As a transgender woman who spent years agonizing about how my transition would be received by my colleagues, I understand the unique challenges facing trans employees. And while many companies believe that by supporting non-discriminatory policies they are creating an inclusive workplace for everyone, all too often we realize this is not the case — especially for transgender employees. As many as 90% of transgender employees who come out on the job still experience workplace harassment and discrimination, while more than a quarter of transgender people report losing their jobs because of who they are.
You may be asking yourself, “What more can we be doing to promote awareness and tolerance?” The answer is multi pronged:
- Internal company policies related to transgender employees should be established separate and apart from diversity policies. These policies require comprehensive consideration of the unique needs of transgender employees and shouldn’t be lumped together into a general “non-discriminatory” category.
- Change the office culture. This requires company-wide training for all employees, from the CEO to the mailroom, to foster inclusivity at every level of seniority outside of HR staff and managers. Transgender awareness training should mirror routine sexual harassment training for incoming and existing employees. Company executives must also unambiguously articulate support for these policies.
- Learn how to use the right pronouns, and either create gender-neutral bathrooms for all employees, or establish restroom policies that allow trans employees to use the restroom that aligns with their preferred gender.
My own coming out on the job was emotional and scary – and ultimately extremely rewarding because of the support from my colleagues. I’ve since become a trainer and advocate in the trans community, and I’ve partnered with the e-learning firm ZipMart on an interactive course that teaches best practices to both employers and employees so everyone can learn to support their transgender colleagues and customers.
An estimated 1.4 million people identify as transgender in the United States, according to a study by the UCLA Williams Institute, almost double the previous estimate. We know that transgender people are represented in every occupation, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is increasingly cracking down on reports of transgender discrimination. This is why it is important for every business to create a system with policies and trainings, and to be prepared for the possibility of an employee coming out. Doing so protects your company from liability and makes the transitioning process easier for your transgender employees, who might already face challenges coming out to their friends and family.
Ending discrimination against transgender employees and customers by training all employees is no longer an option, but a necessity for every company and organization.
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