(Es Braziel (left) and Wendy Pei (right) share what gender inclusion means to them and how to be a better advocate for marginalized gender groups.)
This month the San Francisco office celebrated the opening of an all-gender restroom. For people who are cisgender and identify with their sex assigned at birth, this may seem like a small thing. To people who identify across the gender spectrum, it means safety and comfort in accessing a necessity others often take for granted.
Es Braziel, a senior design researcher for Yammer who uses the pronoun they/them, was the catalyst behind the newly finished restroom. As someone who is nonbinary, Es does not identify as either a man or a woman. For Es, an all-gender restroom means experiencing a feeling of safety and a comfortable work environment where they can avoid having to enter a gendered space.
As a design researcher who works to incorporate the breadth of human experience through their work, diversity and inclusion is top-of-mind for Es. “Whether it’s the features we develop or the buildings we work in, we need to think about how everyone will find comfort and familiarity in a product or space,” says Es.
“Single-stall all-gender restrooms benefit everyone, from people who are nonbinary, to those with physical disabilities and even families with young children. When we build to include, it benefits us all.”
Creating space to belong
The journey to building this restroom had an unconventional beginning. Es was interested in working at Microsoft in part because of CEO Satya Nadella’s emphasis on building a culture of diversity and inclusion.
“Yet I almost didn’t accept my job offer because the Microsoft office I would work in didn’t have an all-gender restroom I could use,” says Es.
All-gender restrooms are important to the transgender and nonbinary community for several reasons, but safety is at the top of the list. According to a recent study by the National Center for Transgender Equality, almost 60 percent of transgender Americans avoided using public restrooms in 2015 because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience. California recognizes the rights of individuals to use whichever restroom corresponds most closely to their gender identity. Yet for someone like Es, when only gendered restrooms are available, this does not remedy the problem.
As Es notes, “I want to feel like I can show up to work, exactly as I am. I can’t do that when I repeatedly enter a gendered space that doesn’t correspond to how I feel or want to be seen.” After receiving a job offer, Es negotiated for an all-gender restroom to be installed before accepting.
“It’s scary enough negotiating for more pay. Here I was asking for something so basic, yet so intimate. I’ve had transphobic incidents happen in the past, and I was afraid others wouldn’t understand why this was important or take me seriously.”
The request was brought to our Bay Area site leader Murali Sitaram, general manager for Yammer and O365. Murali shared he was initially surprised there was not a clearer policy in place, but then jumped to solve the problem. “I moved into action mode. We needed both short- and long-term options to solve for this request,” he said. “I also immediately gained a deeper understanding of what it might feel like to have to make this difficult choice daily.”
With solutions in place and a clear path for the all-gender restroom, Es decided to accept the offer. The construction took nearly a year to complete, a short time for industry standards but long on a personal level for Es. It is completed now though, and thanks to Es those people who identify as nonbinary and transgender will never have to even consider making this request again.
(Our San Francisco office celebration for the opening of our all-gender restroom with restroom themed cupcakes and resource books on transgender allyship.)
The opening of the all-gender restroom coincided with Pride month. It was the perfect time to celebrate and learn more about gender inclusion.
Deemed the “Potty Party,” the San Francisco office showed up to acknowledge the significance behind opening the all-gender restroom. At the event Es was able to share their story, shed light on different forms of gender marginalization, and teach others about gender identity.
“Gender is multifaceted, and often confused with a variety of concepts – biological sex, gender identity, sexuality, and gender expression,” says Es. “People often look at gender on the surface, and don’t take the time to reflect on their gender identity and how that identity impacts others.”
Education is key to understanding. Being a strong ally to those who are transgender and nonbinary means getting proactive in your learning. Materials like The Trans Allyship Workbook, The Gender Quest Workbook, and A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns can help that process.
Through learning people gain greater awareness for things like correct pronoun usage. Asking, rather than assuming, a new colleague’s pronoun and adding pronouns to an email signature are simple gestures a person can make for gender inclusion. This creates the space needed for colleagues to state preferred pronouns or how they would like to be addressed.
“It means so much to have people ask for my pronouns and then use them. I feel seen.”
Es notes that making space for others to be themselves takes not only education, but also open conversations and a willingness to grow. “People have a hard time blurring the boxes of the gender binary,” Es says. “But it’s necessary work and okay to admit that we all have something to learn, across all genders.”
Full gender equity is a work in progress. And creating space for people to be themselves takes more than one person. Microsoft invites everyone to act for equality with us. Learn more about how Microsoft is engaging with our own LGBTQI+ community, driving inclusion initiatives, and participating in celebrations all over the world here: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/pride. If you are interested in joining Es and our local teams, Bay Area job openings can be found here: https://aka.ms/MicrosoftBayAreaCareers.
(San Francisco LGBTQI+ allies gather to better understand the gender spectrum.)