Transgender Inclusion: Allyship at Work

By March 28, 2019 Analysis, Blog
Blog Post #4 in the series “Transgender Inclusion at Work”

The previous post in this series outlines how organizations can proactively foster trans inclusive work cultures through policies, benefits and processes. This post discusses how people within organizations can act as allies.


With the International Transgender Day of Visibility right around the corner (March 31), it’s an ideal time to reflect on what visibility means for  trans and non-binary people at work. If we imagine an ideal work world, being visibly trans or non-binary at work would be a safe option associated with positive outcomes. Trans and non-binary employees would have access to healthcare options that served their needs, would feel respected for their perspectives, and would have equal access to promotions and leadership opportunities. In an ideal work world, being trans or non-binary would be viewed as an asset, with the understanding that our differences are what makes us stronger as organizations. However, the reality is often starkly different from this vision.

The barriers to inclusion at work are significant—just take a look at some of the data resulting from the largest survey of trans and non-binary people [1]:

  • Nearly 30% of trans and non-binary 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.
  • Respondents’ unemployment rate was 15%, 3X the national unemployment rate at the time of the survey (2015). For trans people of color, the numbers were even higher—20% for Black trans people and 35% for Middle Eastern respondents.
  • More than half of the respondents (53%) hid their gender identity at work, and 77% took actions to avoid discrimination, such as  hiding their identity, delaying transition, or quitting the job.

Those statistics are sobering. We’ve already taken a look at what organizations can do to create trans inclusive work environmentsnow let’s explore what you can do to create a trans-inclusive environment in your organization.

What does it mean to be an ally?

First, let’s define what allyship is. The work of an ally is to listen and learn from those who are in marginalized positions because of systemic oppression (or other power dynamics) and, most importantly, to act from a position of relative privilege [2].

What can allies do to create trans inclusive work cultures?

If you believe that trans and non-binary people deserve to feel safe, respected, and supported, then it is important to take actions in alignment with these beliefs. This could range from simple, kind gestures such as making the effort to invite a new trans coworker to coffee to situations that might require more bravery, like explaining to a colleague why a transphobic joke is harmful.

For trans people who are in a position to choose whether or not to come out to their coworkers about their gender identity or gender transition, the choice often requires a careful evaluation of the risks and benefits. It is never appropriate to share information about someone else’s gender identity, especially if you have any doubt as to whether your colleague is out. While it may not seem like a big deal to you, outing someone can lead to harmful results for them. We all make choices about what information about ourselves we share at work and we should all have the right to disclose personal information about our gender, sexuality, etc. only when and to whom we feel comfortable.

What can managers do to create trans inclusive work cultures?

Managers, who are in a position to impact career growth and overall well-being in the workplace for their employees, can be strong allies. If you’re a manager, there are a few key touchpoints where you can cultivate inclusion for trans members of your teams:

  • 1:1s: It is a managerial best practice to hold regular 1:1s with employees to check in about employee well-being, work performance, career goals, and growth opportunities. These meetings can be a great way to build relationships and trust, but you should also be vigilant in recognizing potential biases that can influence who you choose to support. Bias in favor of employees who fit a prototype of the “ideal worker” (often an image of a white, cisgender man) can influence whom managers choose to support, how much attention they spend with certain employees, or how they assign prestigious work assignments. Managers are also more likely to meet with employees who remind them of themselves, which can pose a particular barrier for trans people when we are seen as different.

You should make sure that you are conducting 1:1 meetings with all employees equitably. In order to combat conscious and unconscious preferences for employees based on identity, you can practice documenting the reasons that support their decisions about promotions, mentorship, or assigning work. The exercise of writing down a few reasons for important people decisions can help you catch the instances when you don’t have objective rationale for a decision and might actually be operating based on bias.

  • Team Meetings: You should use team meetings as an opportunity to cultivate inclusion and belonging. It is a helpful practice to start meetings with new people by inviting everyone in the room to share their name and gender pronouns. You can also encourage equal participation of team members and immediately address instances of bias when they arise.
  • Addressing Bias: You should respond firmly in the moment—and escalate issues to HR when appropriate—when there are harmful comments, even if these comments were posed as jokes or were not intended to have a negative impact. In this way, you can demonstrate to all employees that you are diligent about fostering a respectful atmosphere and that you will work to support employees from underrepresented groups (e.g., trans or non-binary people, older employees, employees of color, employees with disabilities, etc.).

Conclusion

When organizations as a whole, and managers more specifically, establish that they will not tolerate transphobic comments or behaviors, they start to build spaces where trans people can survive. With sustained effort and attention, strong relationship-building and acts of allyship by managers and colleagues, these workplaces become places where trans and non-binary employees can not only survive, but thrive.

Resources

  1. Out & Equal (2015). U.S. Transgender Survey Reveals Inequalities in Income & Employment. http://outandequal.org/u-s-transgender-survey-reveals-inequalities-in-income-employment/
  2. The Cut (2017). The Real Work of Being an Ally. https://www.thecut.com/2017/01/the-real-work-of-being-an-ally.html
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