This resource examines five interrelated concepts that underpin equal opportunity policies and practices in higher education and research industries: intersectionality, equity, diversity, inclusion and access.

You are on Chapter 4 of 5: Inclusion

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction and intersectionality
  2. Equity
  3. Diversity
  4. Inclusion (current page)
    1. LGBTQIA+ scholars
      • Text Box 11: How to evaluate & improve policies for LGBTQIA+ staff
    2. Transgender staff and students
  5. Access
  6. Notes

4. Inclusion

Inclusion is a term showing how we can active seek out, value and respect differences

4.1 LGBTQIA scholars

Gender and sexual minority staff often face pressure to remain guarded about their personal lives and identities from colleagues and managers. For example, a national survey of 1,600 LGBTI Australian workers finds that only 32% are “out” to everyone at work (Brown et. al. 2018). This lack of safety may be particularly pronounced in workplaces with low gender parity. Companies that have gender diverse CEOs and boards have more inclusive policies for LGBT staff, though women CEOs without a diverse board lead to mixed results (Alison Cook and Christy Glass 2016).

A significant minority of academic workers believe their organisation doesn’t support inclusion

Another study by Pride in Diversity (2016) surveyed over 13,200 Australian workers, finding the not-for-profit (NFP) sector has the greatest measures of LGBTI inclusion (91% people feel supported). While individuals employed in higher education had the highest personal belief LGBTI initiatives are important to their institution (89%), and reporting having a high personal understanding (90%) and personal support for inclusion (95%), higher education employees do not believe their organisation guenuinely shares their support for LGBTI inclusion (81% compared to 91% for NFP sector). Higher education workers’ lack of institutional confidence on inclusivity is lower than the private and NFP sectors (though the public sector was the worst). For example, only 77% of higher education employees think senior managers truly support LGBTI inclusion, and similarly for their managers and team leaders (76%). This is at least 10 percentage points lower than the NFP sector.

Gender and sexual minority staff may also lack awareness about the support available to them, and how workplace policies and programs apply to them, such as family benefits or anti-harassment policies. Again, the Pride in Diversity study shows a stark disconnect between practice and higher education workers’ personal desire for inclusion. Only around half think their organisation does a good job communicating LGBTI inclusion policies (56%) and 68% would know where to get this information. This leaves a significant minority in the dark about where to seek help. This is troubling on many levels, especially since LGBTI workers are five times more likely to experience or witness workplace bullying and harassment (16% LGBTI vs 5% non-LGBTI).

LGBTI staff report feeling afraid to come forward to seek support because of the potential backlash from managers. Bisexual women and men are less likely to be “out” at work in organisations with poor inclusion (65% men and 74% women), in comparison to gay men (76%) and lesbians (83%). The higher education sector and NFP sectors had the lowest proportion of LGBTI people “out” to their managers (66% and 65% respectively). These people don’t wish to be “labelled,” feel uncomfortable or are unsure about the repercussions of coming out to their managers. Only around 80% of lesbian, gay and bisexual staff felt confident their managers would manage inappropriate behaviour directed at them. Those who have experienced workplace bullying say they didn’t report it because it would be career-limiting or they feel they need to “just put up with it.” Younger LGBTI respondents are the most likely to experience this bullying.

Inclusive workplaces increase engagement with work

Staff in work environments perceived as supportive are more likely to be open about their identities and feel comfortable and welcome in their workplace. Workplaces that are proactive about inclusion can better ensure that gender and sexual minorities experience increased job satisfaction, improved mental health and wellbeing, and reduced feelings of marginalisation. Workplaces that value, encourage and recognise gender and sexual diversity increase productivity and research effectiveness.

Here are some starting points to increase LGBTQIA+ inclusion:

  • Raise awareness of gender and sexual diversity among faculty, staff and students through seminars, presentations and facilitated discussions. Incorporate LGBTQIA+ inclusion as part of existing training, including in unconscious bias, mentoring programs, and leadership and funding committees.
  • Adequately resource LGBTQIA+ networks for faculty, staff, students and allies (rather than relying on volunteer labour). Ensure these are inclusive of intersectionality, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership, and meets the spiritual needs of religious minorities, as well as addressing disabled people’s sexual and gender diversity.
  • Recognise and reward the contributions of gender diverse faculty and staff through seminars, presentations or physical installations (such as photographic series or posters of diverse queer role models).
  • Celebration of important cultural events such as local Pride days, ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other people of colour are well-represented and made to feel safe and welcome.
  • Increase public accountability on anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia in the broader academic community, as well as racism and ableism within LGBTQIA+ networks. This might be through audits that critically analyse visual and promotional material, to examine how effectively they embrace gender and sexual diversity, and to ensure language is inclusive of intersectionality.

See the text box below for more ideas on how to evaluate and improve on policies.

Text Box 11: How to evaluate & improve policies for LGBTQIA+ staff

Collaborate with LGBTQIA+ staff, students and experts to better measure the effectiveness of policies. This might include:

  • Survey LGBTQIA+ staff and students about their awareness of gender equity policies available to them. Seek the input of specialist services run by LGBTQIA+ experts, such as Pride in Diversity
  • Provide training for managers on inclusive policies and on maintaining confidentiality.
  • Ensure wording is inclusive of all genders on forms, surveys and marketing. E.g. using phrases such as “What gender do you identify as?” and freeform text options for people to write in their gender identity. Conversely, do not ask for gender data if you’re not going to meaningfully analyse gender differences to aid workforce policies or other research outcomes.
  • Review family policies, to ensure benefits, caring arrangements and carer’s leave for LGBTQIA+ staff.
  • Make explicit leave policies for people with medical needs. related to bodily diversity (e.g. the needs of people who are intersex).
  • Consider the distinct needs of LGBTQIA+ minorities of ethnic, religious and other minority backgrounds. For example are prayer rooms and chaplains welcoming? Is information provided in accessible formats for disabled LGBTQIA+ people? Refer to culturally appropriate mental health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQIA+ people, such as Black Rainbow.
  • Develop swift and fair processes for responding to inappropriate workplace behaviours such as inappropriate comments, ‘jokes’ or intentional misgendering (consistently referring to or about someone by anything other than their preferred gender pronoun).
  • Evaluate reporting procedures of discrimination, harassment or abuse. These should be robust, accessible, responsive, and safeguard LGBTQIA+ staff. For example, not forcing people to ‘out’ themselves, or creating additional stress on the physical and emotional safety of staff and students.
  • Assess work-related social activities are inclusive of all staff, both during work hours and out-of-hours events, family days and holiday programs. Do invitations have gender-neutral language (e.g. ‘plus ones’ are not phrased as ‘Mr/Mrs’)? Are venues for external events safe for LGBQTQIA people?
  • Condut an audit of facilities to ensure inclusivity, such as unisex toilets, safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ staff and students.

4.2 Transgender staff and students

Transgender women can lose a third of their income after transitioning, which is not as pronounced as for transgender men (Schilt and Wiswall 2008), with transgender women of colour experiencing even greater workplace losses. A study of almost 5,000 transgender and nonbinary people found that transgender women have the poorest work outcomes due to gender discrimination, from higher unemployment, to greater underemployment, job loss, denial of promotions (Davidson 2016). The motherhood penalty, lack of recognition of service and other gendered dynamics in academia are therefore likely to be even more pronounced for transgender women (especially racial minorities), with additional institutional barriers.

Research by Catherine Connell (2010) and Kristen Schilt (2006, 2010) finds that transgender people are subjected to various forms of discrimination and exclusion. This ranges from constantly receiving unsolicited advice and intrusive questions, to being shouted at and physically coerced (see also Zevallos 2014). Employers rarely have action plans in place to support transgender employees (Anna O’Dea 2017).

Transgender people often experience other forms of silencing and marginalisation in employment contexts. They are often subject to microaggressions at work, such as inappropriate language, discriminatory “jokes”, and misgendering (being addressed by the wrong name or gender pronoun). This is on top of other, more direct, abuse (Nordmarken 2014). The cumulative effect of these experiences can be debilitating to mental health, wellbeing and career progression. This is especially pronounced for disabled transgender people (Ballan, Romanelli and Harper 2011).

Using correct gender pronouns is vitally important

Gender pronouns are a basic human right, not simply because they reflect a person’s identity, but also because our names are a routine part of our professional lives. More care needs to be taken on improving institutional records on gender. Forms that specify only options for “male”, “female” or “other” can marginalise those who do not fit these categories. (Female is a biological category and should be avoided regardless.) In many cases, the “other” label may also reduce accuracy, as cisgender people concerned about anonymity or who do not wish to have their gender specified may choose the other category.

Best practice is to provide staff and students control over how their gender data are recorded and stored. This includes provisions for excising of previous gender data (prior to transition) across institutional systems.

Intersectionality broadens inclusion policies and practices

The singular focus on “women” found in traditional gender equity and diversity policies has deep impact on transgender people, especially transgender women, who experience sexism alongside transphobia (and other forms of discrimination if they belong to multiple minority backgrounds). The “fix the women” approaches which centre White cisgender women are therefore even more damaging. Women-only universities are no less likely to embrace policy changes needed to make transgender people safe and welcome (Ruth Padawer 2014). Feminists do not easily accept that transgender women faculty and staff have the same caring responsibilities and career concerns as other women (Raewyn Connell 2012). Intersectionality is a framework that overcomes exclusionary approaches.

Like other transgender people of colour, Indigenous transgender people have unique cultural and spiritual needs (Sistergirls and Brotherboys Australia 2015). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander transgender women (“sistergirls“) and men (“brotherboys“) navigate both racism and transphobia in broader society, as well as in LGBTQIA+ organisations; plus, they face potential exclusion from their cultural communities. For example, some brotherboys and sistergirls will retain knowledge of secret men’s or women’s business that they would not ordinarily have about another gender. This is because they may have previously participated in gendered community rituals prior to their transition. They may require a supportive liaison to help elders understand this transition if they want to go back on Country. Sacred gender knowledge is part of the lived experience for Indigenous transgender people that non-Indigenous transgender people do not have. How can managers, human resources, and LGBTQIA+ groups on campus help with these community and spiritual requirements of Indigenous transgender staff and students?

Sistergirls and brotherboys also have cultural responsibilities to maintain, as well as dealing with intercultural trauma of racist policies (Margaret Burin 2016). Despite these challenges, the research excellence, pedagogy, spirituality, connection to Country and various knowledges they have accumulated makes the contribution of Indigenous transgender people vital to multiple disciplines across the full rubric of research and teaching.

So how do we take pre-emptive steps to ensure the equity, diversity and inclusion of transgender academics and students?

Use intersectionality to craft proactive policies 

By law, most countries will have anti-bullying, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies in place. These do not always work to prevent exclusion, as in many cases, academics do not understand the policies or where to go for help. To make a start on an inclusive culture, consider the following:

  • Using inclusive messages in recruitment materials and institutional publicity that are co-designed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander transgender people, to better attract Indigenous talent.
  • Prominently recognising of the contributions of diverse transgender people in curriculum, speaking engagements, awards, funding and other career-enhancing opportunities.
  • Addressing intersectionality in representation of transgender role models and symbols in buildings, websites, promotional material and other areas, bearing in mind race, disability, religion and other minority transgender people deserve to be featured.
  • Incorporating transgender awareness into diversity training is imperitive, with tailored and practical advice for institutional leaders, line managers and staff members. Presentations and facilitated discussions might routinely raise awareness transgender inclusion.
  • Specific policies and practices should be easily available with plain-langauge scenarios to address inappropriate language, including deliberate misgendering  of transgender staff (being addressed by names or pronouns other than their preferred name/pronouns).
  • Examining potential disadvantage in career expectations is pivotal to promotion of transgender people, such as biased expecations of linear career progression or lack of flexibility around unaccounted for gaps in CVs or documents (transition can significantly affect publications records and funding opportunities).
  • Appropriate consultation in the evaluation and monitoring of policies and programs is key to inclusion. For example, ensuring all major policies are reviewed by representative transgender staff and students, or external experts who are transgender with training in intersectionality.

Additionally create opportunities for advancement and leadership:

  • Fund positive mentoring, leadership training and career development for transgender academics, especially students and early career academics who are people of colour, disabled and from other culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse groups.
  • Ensure committee representation of transgender staff at executive levels and in leadership roles. To avoid burnout, invite outside experts from diverse community organisations to provide expertise and coach junior transgender staff to take up these opportunities in future.

See the text-box below for more tips to help your organisation boost inclusion of transgender academics during transition.

Text Box 12: How to support transition

  • Promote leave arrangements supporting gender transition. This includes extension of grants, funding, programs of study, periods of review and other time-sensitive practices, to account for any career break required.
  • Streamlined processes for changing gender records and other documents and systems without requiring elaborate or intrusive forms of ‘proof.’ Compassionate handling of staff and student record changes, preserving privacy, dignity and confidentiality. Expedite conferral of name change for degrees, liaising with other higher education institutions as required.
  • Strict processes to preserve confidentiality, including complete removal of outdated name and gender information and a single point of contact who is the only person aware of the change of name, gender and/or other identifying records.
  • Provide options for support services, such as counselling and mental health services if needed. Encourage unions to advocate for the industrial rights of transgender staff and students.
  • Culturally sensitive advocate for Aboriginal transgender staff and students, who will likely deal with additional community responsibilities, or other spiritual support for other religious minorities.
  • Co-design a plan to maintain institutional contact during and after transition/ leave. For example, where desired by the academic or student, a single point of contact to liaise with liaise with relevant managers, HR or other areas.
  • Communication plan to announce changes. This minimises the need to explain personal details to many people. Take into consideration the timing, manner and language of communication with other staff regarding transition, new name (if any), gender pronouns, and how they wish to be re-incorporated, for example, with public acknowledgement or instead, more quietly.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction and intersectionality
  2. Equity
  3. Diversity
  4. Inclusion
  5. Access


To cite this article:

Zevallos, Z. (2020) ‘Equity, Diversity, Intersectionality, Inclusion and Access,’ The Other Sociologist, 16 February. Online resource: