Even companies that are LGBTQ+-friendly often focus more on the “LGB” than on the “T” or “Q.” So, in honor of Pride Month, we want to highlight how you can make your company more welcoming of people who are transgender and gender-nonconforming.
According to one report, 1.4 million adults in the U.S. identify as transgender, which means there’s a large pool of talent waiting to be tapped. Yet transgender people struggle to find jobs. The unemployment rate among the transgender community is three times higher than for the U.S. population as a whole, and it’s even worse for transgender people of color.
For those who have found jobs, the workplace isn’t always welcoming. A 2015 survey of 27,715 transgender people in the United States found that 77% of those who had held a job in the prior year had taken active steps to avoid being mistreated at work, such as hiding their gender identity, delaying their gender transition, or refraining from asking employers to use their correct pronouns. Sixty-seven percent reported that they had been fired or forced to resign, had not been hired for a job, or been denied a promotion. A recent report in the United Kingdom found that 65% of transgender people are keeping their identity secret in the workplace, up from 52% five years ago.
This doesn’t just hurt transgender people. It also hurts business. A 2012 report by the Center for American Progress shows that U.S. companies lose $64 billion annually from having to replace employees who left because of unfairness and discrimination, many of them members of the LGBTQ+ community.
In order to build the best teams possible, you need all kinds of talent — and transgender people can offer a fresh and different perspective. How can you make your company more transgender-inclusive? Here are five tips.
1. Make sure your company has gender-inclusive policies
Most companies have policies that are written and designed to protect people from discrimination and harassment. Take a look at your guidelines and make sure that they include the words “gender identity and expression” among the protected categories.
“Gender identity” refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming, while “gender expression” refers to a person’s behaviors (such as appearance, dress, or mannerisms) that may be perceived as masculine or feminine.
If your company does not have a policy in place to protect all forms of gender identity and expression, become a champion for a new set of guidelines. The Transgender Law Center has an excellent guide that can help you with this.
2. Pay attention to pronouns
One of the best ways to help transgender and nonconforming employees feel welcome is by using their pronouns. You can’t always assume someone’s gender pronouns simply by their appearance.
Many people who are transgender identify as either male or female and use he, him, and his or she, her and hers. But others are gender nonconforming or nonbinary, and use alternative pronouns, such as they, them, and theirs or the more recent ze, zir, and zem.
Employers can encourage this usage by keeping a record of employees’ chosen names and correct pronouns, and using them in all official company correspondence. You can also encourage all employees to use name badges and email signatures indicating their pronouns.
Finally, in onboarding and training programs as well as the employee handbook, stress the importance of using correct pronouns to create an environment where all employees feel valued and respected.
3. Provide gender-neutral bathrooms
One of the most stressful parts of going to work for transgender and gender-nonconforming people is deciding which bathroom to use. To make people feel more comfortable, provide gender-neutral bathrooms or encourage transgender employees to use bathrooms that align with their chosen gender.
Through diversity trainings, you can also educate employees about how important it is to accept and welcome their transgender coworkers in the bathroom of their choice. A Harvard Business Review article illuminates the power of being an ally to the transgender community. The authors researched more than 1,000 transgender employees throughout North America and shared this story: “One of our participants, a trans man working in business, said, ‘When I started using the men’s room at work, a number of men didn’t like it. An engineer, a cisgender man in his forties who didn’t work with me directly, went out of his way to make me feel safe and welcome in the men’s room, and I was extremely grateful.”
It’s not only good to provide appropriate bathrooms, in some countries it may be recommended policy. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for example, considers it a “core belief” that all employees, including transgender and gender-nonconforming employees, should have access to bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity.
4. Rethink dress codes
If your company has a dress code, you may want to revisit it. Many dress codes are from another era, when businesses had gender-specific expectations for what employees wore to work.
Instead, implement gender-neutral dress codes. Emphasize that employees can wear a wide variety of clothing, such as dress shirts, pantsuits, casual dress, and skirt suits. In companies where uniforms or business-specific attire are required, allow employees to choose clothing based on their gender identity or expression. This will help destigmatize varying expressions of gender.
You can also frame dress in terms of functionality. For example, an employee may need to wear something that wouldn’t “restrict them from lifting 50 pounds,” if their job involves heavy lifting.
5. Support gender transitions
“Transitioning is not a single event but, rather, a process,” HBR says, “which begins with a deeply personal decision that usually results from years of soul-searching. The decision to come out, or disclose, at work is also complicated.”
Companies can make the process easier. First, ask employees what they need during their transition and how they would like the process handled. Do not out them without their permission or before they’re ready. Let the employee set the timetable around workplace decisions.
Second, make sure that your company has policies and procedures in place to ensure successful workplace transitions. This includes developing clear guidelines for supporting a transition and communicating to coworkers, and making any changes necessary to official records.
Finally, make sure your company’s benefit offerings feature transgender-inclusive healthcare coverage.
It isn’t just good business sense to create a transgender-inclusive company, it’s also the right thing to do. When you create an environment where employees are treated with dignity and respect, everyone has a greater chance to succeed.
* Photo from The Gender Spectrum Collection