Do You Mean Women? Or Do You Mean Those Not Affected by Cis Male Privilege?

As professional business organizations attempt to diversify and welcome Gen Z, you may conflate the two and have to adjust your mindset and your group.

For over 15 years, my professional career has sat at the crosshairs of tech and community. In the US, tech1 is dominated by men, especially cishet able-bodied white men. Community professionals (those running these groups) are predominantly cis white women, and cishet able-bodied white men dominate as community “thought leaders.” None of this is shocking, given we live in a white supremacist patriarchal society, and our workplaces and associated groups reflect this.

In workplaces, men are given more leadership opportunities and more chances and space to voice and enact their ideas. Many men choose (consciously or unconsciously) to use patriarchal tools of violence to enact domination for power in little and world-changing ways.

Women comprise the majority of community roles because they’re considered “natural” at nurturing, compassion, empathy, general social skills, and a host of other feminine traits seen as inherent to women.2 As long as they don’t push back against the hierarchy and are okay with men rising to the top as leaders as these men chase power (influence + fame + money). Many women choose (consciously or unconsciously) to use patriarchal tools of violence to enact domination over other women and people of intersecting marginalized identities (especially against people of color) for power in little and world-changing ways.

Cishet able-bodied white women, in particular, often choose to be “second” in white supremacist patriarchy under white men rather than align with the global majority. This can look like pulling up the ladder behind them, not promoting employees equitably, considering themselves “not like the other girls,” socially enforcing Western beauty standards, etc. This false assimilation can be alluring to gain power and keep the status quo under hierarchical workplace and societal systems and allows white women (or anyone else grasping at pick-me status) to not do the work of unpacking, understanding, repairing, healing from, and rejecting white supremacist patriarchy.

For-profit (tech) companies have used community as an avenue to soften their image and create super fans. Some have created cults as cults result from using your community-building skills and expertise for unethical or nefarious purposes. They also use women (and sometimes other underrepresented minorities) to soften their image. Cue Sheryl Sandberg. On smaller scales, I’ve witnessed many female employees of all levels “make nice” with people who were incredibly and often rightfully pissed at the company’s male CEO or other executives.

Enter the “nice” way to push back against workplace patriarchy: professional women’s groups

When thinking about Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Belonging (DEIB), many CEOs and other executives lean into women and gender inclusion without giving much thought to gender. Without considering what exactly not having cis male privilege means and all the people affected by that. Women’s groups become a checkbox on a DEIB to-do list.

To be clear, I don’t think professional women’s groups are bad. I don’t think they shouldn’t happen, aren’t necessary, or that some changes and healing cannot occur within them. Or that you cannot meet incredible friends and professional peers at them. Pre-transition, I attended many professional women’s events, and I had a good time and met great friends and peers.3

What I don’t think women’s groups are doing is destroying the white supremacist patriarchy and upending the deep problems of inequity in our society.

Or, as the great poet and Black lesbian Audre Lorde said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Many women’s groups are fraught with the same problems as our society. Women of color aren’t given the same voice and space as white women. Queer women run into similar problems. Trans women wonder if they’re included or if their inclusion depends on whether cis women realize they’re trans. Disabled women still face accessibility issues, sometimes literally. Low-income women are prevented from joining these groups for accessibility and classist reasons. Non-binary people never know how they’ll be received.

And sometimes — cis men are keynote speakers at these events!

When these groups replicate the same DEIB problems as workplaces, most “solutions” to fix them do not work. For example, unconscious bias training does not work.4 Forcing people who are further marginalized to share their (trauma) stories or participate in “mediation” about the bad situation only makes the privileged group feel good about themselves and forces more emotional labor and forced vulnerability on the marginalized group at best and retraumatizes them while leaving them open for harassment at worst.

Reread Audre Lorde’s quote, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”5

As gender discourse has evolved, professional women’s groups have not. The majority of Gen Z believe there are more than 2 genders and are many times more likely to openly identify as trans or non-binary than any previous generation.

Instead of evolving, many women’s groups have kept the same format and only adjusted how they brand and advertise themselves. They became for “all womxn,” “women and trans women,” “women and non-binary people,” or “anyone who identifies as a woman.”

No. Please stop.

For this post, I assume you are a well-meaning person who believes that trans, non-binary, and intersex people are real and should have rights and that you genuinely want your group to be inclusive.

Gender studies and discourse around gender have massively changed in the last 20 years. If, like me, you haven’t been in a college classroom in that long, it’s up to you to keep up. Most importantly, gender discussions amongst real people — especially trans people — have changed dramatically.6

Marginalized genders include anyone not affected by cis male privilege.7 This includes women (cis and trans), non-binary people, trans men, and intersex people. When considering gender in the workplace, we want to consider all possible underrepresented groups and their common and unique needs.

This can get tricky as sometimes cis women dominate fields, such as the community industry. This domination in worker numbers does not always translate to who gets promoted, speaks at conferences and events, writes and publishes books, etc. When I ran a community conference, this meant that cis women weren’t qualified on womanhood alone to get a DEIB scholarship to attend the conference — they were the majority of conference attendees — but I consciously made sure cis women were given equitable speaker slots.

Regardless of the community makeup, every group must continue to attract, welcome, and integrate new members. New members often demand you do better and may live and think differently than current members. Gen Z (born 1995-2012) is much further ahead in understanding greater gender variations, with 51% believing there are more than 2 genders, compared to 33% of Boomers and Gen X and 35% of Millennials.8

Of adults identifying as trans, 2.3% are Gen Z, 0.7% are Millennials, 0.3% are Gen X, and 0.1% are Boomers.9 Of adults identifying as non-binary, 5.5% are Gen Z, 1.7% are Millennials, 1.2% are Gen X, and 0.9% are Boomers. There are many complex reasons why these numbers have shifted and are drastically different generationally. No statistical differences exist in whether these people live in rural vs. urban environments or in Red vs. Blue states. In fact, 41% (the majority) of transgender people in the US live in the South!10

These shifts mean that deeper conversations about gender will happen regardless of whether you or your women’s group is prepared to have them. Even if you believe you live in a region where these conversations are “too political” to have, they will happen. We’re all learning together and from each other. Sometimes, you have to sprint to catch up.

Let’s break down those marketing taglines

“For all womxn” — This came about in the 1970s to remove the word “men” from “women,” but was largely adopted by businesses in the mid-2000s to signal the inclusion of trans women. It served its place in time but is extremely outdated as trans women are women.

“Welcoming to women and trans women” — Trans women are women. Your group is labeling trans women as another type, and thus, this is not fully welcoming to trans women.

“For women and non-binary people” — Non-binary people come in all gender presentations or none. Non-binary people can look “like men.” Are you saying the only non-binary people you’re welcoming are those who are kind of like women? Or look “like women”? Are you calling AFAB11 non-binary people “women-lite” or assuming everyone in your group is okay with being referred to as “lady, gal, girl boss, she/her, etc.”? Or worse, that these “women and non-binary people” are the okay ones because of an assumption that they have a vagina? Which infantilizes trans people who were AFAB and is transmisogynistic to trans people who were AMAB.

“For anyone who identifies as a woman” — We just call those people women, and it seems like we’re categorizing some women as “other.”

Are professional women’s groups for women, or are they for underrepresented genders?

In either of these situations, you should explicitly lay out who your group is for and stay engaged in the constantly changing gender conversation. This means what works today for your group may not work tomorrow.

If your group is for women, it’s for women. It’s technically “for anyone who identifies as a woman,” except you won’t use that language. You can signal inclusivity from DEIB statements and goals and, more importantly, inclusion in leadership, group visibility, and other meaningful inclusion of a wide variety of women.

Since trans women are women, are you genuinely welcoming to all trans women? Or just those whose appearance matches who you’d consider a woman? Or are you continuing to enforce white supremacist patriarchal Western beauty standards on all the women who attend your event, which can significantly impact trans women, women of color, and trans women of color?

You should consider how you tackle “women’s issues” and host discussions in inclusive ways. If you discuss pay gaps, are you paying attention to other intersectional pay gap issues? It’s okay to discuss how becoming pregnant and having a kid that way affects your work life, but is it done assuming it will be 100% relatable to everyone in the audience? Are you clear about where the boundaries of these discussions are?

Are you ready if you decide that your group is for underrepresented genders? How about a group name and tagline? Are you prepared to accept and support — without question or forced self-ID, outing, or essentially asking about someone’s genitals — people who are men who may look and sound to you exactly like a cis man?12 Are you ready to accept and support people questioning their gender? Are you ready for gender as an unlimited possibility menu? Are you prepared to stop explaining your group as a women’s group?

You can signal inclusivity from DEIB statements and goals around what you mean by underrepresented genders and, more importantly, inclusion in leadership and visibility of and meaningful inclusion of the wide variety of people of underrepresented genders.

But what should I do?

There is no simple solution.

You can’t just slap a new replacement label on “women and non-binary people” and call it a day. You must do the work of unpacking gender and what it means for you and your organization.

I am not a woman,13 but I’m a minority gender, and I no longer join women’s groups. It’s your group and decision. I do not know how you want to move forward with your professional women’s organization.14

Steps forward: what you can do.

Do what every community professional should do: engage with your community! Consider who you are serving — both your literal members and the societal and company structures you are powering.

Create deeper conversations about group goals in light of changing conversations about gender. Read, research, and connect with people who can contribute to this conversation. Pay them, and ensure you’re not asking for free emotional labor or someone to explain something you could read in a book, watch in a video, or learn from already available resources.

You can only make real change and progress in your organization by returning to its core purpose, vision, goals, audience, DEIB aims, etc. Do they still align with current times? Do they still fit how you see your organization and how you want to grow?

Is the organization tied to a larger organization or business? What are their goals? Does your women’s group only serve as PR for them? Or to soften or appease instances in business when someone cares about their DEIB goals? How should this group exist? How does it function in your industry? What values do you want it to have, and what values does it have? Does the group meet its stated goals?

Spearheading change is hard. You will meet all kinds of pushback, ranging from people resistant to change and those who believe you’re too radical and political to those who think you should be grateful they benevolently allow you to have this women’s group and you should shut up. If you do it for glory or power, you will walk away unsatisfied with trailblazing. You may even ultimately fail, be forced out, or have to walk away with rumors swirling about how unreasonable you are to work with. (Ask me how I know.)

However, you can find unexpected allies along the way, make incredible connections, and do more meaningful work than ever. Perhaps you’ll help or inspire someone ready to tackle whatever the next step is for your group, industry, or our broader world.

If you want to figure out the future of your women’s group, who it’s for, and what kind of work is necessary to make those changes, now is the time to do it!

If you’ve already done this with your group, I’d love to hear how you’ve tackled it, especially to inspire other community builders facing the same challenges. We learn from each other, after all.


1. Tech makes lots of money, and men flooded the industry chasing money and power as computing technology rose in the 1980s. Early computer programmers were largely women as programming was considered equivocal to secretarial work and paid in that salary band.

2. There is no such thing as “women’s skills” and “men’s skills,” only what society has forced upon us based on a doctor examining our external genitalia upon birth. To understand the science behind how gender is cultural and social, read Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine and her follow-up Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society.

3. I’m a co-founder and was president for 2 years of the volunteer-run nonprofit GeekGirlCon (which has smartly updated its conference to think bigger about gender and inclusion). GeekGirlCon is slightly different from a professional women’s group, and that’s a different post.

4. Yes, I have pushed programs and “solutions” like this in the past, and I’ve been to multiple unconscious bias trainings. Here’s a good analysis of why unconscious bias training doesn’t work, mainly because it doesn’t address actual systemic inequality at work. We must keep current with the many critiques and changes in the workplace and other DEIB discussions. We say we “believe in data,” meaning we cannot keep using band-aids that have been proven not to work.

5. Read Audre Lorde’s entire book, Sister Outsider, which is where this quote comes from and is one of the books that changed my life and my thinking.

6. Even trans people have to work on this! Check out Living Nonbinary in a Binary World (ft. Devin-Norelle) from the We See Each Other: The Podcast, where journalist Shar Jossell (a trans woman) honestly discusses her struggle to understand non-binary people and how they fit into the trans umbrella.

7. I will not discuss the nuances of privilege, passing, or any deeper marginalized gender intracommunity topics here.

8. All stats from How Gen Z Changed Its Views On Gender by Jean M. Twenge for TIME Magazine, a moderately conservative news outlet.

9. As a trans person, the 0.1% of how likely you are to be trans — the rate of Boomer identification — has been the number circulated for years! I’ve long suspected it was not true, and there are multiple, complex factors in why Boomers are less likely to identify as trans or non-binary. But another instance of “it’s just that way” of Boomer mythology masquerading as facts about all people (or even all Boomers themselves).

10. Stat from the 2022 US Transgender Study.

11. Assigned female at birth. AMAB = assigned male at birth. AGAB = assigned gender at birth. These terms are helpful in this discussion, but I shy away from using them about myself and other specific non-binary people because it’s just another way of cataloging people by the genitals they were born with. In most business settings, talking about one’s genitals or someone else’s is highly inappropriate!

12. In footnote #3, I mentioned my involvement in founding and kicking off GeekGirlCon. In a recent gender discussion with my best friend and fellow co-founder Julia, it came up how suspicious we were (in those early days) of anyone who joined the volunteer staff and was a man. In relaying this conversation to my therapist, they challenged me and asked, “How do you know that none of those men were trans men?” The truth is that I don’t know that. I don’t know for sure that none of them were trans men. Nor should any of them have had to disclose transness to gain further acceptance.

13. I am trans non-binary, and I am not a woman. I am also not woman-lite. As of writing this, I am still primarily perceived/treated as a cis woman, and I am subject to misogyny and sexism, both past and present. It’s nuanced.

In the future, people may perceive my gender differently, including assuming I’m a cis man. Maybe. I don’t know. I will still be subject to misogyny and sexism, but it may present differently depending on whether someone knows or assumes I’m trans or queer. It’s complicated, and I have boundaries on what I’m willing to share for public consumption.

14. Though you can hire me as a consultant!

Thank you to my dear friend, Rowan Allen Case, for reviewing this prepublication and offering great feedback and further insights. You’re the best! Readers, connect with Rowan and grab him up as he’s on the job hunt.

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