Supporting a transgender employee before, during, and after their transition process can be hugely empowering to someone who’s taking this momentous step. An organization’s allyship during this time of transition, and beyond, can foster a nurturing and open culture that embraces and celebrates the experiences, perspectives, and talents of these valuable individuals. Ensuring that the proper policies and guidelines are in place and available for leaders and colleagues to reference will be important when an employee shares that they are planning to transition. If you’re reflecting on your organization’s commitment to inclusivity and notice any missing links when it comes to transgender employees, here are some suggested policies and practices that could be considered to support transitioning individuals.
The landmark Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County decided on June 15, 2020, clarified that federal law prohibits anti-transgender or gender non-conforming discrimination in employment.1 Although a growing number of states and individual employers had taken steps to provide more inclusive work environments for transgender or gender non-conforming individuals over the last few decades, this federal ruling establishes a mandate for organizations. Employers should regularly review processes for possible areas of disparate impact or treatment of transgender employees and applicants. Educating leaders, colleagues, human resources professionals, and recruitment teams will help to ensure that transgender individuals, when known, are getting a fair and equal chance at employment and advancement in your organization.
It’s important to never make any assumptions about an employee’s gender or their plans to transition. It’s not required for any individual to reveal their gender identity to their employer and it’s also inappropriate for an employee to be asked about their gender identity. Every individual’s process is unique and will vary case by case. Allow the employee to lead the process and ask what they’ll prefer. Although no two transitions are the same, some areas of consideration may be common in these circumstances, such as modifying the person’s name on organization documents, reviewing health care coverage and medical leave eligibility, communication to coworkers and clients, security clearances, temporarily modified workplace arrangements, etc. Once an employee comes to you, making a plan together will help to understand their preferences and the timetable. Keeping the communication channel open will help to extend support and accommodate for any revisions to the plan going forward.
Revisit your current policies and practices to make sure they’re trans-inclusive. According to Guardian’s Workforce 2020 report, nearly 12 million Americans identify as LGBTQ. While 6 in 10 employers say diversity and inclusion is a priority for their company, only 1 in 3 employers have initiatives, policies or a D&I team in place.2 Even if you consider your company’s culture to be inclusive, sometimes there are unnoticed processes that are unintentionally exclusionary.
- Inclusive benefits: To support transgender employees, see that your medical leave policies cover leave for gender transition treatments or surgery. Communicate this policy in employee literature so workers know this coverage is available without having to ask. This can also help to promote financial well-being for these workers, who tend to experience more financial stress than the average employee.3 Remember that the process for applying for benefits should be consistent for all employees.
- Using inclusive language: Check over forms for workplace benefits, on-boarding, and other internal documents to make sure that inclusive language is being used, such as comprehensive gender options and correct and current terminology.
- Bathroom access: Colleagues should be able to use the restroom of their choosing throughout their transition period. Keep in mind that requiring transgender employees to use a certain restroom could be discriminatory. Consider creating single-use, gender-neutral bathrooms in addition to, or in replacement of, gender-specific restrooms if it’s within the means of your facility.
- Dress codes: Implementing gender-neutral dress codes make it explicit that all employees may select clothing that aligns with their gender identity.
- Pronoun and name usage: No one should be forced to share their preferred gender pronouns as you don’t know where they are on their personal journey. While having someone share their preferred gender pronoun can reduce the chance of accidental misgendering, pronoun and name usage is inherently complex. It could force someone into an uncomfortable situation of outing themselves before they’re ready, lying and then harboring feelings of regret, or triggering deep personal contemplation for those who are gender-questioning.
Being proactive in communication is key. Demonstrate open and visible communication about gender-inclusive initiatives. Leadership is often the most important driver of change when it comes to fostering workplaces that have an inclusive culture and cross-cultural awareness and understanding of its diverse workers. Managers and employees both should know where to look and whom to speak with when they have any questions because each situation will vary case by case.
Trainings on gender-identity topics are constructive for those within your company to hear stories, understand the challenges, and gain empathy towards members of the LGBTQ+ community to reduce stigma and ostracizing behaviors from coworkers. “Stigma leads to ongoing experiences of prejudice, discrimination, abuse, lack of acceptance, isolation, low self-esteem, and access to less resources,” says LGBTQ+ speaker and consultant, Ryan Sallans, during Guardian’s webinar, “Supporting our Transgender Colleagues: A comprehensive approach to inclusivity.” Seeking outside resources that specialize in these trainings, such as the Human Rights Campaign, may help to provide modules that can be incorporated into a larger diversity training curriculum or a dedicated educational program on transgender issues.
Research suggests that many people lack the knowledge, and therefore the confidence, to challenge prejudice regarding diversity-related topics. Through training programs, employers can provide an education that helps facilitate a culture of allyship that seeks to root out prejudices and create a healthy work environment for all LGBTQ+ individuals. “It's not just training, but really it's education to get people comfortable in the situations as a leader, to be able to talk about an impact change to make your team feel like they all matter and they all belong and can bring their whole selves to work every day,” says Brad Kleinerman, 2nd VP, Human Resources Business Partner at Guardian.
LGBTQ+ employee resource groups (ERGs) offer valuable ways to bring together communities and promote allyship within your company. This group can serve dual functions by increasing workplace inclusion and addressing areas that pertain to the business, such as focusing on the employer’s related policies, recommending improvements for inclusiveness within the organization, mentoring to enhance the leadership of younger employees, philanthropic initiatives, and even recruitment. Having an LGBTQ+ ERG offers a resource for transgender colleagues before, during, and after their transition.
Facilitating an inclusive business atmosphere is key for workers to thrive today and will continue to be a focal point as Americans increasingly identify as LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming.4 Making sure the right practices, policies, and people are in place will help ensure that an employee’s transition and overall work experience is comfortable and supportive.
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