Workplace Culture

Strengthening Workplace Inclusion: Gender Identity & Gender Expression

September 20, 2017

On June 19, 2017, Canada’s Bill C-16 received Royal Assent, and with its passage “gender identity” and “gender expression” were added to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act. In addition, the Criminal Code was updated to extend protections against hate speech and hate crimes on these grounds. While many provincial and territorial jurisdictions already include gender identity and expression in their human rights codes, Bill C-16 applies the law to federally regulated workplaces and services.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, gender identity refers to one’s “internal and individual experience of gender,” while gender expression refers to “how a person publicly expresses or presents their gender,” including everything from body language, voice, and posture to clothing and cosmetics. Some may wonder why, if the Act already includes “sex” as a prohibited ground, the government decided to add “gender identity” and “gender expression,” too. The inclusion of “sex” in the Act was intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of gender; however, “sex” limits the legal definition of an individual’s gender to their biological, rather than lived, identity. The new legislation acknowledges and protects those Canadians whose gender identity or expression does not correspond to the sex assigned at their birth, such as transgender people, and non-binary individuals who identify along a wide spectrum of gender identities.

The stigma concerning gender diversity has significant consequences for workers and employers alike. In a recent study by Ontario’s TRANS Pulse Project, for example, 13% of transgender people reported that they were fired for being transgender, while an additional 15% believe their employment was terminated because of their gender identity. In terms of recruitment and selection, 17% of transgender respondents said they had declined a job offer because they perceived the hiring organization had an intolerant or unsafe workplace. These statistics reflect the employment challenges faced by gender variant individuals, and also the effects of discrimination on Canadian businesses through, for example, talent loss.

Most employers and HR professionals want to make their workplaces welcoming in order to attract and retain top talent and boost employee engagement, but may be uncertain about how to develop inclusive and respectful policies and procedures. Download our FREE Inclusive Workplace Guide to feel more confident in your organization’s ability to welcome and develop employees of diverse gender identities as productive members of your team.


Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression.Transgender People in Ontario, Canada: Statistics from the Trans PULSE Project to Inform Human Rights Policy.

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