Even though these past decades have been remarkable for the legal and cultural progress of LGBTQ+ rights, there’s still a marathon left to run. When it comes to the workplace, more than half of trans workers have hidden the fact that they are LGBTQ+ at work out of fear of not being accepted. Every person’s right to feel valued, accepted and safe without having to come to work feeling fearful, excluded and stigmatised sounds like an obvious statement. And while that might be a reality for some, unfortunately it’s not a reality for everyone. Toxic gender norms are slowly transforming into something that allows people to embrace the full spectrum of themselves.
And, it’s vital for companies to speed up the progress as well. To cultivate and be a part of creating an inclusive environment for everyone, we have to start somewhere. This is not at all a full-on comprehensive how-to, but rather a starting point to create a more inclusive environment at work for trans employees.
- Implement policies at work
Not taking minorities’ well-being seriously is not only a bad idea in and of itself – it sets the tone for the company you aspire to have. In order to truly protect trans employees and their rights, implementing anti-discrimination policies at work is a great foundation to start with. This can be done with policy that reflects an inclusive culture, climate and values, and most importantly ensures a safety net for your trans employees. However, setting up policies is the bare minimum of effort. Train your employees and vocalise your policies enough for them to become more than just policie; let them colour the environment you aim to create. For example; arrange regular D&I initiatives as a part of employees’ professional development.
- Think before you assume – Gender neutrality
According to research done by HBR, misgendering is very common in the workplace. A simple, “Hey, I just want to make sure I’m using the correct pronouns,” is a good way to start to show respect and not make assumptions about a person’s gender identity. Also, make it a norm to encourage employees to state their pronouns (for example, when introducing themselves, or in everyone’s email signatures). In general, it’s crucial to use gender-neutral pronouns instead of assuming what someone’s pronouns are.
- Evaluate and elevate your current idea of what inclusivity means
What usually, and unfortunately also goes unnoticed is the daily language we use. The offensive statements made in water cooler conversations can easily be brushed off as a joke, even though that is exactly what represents an exclusive and mocking climate at work. A McKinsey study that came out last year showed that trans people are almost twice as likely to hear sexist jokes or hear demeaning comments about people of their gender.
True inclusivity efforts only succeed when they’re genuine. To truly let inclusivity infiltrate your culture, we need to normalise using gender-neutral language. Instead of “girls,” you can simply say “them,” or instead of having women’s and men’s bathrooms – just simply call them bathrooms. Evaluating and improving your efforts to create an inclusive environment shouldn’t just be done through the lens of our own management, but done with people outside your knowledge zone.
What are you doing today to ensure that transgender people feel safe and are able to show up as their full selves for work? Take a look at your physical environment, such as bathroom access and other facilities. These are pretty straightforward, but adaptations to these facilities entail powerful changes that eliminate unnecessary barriers for trans employees to feel seen and respected at work.
Lily Zheng, a diversity and inclusion consultant and trans woman, says it perfectly in an interview with MarketWatch:
“Examine your gendered assumptions about all of your employees in the workplace, not just those that are trans, and create a workplace where people of all genders can express their identities and gender expressions authentically. Relax dress code policies, relax assumptions about how people of certain genders are supposed to act.”
This of course, should be followed by leaders and allies who continuously set an example of what inclusive behaviours should look like and call out inappropriate behaviour. The effort you put in to create an environment where everyone feels free to express their true self is nothing compared to the rewards you’ll reap. The transgender community has got a lot to teach us – are you listening?