“Leadership is the most important element for change, and that includes fostering workplaces that have an inclusive culture and that enhance cross-cultural awareness and skills through communication, training, and education. This is the starting point for any meaningful change in creating fair workplaces.” — Freada Kapor Klein, Giving Notice: Why the Best and the Brightest Leave the Workplace and How You Can Help Them Stay
As an employer, one of your biggest goals is to create a respectful workplace. One that fosters respect, collaboration, and productivity. That means that preventing discrimination and promoting inclusivity should be a top priority.
There are a number of reasons for this. For one thing, employment discrimination is illegal. Allowing discriminatory practices or attitudes to flourish in your business could make you vulnerable to expensive lawsuits. And legal issues aside, treating your employees fairly regardless of race, gender, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity is simply the right thing to do. Workers should be judged based on the merits of their work, not their cultural background.
The percentage of Fortune 500 companies which have policies prohibiting gender identity discrimination has increased from 3% to 83% since 2002.
But one of the most important reasons for running an inclusive organization free of discrimination is this: a respectful workplace promotes a culture of unity among your employees and gives your business access to a wider pool of talent. Employers who practice zero tolerance for discrimination generally benefit from better morale, greater cohesiveness, and higher productivity.
It has taken a while to catch up, but it looks like companies are finally starting to recognize the importance of preventing discrimination based on gender identity in addition to other protected classes. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBTQ research and advocacy group, 83 percent of companies on the Fortune 500 have policies prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. (The Fortune 500 is Fortune Magazine’s list of the 500 most publicly traded companies.) Compare that to only 3 percent who had such policies in 2002. In addition, 58 percent of these companies offer transgender-inclusive health insurance. In 2002, none of them did.
HRC maintains a list of the best companies for LGBTQ people to work for. They call it the Corporate Equality Index (CEI). These companies have good anti-discrimination policies and practices. They also offer LGBTQ inclusive health care coverage. In 2018, a record-breaking 609 employers earned perfect 100 percent scores on the CEI. You want your business to be on this list!
In order to truly prevent discrimination based on gender identity and foster a respectful workplace, employers must do more than simply write and implement policies. They must also train their staff.
How do you, as an employer, ensure that your employees and managers comply with your policies? You train them. Ensuring compliance with nondiscrimination policies is no different.
At a minimum, all employees should receive clear guidelines for appropriate and respectful workplace behavior. You must also advise them on the consequences of failing to comply with your nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity.
These guidelines can be delivered to employees in a number of ways. Most often, this includes training. However, this training doesn’t have to be an extensive or formal affair.
Education and training on gender identity and nondiscrimination might look like small, informal discussions. It could include breakout groups or other components incorporated into a larger workplace discrimination training. Or you might decide to put on a larger training focused exclusively on gender identity and transgender issues.
The make-up of your training program will depend a lot on the circumstances in your workplace. For instance, if you are newly rolling out a gender identity nondiscrimination policy, or if you have an employee who has recently transitioned, you may want to conduct a full-fledged, transgender-focused training. This training should be comparable to what you would do for other policy roll-outs.
Aside from the basics of your own company policy and any applicable state laws, there are a few things that should be included in any workplace transgender education training.
Many people are simply unaware of what gender identity means. A person’s gender identity is the gender with which they identify, regardless of their biological sex. Sometimes, you might hear the term “gender expression.” This refers to a person’s gender-related appearance, mannerisms, style, or dress. For example, a person who wears makeup and has long hair might be perceived as feminine, and a person who wears ties and crops their hair short might be perceived as masculine. A person’s gender expression may not necessarily match their biological sex at birth.
Some examples of discrimination are obvious. If an employer refuses to hire someone or chooses to fire them based on their gender identity, that is clearly discrimination. But there are other, more subtle examples as well.
Let’s say a supervisor gives a transgender employee a poor performance review. On the evaluation, the supervisor notes that the employee has failed to conform to the company’s dress and grooming codes. However, this comment stems from the supervisor’s discomfort with the employee’s transgender status. The supervisor simply doesn’t like that the employee dresses according to the gender she identifies with. This is an example of gender identity discrimination. To successfully create a respectful workplace, employees must first understand the negative effects of their thoughts and insensitive comments.
What will happen if an employee or supervisor violates your nondiscrimination policy? Be sure to train your team on your disciplinary procedures. This is a good example of when to implement an acknowledgment form; make sure your employees know what’s expected of their conduct and what the consequences will be if they don’t adhere to these expectations.
If some of your employees–or your board of directors–are reluctant to get on board with your new policy, it might help to point out the financial benefits for your organization. Not only does discrimination expose employers to expensive lawsuits, but it also hurts you financially in other ways as well.
Companies caught discriminating against LGBTQ employees have a hard time recruiting top talent and retaining employees. It costs an average of between $5,000 and $10,000 to replace an hourly worker. To replace higher level executives, expect to pay $75,000 and $211,000. Discriminating employers often experience loss in sales too, as the public may choose to boycott businesses who participate in this unsavory practice.
We’ve all heard about the difficulty transgender people experience with being allowed to use the bathroom of their choice. This can be a humiliating problem at work and other public places. Transgender people often experience harassment too. They might experience jokes, teasing, unkind comments, or even threats from their coworkers, all based on their transgender status. Let your employees know that you will not tolerate this behavior, and encourage employees to report harassment to you or any manager whenever it occurs.
When companies offer benefits that are useful only to some employees, the rest of the employees might complain about unfairness. This can happen when you begin to offer transgender-inclusive health coverage. It might be helpful to point out that transgender people experience unique health concerns, and that you want your health coverage to work for all of your employees, regardless of gender identity.
Everyone has a pronoun preference. As a society, we’ve gotten used to calling biologically female people she/her, and biologically male people he/him. But transgender people often prefer to be called the pronouns associated with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex. Some people prefer they/them as well. If you have transgender employees, it is important that you ask them about their pronoun preferences. People might benevolently forget to use someone’s preferred pronouns on occasion, but all employees should make an effort to use them as often as possible.
Preventing discrimination and promoting a respectful workplace should be a top priority for all employers. Discrimination based on gender identity is illegal in a number of states. But more importantly, treating your employees fairly and allowing them to work free of discrimination is the right thing to do. In addition, a respectful workplace promotes a culture of unity and gives you access to a wider pool of talent.
For these reasons, it’s a good idea to implement nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity as a protected class. When you do this, be sure to provide your employees with transgender education training. This training will help your employees to know how to comply with your policy, and how to treat all of their coworkers with respect.