Gender is a spectrum – and it pays to recognise this

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Most of you will have seen the new Virgin Atlantic “See the World Differently” ad campaign. To the backing track of “I am what I am”, a diverse cast challenging typical gender stereotypes are seen at various stages of their travels on a Virgin Atlantic flight. The ad coincides with Virgin announcing that they have done away with male and female uniforms. In the photos and high-energy video (featuring Michelle Visage, a champion of trans rights and who you may recognise from Ru Paul’s Drag Race) accompanying the announcement and new gender identity policy, you can see cabin crew, pilots and ground staff in Vivienne Wetwood-designed stylish trouser-suits as well as the more traditional “trolly dolly” skirt, blouse and heels combination – irrespective of gender.

You may be thinking – that’s progressive, and good for them, why does it matter to me? Well, since launching the See the World Differently campaign, non-gendered uniform and what they refer to as their “industry leading” gender identity policy, they have seen their job applications double. When rivals such as British Airways are having to offer signing on bonuses of £1000 as they struggle to recruit, it really is food for thought for those sectors that are struggling to attract and retain the best talent. Positioning yourself as an employer that truly champions diversity and inclusion is not just the right thing to do in today’s society, it is also a smart business decision.

For many businesses, this may mean admitting to a need for cultural change within the organisation. It is still rare for businesses to have gender identity policies in place, regardless of how progressive they believe they are/wish to portray. It is understandable – the Office of National Statistics still asks on census questionnaires whether you identify as male or female – an approach that has remained unchanged since 1801 (although this is currently subject to consultation/change). Against this backdrop, it can be hard to shake traditional views. But when it is estimated that there are up to 500,000 people in the UK who identify as trans, with that figure on the increase, it is likely that at least someone in your workplace is or knows someone who is trans. If that person feels that your business’ culture doesn’t align with their values, they are more likely to leave, and may never join you in the first place.

Failing to educate your workforce on matters of diversity and inclusion  is not just a bad business decision. It can lead to legal claims. Gender reassignment is one of the protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 and it is broadly defined – it includes anyone who is changing or is proposing to change their gender. There is no requirement for any medical intervention in this process. If someone is treated less favourably than others because they have changed or are changing their gender, the individual will have grounds to claim discrimination and uncapped compensation. Recent cases (such as Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover) have demonstrated that compensation payments can be significant (in this case, the claimant – who identified as gender fluid – was awarded £180,000).

This week is trans awareness week. At Capital Law, we are hosting a series of events to celebrate this and to launch our own Transitioning at Work policy. Our employment team has helped to prepare this policy, and policies for clients, as well as arranging and delivering training on the topic of diversity and inclusion. If you would like to have a discussion with one of our employment lawyers about how your business could benefit from “seeing the world differently”, please get in touch at