HR has a key role in preventing discrimination against transgender people. Here are six ways to be more inclusive of transgender people in the workplace.
A recent survey found that nearly half of transgender people actively look for trans-friendly employers when jobhunting. How can employers make their workplaces better for transgender employees? How can they send out the right signals – and make sure they are doing more than just window-dressing?
Go beyond LGBT
Some employers don’t realise that it’s not enough just to cater for one group covered by the acronym LGBT and fail to realise that these groups can have very different needs. Transgender people who are considering working for an organisation need to know that it is aware of the specific issues they face. Make a better impression by mentioning transgender people in your recruitment materials and statements about equality.
Have a clear diversity policy
Most employers have diversity policies but are often not backed up in practice.
To be useful, a diversity policy needs to be visible to all employees. It should be referenced in workplace communications so that people remember it’s there and know the employer takes it seriously. Have a clear contact point for anybody concerned that the policy is being violated, and ensure you protect whistle-blowers. Employers should make sure it explicitly states that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated.
Take harassment seriously
Research shows that transgender people face harassment all the time, and it can be very damaging. It’s important to investigate all complaints. If they stem from ignorance, training could help, but problems won’t go away by themselves and transgender employees deserve an employer’s protection.
Use language carefully
Making transgender people welcome in the workplace isn’t just about avoiding words or comments that might cause distress. Employers can make a proactive effort to be inclusive.
Respecting the pronouns (terms like “he” and “she”) that individuals prefer is really important. Employers should make sure that information systems don’t make mistakes with pronouns, titles or old names. Avoid unnecessary use of gendered language, for instance by saying “people” instead of men and women.
Be aware of health issues
If an employee is going through transition and plans to have surgery or treatment, time off work will be needed, and should be treated in the same way as any other employee needing time off for health-related issues. Occasional time off will also be needed for appointments to manage hormone treatment.
Be ready to listen
For those who are not part of a minority group themselves, it’s impossible to anticipate every problem it faces. Transgender people vary as much individually as any other group of people – it’s vital to keep listening and seeking feedback – you should never assume you understand everything or that you know best. Employers should make sure transgender employees feel confident about raising any problems they may have and about making suggestions if they think there are ways things can be done better.
It may help other employees to open up about issues of gender, sexuality, religion or ethnicity that they have not previously felt safe to share. When employees feel more secure about being themselves and are not worried by the need to keep secrets, their performance generally improves and workplace bullying decreases. Everybody in the organisation benefits.
If employers have never had much contact with transgender people in the past, they may find themselves with a lot to learn in a short space of time, but they must resist feeling overwhelmed. In the end, the most important thing is simply that transgender people are treated with the same respect as anyone else.