How to create a transgender-friendly workplace

It’s not hard but does require planning, says Cheryl Morgan

Thanks to the Equality Act, the employment situation for trans people in the UK has improved significantly since I transitioned, but there is still a long way to go. A 2016 survey by TotalJobs found that 60 per cent of trans people had suffered workplace discrimination, while 21 per cent of employers had no policy for dealing with trans staff.

In the bad old days, trans people were deemed to be mentally ill and problem employees. Of course it wasn’t that long ago that LGB people were viewed with the same suspicion. These days opinion has shifted dramatically. Many trans people, it turns out, don’t want or need any medical intervention. All they need is to not be pilloried for failing to follow gender stereotypes. As for those who do seek medical help, the vast majority are happier after treatment.

If an employee announces that they plan to undergo gender transition that means they have acknowledged that they have a problem, and are going to get it fixed. They’ll be a happier, more productive employee afterwards.

Medical transition, however, is not easy. It can take many years, much of which is spent waiting for NHS appointments. Trans staff may need support during this process. The Government Equalities Office has produced a useful booklet, which outlines the sort of things a company should be doing to create a transgender-friendly workplace.

One of the trickiest areas can be IT. If someone transitions on the job, you may find that your databases are not as well synchronised as you thought. Names and gender markers may need changing in several different places to avoid confusion and embarrassment.

Another potential issue is the workplace community. Management support for a trans employee is all very well, but if co-workers are unsympathetic that employee may have to endure constant micro-aggressions while at work. It is important to manage the coming out process, and to acclimatise the workforce to the idea of having a trans colleague.

Prejudice is generally a result of ignorance. Much nonsense is written about trans people in the media. Many people think that they have never met a trans person in their lives, whereas in fact they have simply never noticed that people they meet are trans. One option is to bring in a trans person, either from another part of the company, or from an external organisation specialising in LGBT+ issues, to talk to your workforce.

An area that always seems to cause trouble is toilets. When I transitioned, one colleague objected to my using the women’s toilet, even though it was single-occupancy. She would not have made a fuss had we been on a train or an aircraft, or in someone’s home. Why should it be different at work?

A simple solution is to have some single-occupancy toilets that work for anyone. This is particularly helpful for people who do not identify as either male or female, and are uncomfortable in both men’s and women’s multi-stall toilets.

The area where most work needs to be done is recruitment. Trans people may have difficulty getting references from previous employers, and may be afraid of interviews. The bottom line is you are looking for the best employees you can find. Trans people are just as capable as anyone else, and are highly motivated because they know the job market is stacked against them. Why not take advantage of that and hire some?

Cheryl Morgan is director of The Diversity Trust

This article first appeared in the launch issue of LEAD magazine. To get access to more articles like this one, hot off the presses, subscribe today. Next issue published on 18 Jan 2018.


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