How Organizations Can Authentically Support Transgender Rights in the Workplace

office manager talks to colleague representing how to support transgender rights in the workplace

For HR leaders looking to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion within their organizations, being able to recruit and retain talent with a vast array of social identities is crucial. Studies have repeatedly shown that diverse teams drive better business performance, and companies with more diversity become more innovative and resilient. While much progress has been made to advance EDI in the workplace in recent years, gender identity is often and unfortunately overlooked. 

Organizations can greatly benefit from the perspectives of transgender and non-binary employees, many of whom have lived experience and insights stemming from navigating a unique journey in a society that has struggled to embrace gender nonconformity.

First, Understand Terminology to Support Transgender Rights in the Workplace

Gender identity is a person’s deeply felt, internal sense of their own gender. While many of us were raised within a rigidly binary gender construct (male/female), gender identities are vast and varied. There are, in actuality, myriad genders – especially when we look across culture, subculture, and around the world.

Gender expression is how people attempt to communicate their gender to the outside world through behavior, physical appearance, clothing and accessories, and mannerisms. It’s important to note, however, that someone’s gender expression may not accurately reflect their gender identity (for a variety of reasons), and it’s a best practice to avoid making assumptions about gender identity on the basis of gender expression.

Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people who identify as any gender other than the one that they were assigned at birth. To identify as non-binary (often seen as being “under the trans umbrella”) means that a person’s gender identity does not fall squarely within the binary construct of male vs. female. As is the case with most of the language we have for social identities, the term can mean different things for different non-binary identified people. Some identify as both a man and a woman. Others describe their gender as a unique blend of masculine and feminine traits. Some report feeling neither masculine nor feminine at all, while some experience their gender as being beyond the rigidity of binary gender norms. For others, it might mean something else entirely. 

Why It’s Critical to Protect Transgender Rights in the Workplace 

Transgender and non-binary employees face a wide variety of issues in the workplace. Socially, they are often subjected to microaggressions (indirect, subtle, sometimes unintentional discriminatory acts), as well as overt bias, bullying, and isolation. They may experience pushback from colleagues when requesting that their name and gender pronouns (he, she, they, etc.) be honored. They often run into challenges in the work environment’s gendered spaces, such as restrooms and locker rooms.

At an organizational level, many HR policies don’t yet outline practices for supporting transgender rights in the workplace. For example, anti-discrimination policies often omit gender identity and expression as protected classes, and many employer-provided insurance policies do not cover access to care for those who are seeking to medically transition. 

For those who do transition on the job, things can be even more complex and difficult. Without overtly supportive policies and practices in place, trans or non-binary team members are likely to become disengaged or even resign. 

Individuals of all social identities should be respected and supported at work, and transgender and non-binary people are no different.

7 Ways to Recruit Transgender and Non-Binary Talent

Tips for HR Leaders and Organizations 

In order for your organization to benefit from the diverse backgrounds and lived experiences of trans and non-binary talent, you need to be able to authentically recruit from these communities. Trans people want to know that your organization will offer an affirming work environment in which they can bring their whole selves. Here are 7 of the many ways to authentically recruit trans/non-binary talent: 

Infographic with 7 ways to authentically recruit trans/non-binary talent and support transgender rights in the workplace

1. Train all existing staff on gender identity/expression topics.

It can be damaging for all parties to hire trans and non-binary people into an environment where there is a risk that some colleagues may not be informed or supportive. At CCL, we have partnered with Transpire Trainings for this purpose, and highly recommend their programs as a tool to educate and inspire your team. When your staff is knowledgeable on trans topics, it will be apparent to people you are attempting to recruit from trans/non-binary communities.

2. Welcome trans/non-binary applicants in all job postings.

Make it a practice to explicitly welcome transgender and non-binary applicants in all job postings. This could mean including a direct invitation or an anti-discrimination policy that clearly spells out gender identity/expression as being protected at your organization.

3. Recruit through targeted LGBTQ+ platforms and channels.

To ensure your job postings are reaching qualified trans and gender non-binary applicants, consider recruiting through targeted LGBTQ-specific platforms, including online exchanges and message boards (“Queer Exchanges” on Facebook or other social platforms, local LGBT media outlets, etc.).

4. Cultivate authentic relationships with local LGBTQ+ organizations.

It’s also a great practice to form authentic relationships with local LGBTQ+ organizations and community centers, who often interface with trans/non-binary people in need of employment. 

5. Ask appropriate self-identifying questions during the application process.

Within your application’s demographic questions, it’s important to offer multiple gender identity choices, as well as a write-in option to allow applicants to self-identify their gender (as opposed to limiting the options to the standard “male,” “female,” or “prefer not to answer”). Not only will this let prospects know that you understand and respect the broad spectrum of gender identities, but this data is also useful for your organization to understand the gender diversity of your applicants and team. 

6. Share that trans/non-binary employees are already on the team (if true).

If the applicant openly discusses their gender identity during the interview process, it’s a good idea to share that there are already trans or non-binary people on the team (if this is true). The applicant may be testing the waters by bringing it up, and just hearing you say this might offer them an early sigh of relief and signal that your team or organization is striving to be inclusive. 

7. Prepare to field gender-related questions from the interviewee. 

All hiring managers and interview panels should be prepared to field questions about gender diversity and transition-related HR practices from candidates. If you’ve invested in educating your team on gender identity and expression and supporting transgender rights in the workplace, this part should be relatively easy!

Access Our Webinar!

Explore our webinar, How to Understand How Aspects of Social Identity Affect the Way You Work With Others, to understand the relationship between social identity and bias, and how to shift your perspective to move past awareness to actions that help you and your organization cultivate equity, diversity, and inclusion.

How to Retain Transgender and Non-Binary Employees

Build Psychological Safety for All Team Members

When people don’t feel a sense of psychological safety at work, they’re likely to leave for greener pastures – and your organization misses out on the richness of their talents and contributions. Once you’ve made the hire, ensure you retain trans and non-binary talent by implementing the following recommendations. 

1. Establish inclusive and specific anti-discrimination policies. 

It‘s important to specifically name gender identity/expression as protected classes in your organization’s anti-discrimination policy, as well as to outline specific practices such as allowing employees to use restroom facilities that correspond to their gender identity or gender expression. Just like with applicants, be sure to allow all employees to self-identify their gender in official records, and to use the name and pronouns they are most comfortable with in the workplace (even when there is incongruence with legal documents). Accurate demographic data is also invaluable for conducting pay audits to ensure that all employees, including trans/non-binary people, are compensated fairly. 

2. Ensure transition-related care is adequately covered by your insurance policies. 

Additionally, it’s vital for organizations to provide medical insurance policies that specifically cover transition-related care. For trans people seeking to medically transition, it can be stifling and harmful to be hired into an organization with a trans-exclusionary insurance policy. There are many challenges that trans communities navigate when seeking gender-affirming care; access and affordability are at the top of the list.

3. Normalize gender-inclusive language and all pronouns.

Educating your team about normalizing gender-inclusive language (“hi everyone,” versus “hey guys” or “hey ladies and gents!”), and the sharing and respecting of all gender pronouns, will also go a long way toward supporting transgender rights in the workplace. Encourage all employees to include gender pronouns on business cards and in official email signatures. Not only does this reduce the likelihood of misgendering staff internally, but it also communicates organizational comfort with gender diversity to employees, customers, and external partners. 

4. Interrupt bullying and discrimination quickly, sensitively, and appropriately. 

In order to support transgender rights in the workplace and improve retention of trans/non-binary people, it’s critical that incidents involving microaggressions, bullying, or discrimination be taken seriously, and dealt with both quickly and sensitively (centering the needs of the trans/non-binary person). Learn more about increasing a sense of inclusion in our webinar, Empathy & Inclusion in the Workplace: Imperatives for Your Diversity Initiatives

5. Compensate transgender people fairly. 

Much like people from other marginalized communities, trans/non-binary individuals have been historically underpaid and relegated to frontline (or back office) roles. Through an equity lens, it’s important to compensate your trans/non-binary staff fairly, to invest additional organizational resources into their development and success, and to create genuine opportunities for advancement, mobility, and visibility. Offering opportunities where they can utilize the breadth of their talent will maximize the value they bring to your organization.

We can partner with you to shift mindsets, behaviors, and practices towards more equitable, diverse, and inclusive teams and organizations. Learn more about our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion practice and solutions.

Transgender Rights in the Workplace Matter

As more and more organizations make a committed effort to take real action on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) it’s important not to leave behind trans/non-binary communities, who experience incredible challenges with garnering and maintaining gainful employment. According to a study from The Conversation, individuals who described themselves as transgender were 11% less likely to be working compared to nontransgender, or cisgender, people. 

Diverse gender identities are in no way new, but in many organizations, trans topics are still quite novel. And because gender identity and expression are so deeply personal, many leaders express apprehension around doing or saying “the wrong thing.”

However, shying away from these conversations only reinforces a culture of silence, stigma, and even transphobia, all of which are hurtful to trans and non-binary communities, and damaging to our collective DEI efforts. Perhaps most importantly, understanding how we can show allyship and supporting transgender rights in the workplace means embracing an ongoing willingness to make mistakes, learn, and grow together. 

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Diverse organizations are more resilient, innovative, and higher performing. Discover how our equity, diversity, and inclusion practice and solutions can help create sustainable changes in your organization, and explore more about supporting transgender rights in the workplace by reaching out to Transpire Trainings.  

We would like to thank Landon Woolston, Founder of Transpire Trainings, for their contributions to this article. 

December 1, 2021
Becky McKenna
About the Author(s)
Becky McKenna
Becky (they/them) serves as Manager of Learning Technology Experience & Process for the CCL Leadership Accelerator platform, which delivers digital learning journeys for our clients around the world. They are also co-chair of CCL’s LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group, whose mission is to foster an open, safe, visible space for LGBTQ+ employees and allies to build community and connections across various identity groups and geographies.

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