Building Bridges: Support for trans-employees falling short, panel says

Topics: Allies & Inclusion, Corporate Legal, Diversity, Inclusion, Law Firms, Leadership, Legal Executive Events, LGBTQ, Talent Development


An increasing number of Canadian employers have recently instituted changes to meet their legal obligations around supporting employees who transition in the workplace. However, if supporting employee transition is the sole focus of an employer’s trans inclusion strategy, they are missing the mark.

This message came across loud and clear during a recent discussion panel, Building Bridges: Supporting Transition in the Workplace, hosted by the Thomson Reuters Institute, moderated by Bretton Fosbrook, a Product Researcher at FreshBooks. I was pleased to be a member of this panel as it discussed several key themes.

Disproportionate barriers to employment

Transophobia and anti-trans discrimination pervade workplaces and hiring processes, panelists noted. Despite progress, trans people continue to experience poorer employment outcomes compared to other members of LGBTQ2+ communities in Canada. Indeed, even though the majority of trans people have a college degree or higher, more than half make less than $30,000 a year, according to a March 2020 report from Trans PULSE Canada. Further, structural barriers in the areas of housing and health care exacerbate these issues, particularly for trans people of color.

The legal obligations of employers are clear, the panel noted, and there is ample evidence of a need to improve employment outcomes for trans people in Canada. Then why are so many businesses missing out on the talent and skills present in trans communities? The consensus from panelists was that too many organizations institute trans inclusion policies and practices in reaction to an incident or only after a request for accommodation from a current staff member.

While these interventions may solve specific issues flagged by trans employees, they do nothing to close gaps in recruitment, hiring, and retention that ultimately result in a loss of trans talent.

Working with experts & advocating change

When it comes to recruiting trans talent, Fosbrook pointed to strong partnerships with trans-led community groups as a possible remedy for oft-cited “pipeline problems.” Trans people are underrepresented in the workforce, so it makes sense to rely on outside help to look at workplace processes with a critical eye. And it can be enormously helpful to employers who can’t immediately identify their gaps or aren’t sure where to start.

Panelist Beck McNeil, a Senior Consultant in Corporate Learning & Leadership Development for the City of Toronto, pointed out how inclusive employers need to make changes in how external vendors, such as benefits providers, administer services, especially if glaring inequities for trans employees have gone unchallenged for far too long.

Panelists Kimberly Messer, Business Development Leader for North America at IBM, and Stephanie Young, a Partner at Canadian law firm Borden Ladner Gervais, reinforced the idea that employers have a societal role to play in advocating for changes in legislation and should model proactive steps to embrace trans inclusion. IBM has a history of supporting anti-discrimination legislation, Messer said. Borden Ladner has taken proactive steps to advance trans inclusivity in its workplace and employees have noticed, with one employee citing the firm’s trans inclusion policy as the reason they felt comfortable enough to come forward and ask for accommodation, Young added.

Learning from others

This month, Pride at Work Canada (where I am Executive Director), along with the Institute for Gender & the Economy at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, published Transitioning Employers: a survey of policies and practices for trans inclusive workplaces.

The first survey of its kind, the report reflects the policies and practices that shape the workplaces of millions of people across Canada. It shows the high potential for dramatic change in outcomes for trans people in the area of employment if, as the panel identified, we look beyond basic accommodation and explore models that cultivate workplaces that are affirming to and inclusive of trans talent.