After many decades of grassroots organizing, we’ve seen an unprecedented acknowledgement of the transgender community in the past few years. Our understandings of gender and expression are evolving and creating space for more ways of being. But even with this increased cultural awareness, it remains true that many trans people are faced with an impossible choice: We can either experience safety or we can experience visibility. Safety is often offered as the “reward” for rendering ourselves invisible (i.e. passing as cisgender).
Our work in the HR world is to alleviate (or better yet, eliminate) that contingency – to ensure that safety isn’t a conditional privilege, but rather an inherent right of every employee and client. While there are many pieces to the puzzle of creating supportive and affirming work environments for transgender employees, here are some practices you may already be doing that easily extend to trans folks in your workplace:
1. Moderate your unconscious bias
Like any other marginalized group, transgender people will experience an employer’s unconscious bias at various levels of the employment process (Trans PULSE Survey):
- Hiring: 18% of trans people have been turned down for a job because of their gender, and an additional 32% are unsure if their gender influenced the hiring manager’s decision not to hire.
- Employment: While on the job, 90% of trans people report experiencing some form of discrimination or harassment.
- Being let go: 28% trans people are either fired or “constructively dismissed” for being trans, or were fired with no cause given after coming out as trans.
As an employer, you can help reduce barriers faced by transgender people by practicing bias-reduced hiring. The next step is to make sure that, once hired, trans people have a safe and supported experience in the workplace.
2. Have a plan
Have policies and procedures in place so that when someone tells you they’re trans, gender diverse, or Two-Spirit, you aren’t scrambling to figure out your next steps. Adding gender identity and expression to your diversity statement is one thing, but ensuring you’re clear about how you’ll respond, what external resources to connect to, and thinking “upstream” about what barriers may exist for trans people (hint: ask us!) will be much more influential steps to take.
3. Get training
When considering whether to engage with trans-affirming practices, the most common thing I hear is that people are afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. I know and understand this feeling, and I also know that the only way we can move beyond the status quo – a status quo that is often hostile towards trans people – is to lean into this fear of mistake-making. This is where enlisting the help of an external trainer can really help you out.
Getting the right training can create space to ask questions, build skills, and ultimately create a raised consciousness in your work environment. As an added bonus, accessing external guidance means that your trans employees won’t be tasked with the labour of educating their co-workers. Everybody wins!
It’s also important to remember that engaging in this transformational work isn’t just about creating a safety for trans, gender diverse, and Two-Spirit employees. This is also for employees who have trans people in their life – their children, their siblings, their parents, their partners, their friends and acquaintances. This is for employees who may engage with gender diverse clients who access your services. This is about doing the work to create relationships that will ultimately strengthen the fabric of our communities. When we think of it this way, doing better for trans staff means doing better for everyone.