For many people, work is stressful enough without the additional burden of needing to conceal or deny their fundamental gender identity because it doesn’t conform to conventional societal norms.
Unfortunately, while awareness is growing of the challenges transgender people face in the workplace, many employers are still not doing enough to create policies and foster cultures that support them. Research has found stigmatization and hostility, whether direct or indirect, toward trans employees in the U.S., which can increase absenteeism and decrease commitment, motivation and productivity.
A 2015 study of nearly 28,000 transgender individuals revealed that 77% of those who held jobs during the previous year took active steps to avoid mistreatment at work, such as hiding their gender identity, delaying their gender transition, not asking employers to use their correct pronouns or quitting their jobs. According to a Harvard Business Review survey, 47% of participants experienced some form of anti-trans discriminatory behavior on a daily basis at work, and the Human Rights Campaign reported a 30% decline in broader LGBT+ employee engagement in unfriendly workplaces.
Knowing that, you probably want to be a better ally for the LGBTQ+ community and help your company become more supportive of transgender people. Of course, you want to do so in a respectful and intentional way, but perhaps worry about making a misstep as you are learning. Every person’s identity and lived experience is unique, and environmental contexts can vary, but here is a good starting guide to establishing a more trans-inclusive workplace.
Make asking pronouns the norm
One of the most basic ways to demonstrate to trans employees, who identify with a different gender than the one assigned at birth, that they are valued is to know and show you recognize their correct names and pronouns. It is best practice never to assume what pronouns a person uses or what their gender is based on appearance. This can be a hard habit to break for cisgender people, or those who identify as the same gender they were assigned at birth.
Start by providing more than two gender options or a fill-in option for customer surveys or job applications. In company materials, ask for pronouns rather than assuming them. This establishes a consistent practice for everyone and takes the guesswork out of addressing someone as Mr. or Ms. A gender-neutral honorific that does not indicate male or female is Mx.
If employees wear name tags, allow the option to add pronouns. If your business has a uniform, allow for gender-neutral options or let your staff choose the fit that suits them best. This can minimize awkward situations where a person is misgendered, or referred to using language that does not correctly reflect the gender with which they identify. Little things like this will make interactions more comfortable and inclusive for both staff and clients.
Try to prioritize gender-neutral language
An easy linguistic switch is using the singular “they” versus “he or she” when you don’t know for certain someone’s gender. Not only is it shorter, more natural and universal, but also the singular form of “they” has now been added to Webster’s Dictionary, as well as the AP style guide. So, it’s no longer even considered grammatically incorrect, continuing the natural evolution of language.
If you aren’t sure what pronouns a person prefers, use “they” until you are able to find out.
Work on not making gendered assumptions about staff or clients
Gendered assumptions can make people uncomfortable, regardless if the person is cisgender or transgender. Notions of gender vary between cultures, and everyone’s experience with gender identity and gender roles is different. It is best to take those assumptions out of business entirely and let your staff and clients define things for themselves.
Provide better opportunities for the transgender community
Make a conscious effort to hire gender non-conforming people, who often have a harder time finding work. Understand that hiring discrimination is real for LGBT+ individuals, so trans applicants may not have had the same past opportunities as their cisgender peers and their resumes could appear weaker. If someone has skill, passion and potential, give them a chance, and strive for more equality in the workplace.
Update your facilities
Another important action you can take is to provide gender-neutral restrooms and locker rooms to your staff and customers. One way to account for those who might prefer more privacy is to have a single-use facility available, as well. This will allow all members of staff to feel more comfortable having their basic needs met at work, and enable them to focus on succeeding in their role.
Support employees who begin transitioning
If a current employee is transitioning, it can feel awkward for them, as well as you. You don’t want to mess up or be insensitive, and your employee may worry about being treated differently at work.
Speak to your employee one on one. Let them know you are here to support and accommodate in any way possible. Assure them any discrimination or harassment will not be tolerated. Don’t make a scene in front of others, or use the employee as an example without consent.
Once you make efforts to put your employee at ease, ask them what name and pronouns they now use. Set an expectation that all staff will respect your employee’s wishes and use the information provided.
Each person will have different feelings about educating their peers on trans issues. It is best to let your employee start those conversations, rather than appoint them as the designated LGBT+ resource for everyone. If you provide a supportive environment, your staff will likely feel safer and more confident discussing their experiences with you.