Gerst, for example, recalls a day that she accidentally misgendered Schaible in class. Schaible says Gerst handled it in their preferred way: correcting the mistake and then moving on.
"That's all that you can do because you're living and learning,” says Schaible. “But the important thing is that you learn from your mistakes. I think not saying anything would be worse than not correcting.”
Schaible also advocates for educators to take Temple’s Safe Zone training. “I think [everyone] should have to do that. It's a great resource that is available, and I think that it can [help] make sure that people feel safe and included.”
There’s still more work to be done, though, both during the college experience and beyond. Gerst and Schaible discussed how the business world can be more inclusive and aware of a growing population of individuals who self-identify between or outside the gender binary of male and female.
“I'm nervous,” admits Schaible when discussing their upcoming internship and professional business experiences. They explain that there's a risk factor with being ‘out’ in the workplace and that societal gender norms permeate much of business culture, whether explicitly or not.
“There are very gendered ways of dressing. There are very gendered ways of communicating.”
Schaible and Gerst both hope that their conversation can prompt more students, faculty, staff and business professionals to advance their perceptions and understanding of gender identify and expression.
Temple University faculty, staff and students are encouraged to take the Safe Zone training. Offered by the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership (IDEAL) and Wellness Resource Center, the training advocates for acceptance of LGBTQIA identities and aims to work against discrimination directed towards LGBTQIA folks. IDEAL’s Gender and Sexuality Inclusion Center hosts Queer Lunches, as well as resources and events through an intersectional lens.
Students are also welcome to join Temple's several queer student professional organizations, which offer programs and dialogues to enhance the inclusiveness of gender and sexuality on the campus.
Interested in learning more about Pride Month from the Fox School? Check out this podcast episode on Coming Out at Work, meet the students who organized the 2022 Voices of Pride conference and learn the pros and cons on the business of Pride.