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How Can You Support Trans Employees in the Workplace?

Posted: 24th November 2022

Danny Clarke

Commercial Director

National Federation of Builders

The media has somewhat revelled in promoting a ‘trans debate’ across all facets of life, and the workplace is no exception. You only need to take a glance at platforms like LinkedIn to be inundated with prejudiced, often blatantly transphobic comments plastered on any post relating to trans individuals. But how about we add a bit of perspective? 65% of trans employees say they have had to hide their trans status at work. A third of trans employees have experienced discrimination in the workplace in the last five years. The result? More than two in five had quit because their work environment was unwelcoming. So, what can we do about it?

Discrimination against transgender employees isn’t ‘few and far between’

A 2018 study found that 1 in 3 UK employers admitted they were ‘less likely’ to hire a transgender person, with nearly half unsure if they would recruit a transgender worker.

It was also found that 74% of employers have never ‘knowingly’ worked with a transgender person… solidifying the fact that many transgender employees do not reveal their gender identity at work.

Though the reasons for this will always be our interpretation of the facts, one thing remains clear – there’s a good reason why so many transgender employees don’t feel comfortable discussing their gender identity in the workplace.

It’s because the workplace isn’t a safe or inclusive space for them.

The legal perspective

Many employers will refer firstly to the Equality Act 2010, in which Clause 7(1) states that gender reassignment is identified as a protected characteristic.

(This is also reiterated in the Equality and Human Rights Commission Statutory Code of Conduct.)

But what does this mean?

If an individual is proposing to undergo, or is currently undergoing, or has undergone a process (or part of it) to reassign their gender by changing physiological/other aspects of their gender, they are protected under this act.

This protection also applies to measures such as toilet facilities, dress codes, and areas such as harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

For clarity, as there is confusion around the application of this, a transgender individual does not have to involve medical intervention or supervision to be protected by this legislation.

Choosing to live permanently as a different gender to the one that they were assigned at birth – whether with or without hormonal treatment or surgery – protects them under this legislation.

But how can you support trans employees outside of legal requirements? After all, these requirements are the bare minimum of support.

Make your policies inclusive

Many workplaces will operate under general anti-harassment and bullying policies, yet it may be worth creating a separate, trans-inclusive policy (or potentially expanding your equality and diversity policies, if applicable).

This policy should specifically focus on transgender employees and act as guidance for employees on what is acceptable in the workplace.

For example:

  • Pronoun and name usage: contracts, policies, and other workplace documents should be gender inclusive and use gender-neutral terminology. Ensure that the correct pronouns and names are used for trans employees and include options that are gender-neutral in any forms, software and processes used in the organisation.
  • Line manager training: equip line managers to be able to sensitively and professionally deal with any issues that arise for trans employees, most likely through external training that would cover awareness, conflict/issue resolution, and how to respectfully address trans employees.
  • Dress codes: have dress codes been reviewed for any potentially negative implications for trans employees? Where possible, implementing a more gender-neutral dress code is beneficial.
  • Data protection and confidentiality: clear protocols for data management are vital in ensuring that any non-consensual disclosure is avoided. Additionally, it should be the choice of the trans employee who they disclose their gender identity to, and staff should not be informed of an employee’s gender identity unless there is full consent to do so.
  • The recruitment process: is the recruitment process an equal opportunity one? Specific mention of diversity and inclusivity are managed in the organisation, with reference to how trans employees’ issues are addressed, should be mentioned in this process.
  • Signpost: signpost employees towards LGBTQIA or trans-specific networks and support (these should be both in-person and online) alongside internal support.

Focus on awareness, communication, and training

Training on equality and gender identity should be given to employees, with priority for line managers and employees involved in recruitment – for example, do employees involved in recruitment have an awareness of how to respond to the disclosure of a candidate’s gender identity in an interview or the legal protection involved?

Additionally, communication should be encouraged first and foremost, so that trans employees know that any issues they may have will be resolved respectfully and with sensitivity.

Being a vocal supporter of the LGBTQIA community (and the support you offer your own employees) on social media, for example, shouldn’t be performative.

If your awareness and support campaigns aren’t followed by measurable action, then it is likely that trans, as well as other employees, will see this as disingenuous, rather than true activism.

Lead by example

If you want employees to feel comfortable in the workplace, the best way is to encourage them by practising these behaviours yourself.

For example, encouraging pronoun introductions, and including them in email signatures and any other business-related profiles.

This type of approach will make employees feel more comfortable and open to sharing their own experiences without fear of reprisal.

Keep in mind that the potential risk of backlash for a cisgender person sharing their pronouns and encouraging the use/introduction of pronouns will be minimal, yet this will pay off massively in creating an open, inclusive company culture.

Being able to support your trans employees can go a long way in contributing to a positive company culture and wider diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts – at a time when there is so much vitriol in the media regarding gender identity, it’s never been more important to show your compassion, understanding and respect to your trans employees.

Danny Clarke

Commercial Director

National Federation of Builders

Danny Clarke is the Commercial Director of the National Federation of Builders, and the Founder of Simply People.