Recently in the news, we have all heard both sides of what seems like a purely black and white argument, surrounding who should be allowed to use what restroom. While this isn’t about cybersecurity, I call your attention to this debate and the brand reputation that many companies are suffering, while trying to make risk decisions that support there employees, customers and others. This is something I have witnessed everyday in my work over the years…one side pitted against the other..where options are limited to black and white choices.
To break down the current situation….let’s look at the problem we are trying to solve…
First, we have companies, schools, private and public facilities within states that have a problem. Restrooms are labeled men or women. While this sign-age made sense for many years, we now have an ever increasing population of people who are uncomfortable with these options. While anyone is free to use either restroom at any time, despite the sign, they fear being discriminated against, labeled, they fear being uncomfortable. Increasingly, the problem isn’t the restroom sign-age, but rather the way people are treating people…based on expectations. Think about it, if you’re in the men’s restroom and a woman walks in, many of us would be inclined to tell that person, they may have made an error and are in the wrong restroom. We don’t say it to be malicious, but to protect, to be helpful. I say, protect, because of our personal privacy in the restroom. So, the problem is, a percentage of the population doesn’t feel comfortable using the restrooms labeled men/women, without the sign-age being updated to include the other groups.
The other side of the problem is the bill in several of the states is being tied to a Religious freedom act, which immediately stirs up tensions….it sounds bad, not only for the religious but also the people who are uncomfortable with the men’s room in it’s current state. They aren’t talking about religious freedom.
When I think about some middle ground, I try to think about the total risk of things staying in their current state. The media is only blowing up over this because of a recent announcement, well-intended, where someone believed an announcement of support was a good idea. Perhaps that wasn’t well thought out and here we are, all media outlets attacking the state of North Carolina and anyone who agrees with their choices in restroom policy. The media frenzy has led to diversity and inclusion groups to push on major corporations to boycott North Carolina as a whole, some states even announcing travel bans to N.C. until the policy changes. So, the brand impact is high risk right now, anyone can see that…but what are the choices, just succumb to the other side and do what the mainstream media pushes for? What does that solve?
Let’s look at some other ways this bathroom subject is bothersome. If you have or have had small children, you know the restroom dilemma, Think of it, a Father and Daughter of 2 years old, are in a city building, at a mall, restaurant… the Dad needs to use the restroom. He can’t very well leave the little girl alone, he needs to take her into the men’s room with him. Or, the toddler needs to use the restroom…where doesn’t the Dad go? Does he make it more normal for her and use the women’s room, or use the men’s room? What if the little girl is exposed to men at urinals and feels uncomfortable? If you’ve had children, you’ve dealt with this before, the inevitable conversation about why someone is standing up, what is different, etc. Ever have the kind of child who tries to crawl under stalls and peek into another person’s private area? Ok, you get the idea. There is another group that struggles with the black and white options, frequently becoming uncomfortable and having to build workarounds.
Let’s think of another group. Well-intentioned people, who care about privacy, especially their own. the door says “women”, that means women, not men, but women. Women need to feel comfortable in a private area, they need to know there isn’t a pervert in the restroom, someone taking cellphone pics, etc. There is also the older generation that knows nothing of the journey of transgender people. I shouldn’t limit it to older people, there is a large part of the population that believes in science of gender, that while you are born a male or female, you may have hormones or feelings, thoughts that lean towards another typical, stereotypical, “society”-based definition of the opposite gender, but that doesn’t mean you should have gender re-assignment surgery, or decide to dress differently, or use the opposite restroom.
Here comes North Carolina, it’s people, companies…and again, this is happening in many places. How can we make all the people comfortable, safe and secure their privacy? When you think about the risk, do you focus on only the risk involved with your group, or do you also look holistically how your decision will impact other groups?
I hate to say it folks, but this was an easy, out of the box fix. You see it in your local shopping malls, “family restrooms”, “shared restrooms”, etc. A local public school in my area, designated a single stall restroom, with a locking door, as a gender neutral restroom. All the states and municipalities could easily have restrooms like we do in our homes, where there is no label, anyone comes in and uses it, washes up and leaves. Easy fix.
But, I mentioned the holistic issue….and sometimes when you are analyzing a problem, you realize, you are only uncovering symptoms of a larger problem.
In this case, the media is obsessively focused on the symptoms of the larger problem. Diversity and inclusion, normalcy, blending and fitting in. Everyone, everyone..no matter color, shape, size, gender or race, wants to blend in, be normal, be accepted, almost invisible, but still unique.
Think snowflakes. Each are genuinely unique, but when they fall together, all you see is blankets of white, none more unique than another.
This problem isn’t going to be solved by North Carolina’s state government, or by Connecticut banning state sponsored travel to N.C., or PayPal refusing to do business where the restroom policy discriminates. No, this greater problem of inclusion and diversity is a human struggle that ebbs and flows forward and backward, with political correctness and social media leading the charge.
Sometimes, when we evaluate risk, we see symptoms, we learn about the black and white solutions of a problem… Developers versus Security, Business versus Operations, etc. Each side wearing “blinders” passionate only about their solution, insisting it is best for all. Finding the common ground, is increasingly difficult, mitigating the common risk, trying to get to a common goal for all parties, this is the outside the box thinking we need to see more of to move the ball forward on the larger problem.
I will keep watching and listening to the media around the restroom debate…and keep my hopes up, that any tactical solutions will be unbiased to one group over another, but instead include outside the box thinking. While the unlabeled, or gender neutral, or family restroom is a tactical solution, it doesn’t solve the larger problem, so you will continue to see groups push for the elimination of the other groups ideas…as we struggle on the path to people “feeling” normal and accepted.
In my opinion, this larger problem can’t be solved by society. It isn’t a problem everywhere around the globe either. It is a problem of self-centered-ness. When we are truly confident in who we are individually and turn our efforts into servitude, helping lift others up, these kinds of issues quickly dissipate. It is easier to make things more complex and find defects, if we try the reverse and simplify, while recognizing commonalities, appreciating and lifting up people, we all can help one another become the best versions of ourselves…and again, these fears, anxieties and arguments over identity acceptance disappears. Again, my opinion, based on working with many diverse groups of people, of varied religions, ideologies, political views, races, disability, etc. When we look at each other and see past the “book jacket” and treat everyone with more respect and dignity than we treat ourselves, this larger problem moves toward a solution without any other mitigations.
My opinion, though, is a bit of a pipe dream….so, we instead, continue with risk assessments and trying to make well informed risk decisions…choosing where we can tolerate brand impact or not.
I dream of the society where, if I dislike the color orange, I am allowed to dislike it and not forced to wear it, because everyone else likes it. This goes for clubs, businesses, etc. If I want to make a cake for only man and woman married couples, that I would have that freedom to turn customers away, knowing the risk is that I lose business, but it is my choice. Freedom is making risk decisions, choices…and forcing one group to do something because of black and white thinking, is not freedom.
Thanks for reading my opinion piece today… keep your chin up, I’m cheering you on