To attract diverse talent, applicants need to know your organisation is a place they can be their true self.
In June 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, one of the few safe gay and lesbian hangounts in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. It wasn’t the first time the inn had been raided, but it was the first time the patrons decided to push back against humiliating, oppressive treatment at the hands of police.
That night became the start of what was called “Stonewall uprising” and is commonly seen as the beginning of LGBTIQ+ Pride, which is still celebrated in June. Part of the vanguard of the uprising was Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, activists who would go on to lead the charge on transgender rights.
In the 50 years since, a lot of progress has been made, but members of the gay and lesbian community still face disadvantages, and for trans and gender-diverse people, it’s even worse.
However, we are slowly getting better. For any organisation, a good place to start is making sure our workplaces are safe and welcoming for trans and gender-diverse employees.
Being your authentic self
A good overriding rule for trans and gender diverse employees holds true for all staff – they are not defined by any one thing.
“Our identities that we bring to work are the least important part of why we’re at work. For a gender diverse person, at the end of the day, they just want to get on and do their job. The reason they’re transitioning is not to draw attention to themselves, they are just trying to be their authentic selves,” says Eloise Brook, from The Gender Centre.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, the idea of transitioning can seem like a changing of someone’s authentic self. But that’s not true. Transitioning refers to someone changing how they look to reflect how they feel. It varies for every trans or gender-diverse person, but regardless of whether they are in the transition or have previously transitioned it’s ultimately a small part of who that person is as a whole.
“Supporting that person to help the transition be as smooth as possible really allows them to just get on with their lives and get on with their job,” says Brook.
Like any issue involving an employee’s private life, it is important to remember not every trans person will want to discuss their transition with their employer, and every transition is different and has different hurdles.
QBE Insurance, the organisation that won the 2018 Michael Kirby LGBTIQ Inclusion AHRI Award offers a pertinent case study. Two of their employees came forward seeking assistance through their transition, but the organisation knew each would need a different kind of support.
QBE offered training to the colleagues of one of the employees while she was on leave. The offer was opened to everyone who worked on the same floor as her. She was able to return as her authentic self to an accepting and (just as importantly) understanding workplace without having to answer all their questions about transitioning and gender affirmation.
For the other employee QBE offered the same training but also understood the employee was on a longer transitioning journey so also offered one-on-one counseling with a professional to help them through the process.
Part of QBE’s success in these instances was shifting the onus off of trans or gender diverse employees to have all the answers. No trans or gender diverse employee is the mouthpiece for their entire community. As with any other employee, you should respect their privacy and let them decide what they will and won’t talk about.
Training staff to understand these issues also empowers them to speak up if they see their trans or gender-diverse colleagues be misgendered or if someone ‘deadnames’ them (the act of using a pre-transition name). Brook says the ability for staff to correct one another, especially in front of trans or gender-diverse employees, proves they have the real support of their colleagues.
Brook calls this “spreading out responsibility” and it’s an important step in allowing trans or gender-diverse employees to get on with their work without feeling like they’re representing an entire group of people.
For people who aren’t trans or gender diverse, pronoun usage can seem intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be.
Pronouns are how you refer to someone, he/him and she/her are the most common ones but not everyone feels comfortable with that. If you’re unsure what pronouns someone uses, they/them is a common gender-neutral alternative.
“Leaving a space for a candidate or employee to write in their gender – whether that’s an M or an F or what is best for them – is a good alternative, but that is still tricky because you’re asking them to out themselves. If you are reviewing your processes then it’s worthwhile considering if you need that information at all.”
Some might argue a name is enough to know someone’s gender, but take it from someone who’s been called “Eddie” most of her life, it’s not always that simple. At the Gender Centre, all employees have their pronouns on their email signature. It’s a pretty simple and unobtrusive way to show others how you like to be referred to.
Brook warns that if you decide to ask employees to state their pronouns on work forms or any other documentation, make sure it’s a workplace wide change and not just aimed at gender-diverse employees.
“The whole organisation needs to understand the use of pronouns and their importance. Again it comes back to the idea that acceptance needs to be driven by everyone, not the trans person.”
Understand the context
It’s important to remember the environment which trans and gender diverse people have to live within.
“Trans people just want to get on with their lives, but from the moment they step out of their door in the morning they are at risk of offensive comments or even overt violence. Some trans people experience this daily, maybe hourly, and over time it erodes self-confidence and causes severe mental health problems.
“Many gay or lesbian people get a say when they come out of the closet, but for a lot of trans people just existing is being out of the closet.
“Hopefully soon we’ll get to the point where trans people can go to work, do their job and go home. Just like the rest of us.”
Need some help improving diversity and inclusion in your workplace? Head to AHRI’s D&I resource page for heplful guides and case studies.