Blog Post #3 in the series “Transgender Inclusion at Work”

The previous post in this series identifies barriers that trans people face accessing work and highlights strategies that organizations and individuals can use to address these barriers. This post discusses barriers to trans employees thriving at work and suggests actions organizations can take to create trans inclusive workplaces.


BACKGROUND

According to the 2015 US Transgender Survey, 30% of trans respondents who had a job reported being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing some other form of mistreatment at work due to their gender or gender expression [1] [2]. In addition to being more likely to experience discrimination or harm, trans people face a host of unique barriers to feeling a sense of belonging in the workplace. For example, being misgendered (i.e., being referred to with incorrect gender pronouns), is a daily struggle for many trans people. Misgendering can occur in many forms, from a co-worker policing a trans person’s choice to use a certain restroom to referring to a colleague in casual conversation as “he” when the colleague uses “they.” It is also common for cis people to ask trans people questions that are personally invasive or rude, such as questions about our bodies, medical history, or sexuality.

WHAT CAN ORGANIZATIONS DO TO CREATE TRANS FRIENDLY WORK ENVIRONMENTS?

There are many situations where coming out is unsafe or associated with detrimental career outcomes, and there is also research that hiding or covering parts of one’s identity at work can lead to social isolation [3]. Organizations should proactively foster work cultures where employees don’t have to hide/cover important aspects of their identities. Organizations also have a responsibility to create respectful workplaces where people of all genders are protected from discrimination and harm.

Policies and benefits. In states or counties that do not have legislation protecting trans people from harassment or discrimination, organizations should implement non-discrimination policies that include such protection explicitly. Organizations should also choose healthcare providers that cover transgender health benefits, and should communicate the existence of these benefits to employees. Transgender non-discrimination policies and inclusive health benefits should be clearly described and accessible to employees, in addition to policies related to transitioning at work [4].

Organizations should also seek to actively foster cultures where trans people feel a sense of belonging. Feeling a sense of belonging at work is associated with a range of beneficial outcomes, both for individuals and organizations. When employees feel like they belong, they have better health outcomes, have higher work performance, and are more likely to stay with their organization [5]. The sections below describe key processes and moments where organizations should be attentive to fostering belonging, starting with when employees are new.

Onboarding. It is especially important to consider feelings of belonging when employees are new, particularly if their salient identities are underrepresented within the organization. For example, a trans person of color in a predominately White organization might experience even more barriers to inclusion than a White trans person [6]. When an employee starts a new job, an HR representative may input that person’s demographic information into an HR information system, typically based on assumptions about the new employee garnered from their physical appearance. It is highly problematic to assume that we know someone’s gender (or race/ethnicity, sexuality, etc.) based on physical cues. The reality is that we do not know an individual’s gender until they tell us. (See the first blog post in this series for a more detailed discussion about this.) It is an important practice to allow employees to input their own demographic information into HR systems. In instances where there are not gender inclusive options (e.g., if the HR system does not include options for trans, including non-binary, employees), organizations should push their HRIS providers to make this change.

Employee self-identification. Many trans people go by a name and pronoun that are different from their legal name and pronoun. Wherever possible in company records, use the name/pronoun that your employees use to refer to themselves. In some instances it might be necessary to have a legal name or pronoun included in company records. In these instances, protect the confidentiality of trans employees personal (e.g., their legal name) and health information. Urge the providers of your company’s HRIS, ATS, or other systems to provide options for the legal name and the name the employee (or applicant) uses, so that employees see the name they use when interacting with organizational systems.

Another strategy that HR can implement is including inclusive gender options for employees to self-identify in companywide surveys (e.g., genderqueer, transgender, non-binary, as well as offering open fields for writing in identities), and encourage all employees to include their gender pronouns in their email signature.

Environment. In addition to HR practices, cues in the physical environment can contribute to an employee’s feelings of belonging. For example, organizations can provide gender inclusive bathrooms and locker rooms/changing rooms (e.g., facilities that are not designated “Men” or “Women” but are available for anyone of any gender to use), or use the term “Lactation Room” or “Parents Room” rather than “Mother’s Room” to account for the fact that not all lactating parents will identify with the term “mother.” Similarly, when creating gender affinity groups/Employee Resource Groups, consider fostering trans-friendly spaces; if your organization only has a group for “Women@_____,” this might not signal to trans women or non-binary employees that they are welcome. Instead, consider terms such as “Women and Gender Minorities” or “Women and Trans@_____.”

CONCLUSION

Trans people are a particularly vulnerable group given the prevailing stigma related to being trans. Organizations should strive to create inclusive cultures for trans people because all people should feel respected, valued, and safe at work. With inclusive practices, policies, and sustained effort and attention, these workplaces become places where trans employees can not only survive, but thrive.

In the fourth blog post in this series, we focus on strategies that managers can take to foster trans inclusive teams.

 


END NOTES

  1. James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.
  2. 27,715 trans people completed the survey.
  3. Harvard Business Review (2014). Help Your Employees Be Themselves at Work.
  4. Model Transgender Employment Policy. Transgender Law Center.
  5. Fast Company (2016). Why Diversity In Hiring Is Only One Part Of The Puzzle.
  6. 2015 US Transgender Survey reports on the experience of trans people of color.