How to make your company transgender-inclusive

Joanne Lockwood is the founder and CEO of SEE Change Happen, which provides organisations and businesses with advice and services on equality, diversity and inclusion. It specialises in awareness and support in the workplace in relation to LGBT+, transgender, and gender non-conforming people.

In this article Joanne reflects on research by totaljobs on trans employee experiences, which highlights the challenges that trans people face at work.

Providing for trans employees

Totaljobs’ trans employee survey found that 63% of employers include gender in anti-discrimination policies.

Trust is a major barrier to transgender people being able to open up about their gender identity. This applies not just in the workplace but also in society. Many transgender people live in fear of being “outed” or harassed and victimised when people find out about their identity.

There is currently a lot of stigma associated with being trans, much of it amplified by news media. So for a person who is transgender to feel comfortable having that “first conversation” with their employer, they must feel confident that the person they tell will treat them with dignity and understanding.

This kind of conversation should be no harder than someone announcing they are pregnant or getting married. The conversation needs to be positive and supportive.

Many organisations have not ensured they are “trans inclusive”. For many, therefore, this first conversation is one where there is no well-trodden path. Much of what happens will be reactive.

Reassuringly, many organisations are generally able to do the right thing, but it is not uncommon for the first reaction to be one of shock and confusion, which can lead the employee to feel ashamed and less worthy as a person – or, worse still, face discrimination or humiliation.

A transgender person taking the step of being open will have run this moment through their mind a thousand times, and their anxiety levels and fear of rejection will be high. So it is important to prepare and have this mapped out.

If an employee feels that an organisation is not going to be receptive, or if there is little evidence of any support mechanisms, then they will probably continue to bottle this up, which may affect their productivity and performance.

It is therefore vital to be prepared in advance – don’t wait until you have to be reactive! Remember, not all trans people are visible. You may already have many transgender employees who chose not to be open about their identity. Your staff may already be judging how you treat people.

What your company can do

  • Ensure that transgender awareness training is part of standard employee development and individual learning & development programmes. All staff should be aware of good etiquette and ways to be a trans ally and advocate.
  • Work with HR to roll out a programme of training to ensure that managers and supervisors can do what is needed to support transgender people.
  • Audit existing HR policies and processes to ensure they are transgender inclusive. They should cover not only binary trans feminine and trans masculine people but also those who identity as non-binary or gender-fluid.
  • Just as companies have first-aiders and fire marshals, they should also have mental-health first-aiders. These are often a first port of call for people who need support during transition or in the early stages of being open about their identity.
  • Develop a “Transition at Work Pathway” – a guidance framework that HR and managers can work through with transgender employees to develop a bespoke plan of actions that addresses their needs and works positively for everyone.
  • Review the provision of healthcare and other benefits to ensure that transgender employees are covered in the same way as non-transgender employees.
  • Look at recruitment and candidate experience to ensure that transgender people feel welcomed to apply and have trust in your organisation.
  • Create LGBT ally programmes to promote support and awareness internally.
  • Signpost and highlight the great work you are doing.

Support and guidance from HR

Totaljobs’ trans employee survey found that 23% received support from HR, 17% received both support and guidance, and just 3% received guidance.

When an organisation has a clear pathway or guidance to work with transgender employees who are working through their transition, then the results are very positive.

Not every trans person has the same journey. For many, it will evolve over time. What was very important in the early days may be less significant when acceptance has occurred and life returns to the ordinary for them.

Don’t underestimate the benefit for employees of having an employer who takes steps to ensure they are transgender-inclusive. Putting appropriate measures in place will help employees feel they fit into an environment that is welcoming.

If the organisation has to play catch-up, transgender employees may feel they are “being accommodated” or having a fuss made just for them. This could cause other workers to feel that their transgender colleagues are getting special treatment or favouritism.

Everyone is different, and so are transgender people. Not everyone wants to be the centre of attention or to have the responsibility of being “the first” or the visible role model and educator for the company.

With the right level of support and guidance, the transition journey will be positive for everyone, and your valuable team member will feel supported and a continued part of the team.

What your company can do

  • Remember, everyone’s journey is different, and no one wants to be railroaded to meet other people’s expectations of what a trans person should do.
  • HR, as the heart of an organisation, plays a pivotal role in ensuring that all people are respected and treated fairly – transgender people are no different.
  • Remember that a transgender person’s home and personal life may also be affected by the transition. The work environment can play a vital part in helping to maintain this person’s mental health, wellbeing and stability.
  • Prepare and invest proactively in developing Transition at Work Pathways and aligning recruitment processes to ensure that transgender people feel respected and that there is trust in an organisation’s ability to support them.

Colleagues’ reactions

Totaljobs’ trans employee survey found that 50% of colleagues’ reactions were positive, and 40% were neutral (no reaction).

When an organisation has been proactive in providing transgender awareness training and support, its transgender workers generally have a very positive experience.

Part of awareness training should focus on building allies and support mechanisms to ensure that any harassment, bullying, victimisation or “harmless banter” is addressed and called out early on, with zero tolerance.

Each transgender person will want to be able to make their announcement in their own way. The company or any other person should not dictate the best way, only offer suggestions, such as an open letter, email or even a briefing at a team meeting.

Some transgender people even create a YouTube video for the purpose. Depending on the size or structure of an organisation, it may only be necessary for a particular department to receive the news.

Support should extend to the families and friends of transgender people. For work socials, parties and festive celebrations, their partners and friends should be welcomed and embraced without them feeling self-conscious or under scrutiny.

Being embraced and accepted without onerous questioning is important. It is validating for transgender women to be invited to lunch with the other women or to take part in the Women’s Network, and for transgender men to be welcomed on stag nights and “lads’ nights out”.

Remember, though, that not everyone is ready for this on day one. It can take time to be comfortable in your new skin, and the support of colleagues is crucial to make the experience positive. Non-binary and gender-fluid people must also be respected and asked how they wish to be included.

What your company can do

  • Co-workers often need additional support, especially in environments where close working relationships and teams develop. This change in a colleague’s identity can come as a shock and a challenge that they may not be fully equipped to meet.
  • Embrace your transgender co-workers and make them feel part of the team, just like any other person, and ensure that non-binary people also feel fully included.
  • Remember families and friends. Don’t leave them out, and ensure that you understand the anxieties they may feel when attending your events.
  • Educate yourselves. Don’t interrogate your transgender colleagues or burden them with lots of questions. Just be a good friend and ally, and amplify and advocate for them.

Workplace performance after transitioning

Totaljobs’ trans employee survey found that work performance after transitioning was much better for 25% of transgender employees, better for 29%, and about the same for 38%.

Much of an employee’s experience through transition will depend on the employer’s level of preparation and the support they offer during the process. The role of co-workers and direct supervisors is important when providing a supportive environment, so it is vital to invest in their training and awareness .

Never assume that a transgender person would be less effective in a customer-facing role. It is important that customers, clients, suppliers and any other external stakeholders can also be trusted to meet your organisation’s ethics and ethos.

It is never OK to “out” your employee to other people, so careful dialogue during transition is important to ensure there are no issues or surprises that could cause anxiety or concern to your employee.

What your company can do

  • Preparation and communication are key. Consider all parties who need to be trained and given awareness information about transgender people, including subcontractors, customers, clients and third parties.
  • When the organisation is supportive, the transgender person will quickly regain their sense of self and will continue to be an asset to their team and organisation. By ensuring inclusion and a continued sense of belonging, your employee will feel valued.
  • Ensure that opportunities for advancement or added responsibility are no different for transgender people.
  • Remember that a person’s transgender status and transitional pathway continue long after the initial changes. They are likely to have to keep “opening up” when interacting with new colleagues or customers. Continued after-support and wellbeing are therefore important.

Seeking companies with trans-friendly policies

Totaljobs’ trans employee survey found that 43% of transgender job-seekers looked for companies with trans-friendly policies.

No company has published targets to hire or retain more transgender people, unlike the situation with gender or BAME inclusion. So it is important that an organisation signposts and positions itself as an employer of choice for transgender people.

This can be achieved through imagery on websites, employee stories and videos being published, or employee brand advocates. Other ways include social media and the way jobs are posted and specified. Be overt about it. It’s a trust thing: if a transgender person doesn’t believe that an organisation is ready for “people like them”, they won’t apply.

What your company can do

  • Have sensitive processes that deal with issues like ID verification, DBS checking and SC/DV clearance.
  • Ensure that data collection forms are respectful to all identities and people, to facilitate high disclosure rates.
  • Advertise roles on LGBT-focused job boards and communities.
  • Host your own LGBT recruitment workshops and ensure that transgender people are welcomed.
  • Host your own customer Diversity & Inclusion briefings to promote transgender awareness.
  • Go beyond “pinkwashing” – be proactive in your support and advocacy of transgender people.

Further resources: Find out your legal rights to gender transitioning at work, read our trans employee survey report, and find out how you can be an ally for trans colleagues.

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