Understanding the difference between gender and sex in the modern workplace

Understanding the difference between gender and sex in the modern workplace - Centric HR

In today’s rapidly evolving world, the concepts of gender and sex have become increasingly prominent in discussions about diversity and inclusion within the workplace.  To foster a more equitable and inclusive work environment, it is imperative for organisations to prioritise educating their staff on the distinctions between gender and sex.

This has become a socially awkward discussion where many business owners might have strong views but still need to understand how it may affect their organisation and the risks associated with not understanding the law.

We have seen a huge rise in Transgender Discrimination Tribunal claims where there were zero claims and awards in 2020 to compared to the average claim being around £32,000 award this last year!!!

This article explores these differences and discusses why modern workplaces must adapt by providing training and education on this crucial topic.  It is incredibly complex and nuanced and we’re not expecting you to understand it in one attempt alone.

Understanding gender and sex

Firstly, it is vital to clarify the definitions of gender and sex.  Sex is traditionally defined as the biological and physical characteristics that categorise individuals as male or female, typically determined at birth based on the anatomy and genetics.  In contrast, gender refers to the roles, behaviours, activities, expectations, and identities that a society considers appropriate for men, women, and those who identify outside of this binary.

Sex and gender are often used interchangeably but are in fact very different.  Gender identity is societally constructed and based on an internal perception of behaviours, attributes, and self-expression and how these related to an individual’s ideas of concepts such as masculinity and femininity.

An individual’s gender identity may or may not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.  Those individuals who identify their gender identity as the same as the sex they were assigned at birth are known as cisgender (cis the Latin for on this side of).  Those who’s gender identity differs in some way from the sex they were assigned at birth are known as transgender (trans the Latin for on the other side of), and transgender individuals can identify with binary genders such as female or male, or with non-binary genders that sit outside the female/male model such as a genderfluid, genderqueer or agender.

The spectrum of gender

Gender is not binary; it exists on a spectrum.  This means that people may identify as male, female, both, neither, or somewhere in between.  These identities are deeply personal and can encompass aspects of self-expression, societal roles, and personal beliefs.  Understanding this diversity is essential for creating an inclusive workplace.

The modern workplace needs to adapt

  1. Inclusivity Promotes Productivity – Embracing gender diversity positively impacts productivity and creativity in the workplace.  When individuals feel comfortable expressing their true selves, they are more likely to contribute their best ideas and work collaboratively.
  2. Legal Compliance – Many countries have enacted legislation protecting individuals from discrimination based on gender identity and expression.  To remain compliant with these laws and avoid costly legal issues, organisations must educate their staff.
  3. Attracting Top Talent – Forward thinking companies that prioritise inclusivity are more likely to attract and retain top talent.  A reputation for being inclusive can be a significant competitive advantage in the modern job market.


Training and education

How organisations can effectively train and educate their staff on gender and sex diversity.

  1. Diversity and inclusion workshops – Implementing workshops that explore gender and sex diversity can help employees gain a deeper understanding of these concepts.  These workshops should encourage open and respectful dialogue.
  2. Sensitivity training – Sensitivity training can assist employees in recognising and challenging biases and stereotypes related to gender and sex.
  3. Inclusive policies – Develop and communicate clear and inclusive policies regarding gender identity and expression.  Ensure that these policies are easily accessible to all employees.
  4. Support networks – Create support networks or employee resource groups for individuals who identify as gender-diverse or transgender.  These groups can offer guidance and foster a sense of belonging.
  5. Regular updates – Stay informed about the evolving language and terminology surrounding gender and sex.  Keep educational materials and policies up to date.
  6. Leadership commitment – Ensure that organisational leadership is committed to fostering inclusivity and sets an example for the rest of the staff.


Hey, it’s complicated and can feel completely alien as a subject and may even actually feel offensive to some religious beliefs.  If you need help and assistance with any work-related adaptions or training – do reach out to us.  We have ensured that our staff and associates have received up to date training in supporting our clients to manage and adapt the workplace and we ourselves can now provide basic training for example as part of your induction slides.  We also work with a fantastic specialist company who provide bespoke training for organisations in our ever-changing world  – which ultimately affects us at work and in business.

For more information on this topic and any other HR issues please contact our team here.

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Sandra Berns

Centric HR was founded by Sandra Berns, a confident and versatile Human Resources and Organisational Development Practitioner with 25 years demonstrable experience and a Fellow of the CIPD. Sandra has both Operational and Strategic HR expertise across Public and Private sectors and has assisted senior teams in meeting challenging workforce objectives in many corporate environments.