Making your workplace inclusive for trans employees doesn't have to be complicated

Category: Employment Discrimination

More Info: Employment Litigation

Nearly half (49%) of transgender employees in the US have reported discrimination—“being fired or not hired”—based on their gender identity, compared to 28% of cisgender LGB employees, according to a 2021 UCLA study. And despite a 2020 Supreme Court decision asserting that gay, lesbian, and transgender employees are protected from discrimination based on sex, transgender people in the US continue to face a high risk of unemployment or poverty, according to recent polling from the Center for American Progress.

So what can an HR leader intent on creating an inclusive workplace do about it? The National Center for Transgender Equality is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the understanding and acceptance of transgender people throughout the US. HR Brew recently spoke with Olivia Hunt, the center’s policy director, to hear her thoughts on how HR departments can cultivate a workplace that’s truly inclusive for current and future transgender employees.

Recruiting. Hunt says employers should be “bold and proud about what they do to make their trans employees welcome within the organization” if they want to recruit more transgender employees. “Trans people talk to each other,” Hunt explained. “And when an employer is particularly good for trans people, a trans employee will go on Twitter or Facebook and talk about fantastic benefits they’re getting from their employer.”

Hunt pointed to Salesforce as a model for other employers because of the benefits the company offers to transgender talent. In November 2021, the company announced a commitment to transgender inclusion through a slate of new gender-inclusive benefits for its trans employees.

While more than 600 major companies offer gender-affirming health care, Salesforce offers several benefits in addition to gender-affirming health care, including new wardrobe reimbursement, partial payment for the fees associated with changing government IDs, and specialized mental-health services and counseling.

Manu Erwin, a transgender employee at Salesforce, told the Financial Review in November, “It’s life-changing from a financial perspective…The biggest benefit is the fact that it exists at all.”

Hunt says that the Salesforce approach has been successful so far because the information is widely available, so transgender job candidates don’t need to disclose anything about their gender identity during the interview process.

Belonging and being out. The UCLA study also found that 26% of LGBT employees weren’t out to any coworkers, and those who were out were “three times more likely to report experiences of discrimination or harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity than those who are not out to anyone in the workplace.”

Hunt said the key to inclusion once a trans employee is onboarded is to have policies that accommodate everyone. “The policy should be that trans employees are employees like anybody else,” she explained. “They are part of the team. They are part of the community and should be treated accordingly.”

OSHA has guidelines for how to approach workplace restroom access, which Hunt says is still being heavily debated, yet doesn’t need to be complicated. “That’s actually a simple answer, which is [to let] trans people use the bathroom that they’re most comfortable using.”

Trans employees may face added hurdles to changing their name at their job after they come out, with some businesses having cumbersome name-change processes.

“The truth is, [employers] don’t need to do that,” Hunt said. “You get to make your own policies and can easily document [employees] however you want.” She says she often gives the example of someone wanting to go by Mike instead of Michael and requesting their email reflect that preference; that’s not usually a problem at work, so there’s no reason to treat a trans person’s request any differently.

Further, the US Department of Labor (DOL) has guidelines for employers and supervisors when it comes to names and pronouns that suggest employers respectfully ask employees their preferred pronouns.

Employee Resource Groups. The Wall Street Journal reports that while there’s been a rise in employee resource groups (ERGs), or “affinity” groups, in the US, Hunt cautions that trans employees can get looped in with LGB groups that have different needs and goals than those of transgender employees.

According to Hunt, the pressure to join an ERG can “actually be an additional stressor for a person who’s just started transition. Or for a person who’s already transitioned and joined the company who might not be immediately wanting to go into an affinity group where they’re going to be singled out specifically for their trans status.”

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