Blog Post #2 in the series “Transgender Inclusion at Work”
Outside of queer and transgender (trans) communities, discussions about trans people often fail to consider the impact of transphobia and systematic oppression, focusing instead on trans people as “other,” centering discussions on trans bodies or transitioning. In this blog post I discuss how transphobia and bias create barriers for trans people accessing work. In subsequent posts I will offer tools and additional strategies that individuals and organizations can take to remove barriers for trans people in the workplace.
There are approximately 1.4 million adults in the United States who identify as transgender, representing a range of gender identities, races and ethnicities, abilities, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds. While this only represents 0.6% of the population, it is still a sizeable number that is likely growing (as younger adults are more likely to identify as trans). However, in many places in this country, trans people are not afforded the same rights and protections as cisgender (or “cis”) people.
Since January 1, 2016, 21 states have proposed anti-trans legislation. Only 18 states and Washington DC currently have laws that explicitly prohibit discrimination against trans people. Despite increased representation in popular media, trans people still face daily harassment, stigma, and violence. This broader context is often mirrored within organizations. Implicit and explicit biases, as well as the absence of organizational structures or processes that mitigate such biases, negatively impact trans people in securing jobs, advancing their careers, and feeling a sense of belonging and well-being at work. In a society that stigmatizes trans people and lacks adequate legal protection, organizations are in a unique position to create spaces where trans people can thrive.
“The reality of trans people’s lives is that so often we are targets of violence. We experience discrimination disproportionately to the rest of the community. Our unemployment rate is twice the national average; if you are a trans person of color, that rate is four times the national average. The homicide rate is highest among trans women. If we focus on transition, we don’t actually get to talk about those things.”
– Activist and Actress, Laverne Cox
Conversations about inclusion can often move too quickly to focus on the “business case,” rather than grounding in the reality outlined in the quotation above by actress and trans activist, Laverne Cox. While there are certainly compelling business reasons to create equitable access to work and trans inclusive work environments (and I discuss several below and in future posts), trans inclusion is also a human rights imperative.
BARRIERS TO ACCESSING WORK
Trans people are more likely to have formal education than the general population, yet are three times more likely to be unemployed. Rates of unemployment are significantly higher for trans people of color and trans people with disabilities . And research finds that employers are more likely to interview and hire cisgender job candidates than trans job candidates, even when the trans candidate is more qualified for the role. Conscious negative stereotypes held by someone reviewing a resume or conducting an interview with a trans person translate to that applicant not having the same opportunity as a cis applicant (and even facing threat or harm). Implicit negative beliefs about trans people can also contribute to hiring processes that privilege cis applicants. For example, bias could lead someone who is reviewing a resume of a candidate who appears to be trans to interpret their qualifications differently than those of a cis candidate, without realizing it.
WHAT CAN ORGANIZATIONS DO?
Organizations can work to combat the harmful effects of unconscious bias by adding more structure to the hiring process. When selection criteria are not clear, bias is more likely to lead resume reviewers or interviewers to be influenced by irrelevant information — such as whether a candidate is cis or trans — when making the decision to advance the candidate to the next stage. Recruiters and hiring managers should articulate specifically what they are looking for in a candidate prior to reviewing resumes and conducting interviews, to increase the likelihood that they are evaluating candidates based on objective, role-relevant qualifications.
One pathway towards reducing explicit prejudice is through understanding the experiences of people who are different from you, for example, through conversations or other quality interactions. When part of an individual’s identity is unfamiliar to you, it is common to overly focus on that aspect of their identity, at the expense of remembering that the individual is as complex and multifaceted as you are. Reading books or watching TV or movies made by trans people (not just about trans people) is another small step towards breaking down mental concepts that pose trans people as “other,” helping all of us to grasp the range of experiences and identities that are held by trans people (see Additional Resources below for links).
Trans people face unique barriers to accessing work. Organizations can help to address these barriers by implementing structural changes — such as processes to make decisions more objective and reduce the impact of bias. However, the responsibility for creating change does not reside only with organizational leadership. We all have a responsibility to build our understanding, respect, and empathy for those who are different from us.
These strategies — adding more structure to hiring processes and seeking to understand the experiences of trans people — are also helpful when considering how gender identity can impact career advancement and belonging at work more broadly. The next post in this series will focus on strategies for creating trans inclusive workplaces, where people of all genders can grow and thrive.
Does your organization do anything to ensure a fair, inclusive hiring process for trans people? Let us know in the comments!
- In 2015, rates of unemployment in the US: trans people of color = 20%, trans people with disabilities = 24%, general US population = 5% (2015 US Transgender Survey report).
- In the research on the success of trans vs. cisgender job candidates, one of the ways that researchers indicated trans identity was by indicating a current name that is different from a legal name, signaling a different gender.