As far as performance theories go, the idea that we should ‘bring our whole selves’ to work is a nice one. But if we want employees to do just that, we need to create environments that allow for it – supportive and open workplaces that don’t just respect our individuality but actively encourage the expression of it. For many Trans people globally, such workplaces are not common enough.
Research by McKinsey & Co found that in the U.S. 53 percent of Trans employees are not comfortable fully disclosing their gender identity due to fear of discrimination, while in the UK research by Stonewall suggests that 34 percent of Trans respondents said they had been excluded by colleagues. These figures paint a bleak picture of Trans-inclusivity, yet we know that organizations want to do better.
But what does ‘better’ look like and how can organizations be good Trans allies?
What does it mean to be an ally?
It’s worth acknowledging that some people can find the term ‘ally’ confusing. When defining what it means to be an ally, it’s easier to start with what it isn’t. As a Trans ally, it is not expected that employers are experts in the lived experiences of a Transgender person. However, ‘allyship’ is also not passive in its nature. It’s not enough to just ‘be ok’ employing Trans people, and it doesn’t suffice to simply call the workplace ‘Trans-friendly’. What is really required of true allies is support and advocacy, and that always requires action.
For organizations, action takes the form of policies, support, and training. These actions protect Trans employees from discrimination and provide guidance for other employees who want to help. Organizations shouldn’t wait until there are Trans employees before putting in place this support, and instead aim to take action as soon as possible. Above all, corporate allyship is recognizing that employers are likely to have a blind spot on this subject, so listening to Trans employees on what they need is imperative to ensuring inclusion.
How can businesses be Trans allies?
Businesses and senior leaders have an important role to play in modelling ally behavior, whether that’s through language or by taking a public stand; such as PayPal who withdrew $3.6 billion of investment from North Carolina in protest at its anti-Trans bathroom bill.
Here are other suggestions on what organizations should be doing to support Trans inclusion:
Being an ally is about taking ownership and taking the initiative to learn, instead of leaving it up to Trans people to do the educating. Organizations should provide relevant and impactful LGBT+ training in the workplace that reduces stigma and biased behavior from colleagues, fosters a culture of allyship, and provide tools to challenge harassment.
Trainings such as INvolve’s LGBT+ Inclusion Solutions explores the importance of LGBT+ inclusion, builds an understanding of key concepts around sexual orientation and gender identity, explores nuances in language and terminology around LGBT+ inclusion and its evolution, and provides practical tips to foster more LGBT+ inclusion behaviors and ways to be more inclusive and tackle bias, both interpersonal and systemic.
2. Clear policies
Policies should cover all elements of the employee experience. This includes gender-neutral language in recruitment materials which can help increase applications from non-binary and gender-fluid candidates. Enforce the use of pronouns in internal and external communications or name badges. Put in place robust, zero-tolerance procedures for dealing with transphobia, harassment, and discrimination to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to creating safe workplaces. If working in an office, also encourage a gender-neutral dress code and arrange gender-neutral toilets.
Healthcare is incredibly difficult for Trans employees. In the UK, gender-affirming surgery is very limited in the NHS, where there is very little funding and a waiting list of 5+ years, and most insurers consider any gender-affirming care as cosmetic.
For employees that are undergoing gender-affirming surgery, the company should choose an insurance provider that covers gender-affirming care, such as hormone replacement therapy and surgery, in their core offering rather than as an add-on. The company should also offer therapy and medical leave cover for all Trans employees, and look into what additional support can be given through this process.
4. Interpersonal communication
Organizations and senior leaders need to be respectful and mindful of what stage each Trans employee is in their transition. Direct managers should provide a safe space where the employee is comfortable disclosing their process and allow them to lead the conversation. While not every Trans person will choose to transition, for those that do, it’s likely to be a sensitive time. ‘Transitioning at work’ policies, like the one outlined by the Human Rights Campaign, are vital in reassuring any trans employee that they are working in a supportive space.
It goes without saying, but companies should not disclose information that the transitioning individual hasn’t consented to in advance. Take care to use correct pronouns and names; misgendering or ‘deadnaming’ (the act of using a trans person’s prior name) can be incredibly distressing for the individual concerned. While this can happen accidentally, persistent instances can amount to harassment.
Finally, connecting transitioning individuals with networks that provide one-to-one professional support for Trans employees is imperative to the progress of the individual, both professionally and personally.
It’s always worth remembering that any challenge you might feel as an employer will be nothing compared to the journey that your Trans colleague has been on. Above all else, the hallmark of a good ally is a willingness to question that very privilege. The conversation about gender identity is an evolving one, and we may not always get it right, but what counts is the commitment to continue having that conversation and listening to the people it affects.