How to Support Transgender Rights in the Workplace

Employers should proactively ensure that their transgender employees are safe, comfortable, and protected at work. Here’s how your organization can support transgender rights in the workplace.

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How to Support Transgender Rights in the Workplace

Here's what you need to know:

  • To support transgender rights in the workplace, understand what transgender is and go beyond Pride month to support trans people year-round
  • Support employees during their transitions and ensure your benefits are updated and inclusive
  • Make a pronoun and preferred name policy
  • Celebrate your trans employees (but only if they want to be celebrated)
  • Conduct trans-specific diversity training for workers

Just as people with a uterus are under attack through the primitive restrictions this country is placing on abortion, so too are transgender people under attack. Just because the national fervor over bathroom bills might have passed doesn’t mean that trans issues are no longer relevant.

As 3 authors wrote in Harvard Business Review in 2020, organizations shouldn’t wait for the laws or the courts of this country to protect trans people. Instead, now is the time for companies and organizations to lead.

Employers should proactively ensure that their transgender employees are safe, comfortable, and protected at work. Work is stressful enough in and of itself. No one should have to experience and combat extra stress and anxiety just for being who they are at work.

Here’s how your organization can support transgender rights in the workplace. There’s a lot to take in. If you’re worried that your organization is a long way from some of the elements here, don’t fret. Look for easy places to start and build from there.

Understand what transgender is (and isn’t)

Inclusivity and support require understanding. If you don’t have a factual understanding of what it means to be trans, supporting your trans employees is going to be a difficult proposition.

Some hurtful mistakes could be made, too. So, start with educating yourself and then move to ensure that your workforce is educated, too.

Transgender, or just trans for short, is a broad term that’s used to describe people whose gender identity or expression is different from the gender they were assigned at birth.

It’s important to note that gender is not the same as sexual preference. Whether or not someone likes men, women, or nonbinary people is separate from their gender identity.

When a transgender individual chooses to publicly change their physical gender presentation, this is known as “transitioning.” Transitioning is a deeply personal process with no 1-size-fits-all solution.

Some transgender people who transition may elect to undergo gender-affirming medical procedures. Others might not.

The most important thing to remember is that transgender individuals are just that — individuals with unique perspectives, dreams, desires, experiences, and aspirations. Do not treat trans people as a monolith.

Go beyond Pride month and support trans people year-round

Celebrating Pride month can be a great place to start, but it isn’t where any company or organization should stop. One of the worst mistakes a company can make is being inconsistent and insincere.

Don’t cover everything from your office to your social media icons in rainbows for the month of June, espousing support for the LGBTQAI+ community, then go back to “normal” once July hits.

It’s important to support and consider LGBTQAI+ employees and customers all year long. Pride can, however, be a great time to start learning more.

It’s important to support and consider LGBTQAI+ employees and customers all year long.

Many events in cities across the country offer educational resources in some way. At the very least, you can go to Pride events and make connections with organizations that can help you and your company on its journey to support trans rights.

Support employees during their transitions

Transitioning is a process that’s different for everyone. Whether an employee is opting for surgery, a name change, or something else, employers have a major role to play here.

Flexible work arrangements, flexible paid time off, and unlimited paid time off are all common offerings that can greatly assist trans employees with the logistics that come with these choices.

Changing your name can mean sitting in long lines at government offices. Medical care often requires recovery time. The more you can ensure that work conforms around their life and not the other way around, the better.

Above all else, remember this: Don’t assume what your trans employees’ needs are. Ask them, but make sure they know that they are not required to share any information they aren’t absolutely comfortable disclosing.

If you can, get rid of binary male and female bathroom signage. Gender-neutral bathrooms can make trans employees more at ease being themselves at work. This same approach applies to any other aspect of your workplace that might be gendered. Gender-neutral is the way to go.

Ensure your benefits are updated and inclusive

Just as companies are modernizing benefits to include domestic partners and fertility treatments, so should they evolve to encompass the needs of trans people. To the extent possible, make sure that their sometimes unique medical and mental health needs are covered by insurance.

Taking concrete steps like these show your trans employees that you’re serious about supporting them. Actions always speak louder than words.

Make a pronoun and preferred name policy

Building off of a company culture of respect for diversity and the valuing of inclusion, create a name and pronoun policy. The goal of a policy like this is to clearly outline that it’s mandatory that all employees’ preferred names and pronouns are used.

It’s not necessary for a legal name change or gender change to be in place. Whatever someone wants to be called, that’s what they’ll be called.

Naturally, this is where managers should lead by example. Share your pronouns in meetings and put them in your email signature, Slack name, and other spaces.

Encourage all employees to share their pronouns, too. The more that cisgender people share their pronouns, the easier it is for trans people to do the same.

If you slip up, just apologize and move forward or even just move forward. Sometimes being overly apologetic can draw unwanted attention. Ensure that there are consequences for intentional and repeated use of an employee’s wrong name or pronouns.

Celebrate your trans employees (but only if they want to be celebrated)

Not everyone wants to be in the limelight in general. Some people aren’t comfortable with attention that stems from their gender identity. Others, on the other hand, can be totally into it. If they are, consider having a transgender day of visibility.

On that day (or these days if you host multiples!), offer educational resources and consider hosting fundraisers for organizations that support and serve the trans community. Of course, the comfort level of your trans employees with the event is the decision-maker on whether or not it happens in the first place.

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Conduct trans-specific diversity training for workers

Like all things training, if you don’t feel confident in your ability to pull this together in-house, reach out to someone who can. The best approach is a trans-specific training that stands alone. But if that isn’t possible, a trans-specific section within your current diversity, equity, and inclusion training will do.

One of the main things to include in your training is this: Research suggests that cisgender employees who call out and challenge non-inclusive policies and colleagues are an important source of solidarity and support.

“​​Our findings,” the HBR authors write, “suggest that these behaviors may come in three related forms; advocacy, such as taking the initiative to publicly support trans clauses; defending, such as protecting trans coworkers from judgment or hostility; and educating, such as spreading awareness of trans issues in the organization.”

This is serious and important work. But you don’t have to boil the ocean from the outset. Do what you can and start where you can. Then, as time and resources allow, expand what you do to support your trans employees.

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