How to institutionalize transgender inclusion through policies & culture

Topics: Allies & Inclusion, Client Relations, Corporate Legal, Discrimination, Diversity, Ethics, Inclusion, Law Firms, LGBTQ, Talent Development, Transgender, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts


Discrimination on a daily basis is a common experience for many transgender people, with 50% of people who identify as transgender reporting they’ve been harassed on the job; 26% indicating they have lost a job because of bias; and 78% of transgender students saying they have been harassed or assaulted, according to a survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Reducing discrimination of transgender individuals is an issue that is critically important in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling that said LGBTQ individuals are protected from employment discrimination as a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The decision means LGBTQ people have employment protections under the law for all employers subject to Title VII, for example, those employers with 15 or more employees.

In addition to state and federal legal protections, company policies can play a significant role in reducing the discrimination of transgender employees and creating an inclusive environment where they can maximize their professional potential.

According to Beck Bailey, Director of Workplace Equality Program at the Human Rights Campaign, there are five areas that make for an ideal, inclusive workplace for transgender colleagues:

  1. Establish a company-wide non-discrimination policy that explicitly includes “gender identity and expression” as a protected category.
  2. Offer insurance policies that provide equitable benefits for transgender employees and dependents as part of the employer-provided health plan.
  3. Create policies and practices to accommodate day-to-day life in the workplace, such as restroom and locker-room policies. Other important policies include those that facilitate using a new name or gender marker in employee records as well as obtaining a new email address or security badge if needed.
  4. Provide training and education to the workforce on how to be inclusive and supportive. It is helpful to define expectations of respectful behavior and help colleagues and managers identify what disrespectful behavior looks like. For example, misgendering, or using the wrong name and pronouns for someone, occurs often and must be addressed.
  5. Consider developing “gender transition guidelines” which are essentially a proactive plan on how to support employees who wish to transition on the job.

The most effective types of gender transition guidelines are those that are not a rigid policy or process but rather a framework for developing an individualized transition plan for each employee and their circumstances, Bailey explains. The experience of each transgender staff member is unique, for example, and any plan will be different for a client-facing team member versus an individual who works from home or in a back-office function. These plans should take the form of a robust checklist, Bailey says, that can guide the transitioning employee and a cross-functional team in developing a unique transition plan for the employee.


Beck Bailey of the Human Rights Campaign

For a front-line employee who interacts with clients, there are special considerations, Bailey says. “On informing clients, does the individual want to be the one to communicate his/her/their transition to clients or does he/she/they prefer the manager to do it?” he notes. “If the individual prefers to do it, how will that happen — by an employee-to-client phone call or a broader communication?”

Mixed results on gender transition guidelines

HRC works with more than 1,000 companies and organizations as part of its Corporate Equality Index, and Bailey indicates that more than half of them have transition guidelines as part of their transgender inclusion program. However, he points out, that despite these guidelines being written down does not mean they are implemented in an ideal manner. “The enactment can be really uneven depending on the management team and the HR partner,” Bailey says.

For ideal effectiveness, robust training and education are needed for the managers, peers, and HR partners concerning the guidelines and on how to create a transgender-inclusive environment, Bailey adds, adding that a regular benchmark and review exercise of the guidelines for updates and changes on best practices is another key element to support employees who want to transition.

Follow-up engagement and education in the period after the employee transitions is also important. Having the HR partner or manager check in with the employee to see how his/her/their experience is going six months down the road is an easy way to help the transitioning employee have a positive experience. However, if problems like misgendering or using the wrong name happens multiple times by peers occur, these incidents can be addressed through customized, follow-up training for surrounding team members.

At the same time, the team members may not be engaging with the colleague who transitioned in the same way before and after the transition, and this situation is one that should be addressed as well. “Fundamentally, everything that happened to the transgender team member before the transition continues afterwards,” notes Bailey. “For example, if I went to lunch with Susan every Tuesday before she transitioned, hopefully I still go to lunch with Steve every Tuesday thereafter.” If colleagues change their behaviors toward the transitioned employee, that can be a sign that some team members are uncomfortable and may need more support.

The creation of a transgender inclusive environment is the responsibility of everyone within the company. Leaders play a key role in setting the tone for creating a culture of belonging where everyone can thrive, of course; but managers also need to ensure that their transgender team members have business development and networking opportunities while creating an environment for optimal performance. For peers, they can be allies to everyone who identifies as a member of the transgender community.

“Fundamentally, this is about respect,” Bailey says. “You can always respectfully ask what your transgender or LGBTQ colleague needs to feel supported. They will tell you if they need your help.”

For more information, please check out the HRC Workplace Gender Transition Guidelines