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5 Ways to Support Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People in the Workplace

5 Ways to Support Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People in the Workplace

Photo: Veterans United Home Loans employees participate in local parade and pass out candy.

Supporting trans and non-binary employees doesn’t have to be costly or complicated. Simple actions can go a long way in making employees feel respected, valued and motivated at work.

A recent study by Gallup found that 7.1% of U.S. adults identify as LGBTQ+, double the number in 2012. To put this in perspective, that is approximately the same number of people who identify as Asian American. More so, one in five Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ+.

With this comes an increase in awareness of equity for transgender (trans) and gender non-conforming (GNC) employees and colleagues, as trans people often struggle with disclosing their identity at work and more than half of trans employees are not comfortable being out at work.

When employees feel like they have to hide a part of themselves at work, the energy spent putting on a “mask” is diverted from engaging in work and bringing game-changing ideas to your company.

The Human Rights Campaign defines transgender as “An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth.”

Gender non-conforming is “A broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category.” Some examples of gender non-conforming identities are nonbinary, gender fluid, and genderqueer.

Disclaimer: the term “trans” is used in this post as an umbrella term for both transgender and GNC individuals. Note that not all nonbinary and gender non-conforming people identify as transgender.

Creating an equitable and inclusive workplace for trans employees is not only the right thing to do, it also empowers them to contribute more to the organization.

Great Place to Work® research shows that when employees feel like they belong no matter who they are or what they do at the organization, employers enjoy better innovation and employee retention:

  • Employees who feel belonging at work come up with new and better ways of doing things
  • Employee who feel belonging at work have five times the retention rate

Many organizations struggle with where to begin when it comes to establishing an inclusive culture for trans employees. These five best practices provide a jumping-off point to ensuring that trans employees feel welcomed and celebrated at work.

1. Revise your organization’s application process and internal documentation

Discrimination against trans people can begin as early as the application process. Asking for peoples preferred name and pronoun in applications can help to signal your organization as inclusive and allows the employee the opportunity to be referred to by their chosen name instead of their legal name. It can also help normalize articulating pronouns throughout the organization.

When passing a resume from an initial HR or recruiting contact to a hiring manager, it is important to refer to the applicant by their chosen name, which may not necessarily be their legal name.

It can also be beneficial to conduct the first-round interview by phone, as video and in person interviews leave more room for bias, both conscious and unconscious. Creating a straightforward process for both new and existing trans employees to change their email addresses and screen names to their chosen name instead of their legal name will help the employee to bring their whole self to work.

2. Display pronouns in email signatures and screen names

Trans employees must feel like their workplace is a psychologically safe place to work before coming out to their employers.

Being misgendered is a constant struggle for many trans people and can contribute to a feeling of exclusion and alienation. It can also be embarrassing for both parties to misgender someone and can create tension.

Encouraging employees to put their pronouns in email signatures and video call screen names helps to alleviate the burden on trans employees to vocalize their pronouns and be vulnerable in professional settings.

There must also be buy-in from managers and executives when it comes to putting pronouns in email signatures and screen names, which will increase the trust that trans employees have in management.

Articulating gender pronouns signals allyship and demonstrates respect and inclusivity. Making pronouns visible provides a way for trans employees to give their pronouns easily and can serve as a helpful reminder for cis-gender employees who may struggle using different pronouns.

It is vital to create a culture of accountability so that employees feel comfortable speaking out and correcting their colleagues if they misgender someone or make a transphobic remark.

This can be as simple as saying “actually this person uses they/them pronouns.” Although it may feel uncomfortable to correct a coworker, it is far worse for the person who is being misgendered. Having hard conversations and addressing inequities at the organization can go a long way.

3. Mandate gender awareness trainings for managers and HR teams

Managers and HR employees play a big part in creating team culture and signaling inclusivity. When managers do not have the resources and training to treat their trans employees equitably, they are often unable to lead their team in supporting trans employees.

Creating a formalized annual training program for managers that educates them is crucial for implementing a culture of accountability. This training should include education on local and federal laws protecting trans people, how to support an employee through a transition, and how to hold others accountable.

4. Establish gender neutral restrooms

Trans people often experience violence when using public restrooms that do not correlate with their assigned sex at birth. Simply choosing a restroom can mean a choice between feeling affirmed and avoiding potential harassment and violence.

While your employees may not fear violence at work, the issue of gender and restroom use can still create anxiety or conflict among employees in general. Introducing gender neutral restrooms signals to trans employees that they have the right to feel comfortable within the organization in general.

5. Provide support for employees who are transitioning

Coming out as transgender in the workplace can be frightening. Creating a framework for trans employees to safely come out at work and experience psychological and emotional safety is vital.

As a 2015 study of transgender people found: “More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents who had a job in the past year took steps to avoid mistreatment in the workplace, such as hiding or delaying their gender transition or quitting their job.”

There is often a legitimate fear of retaliation, including job loss, harassment, or even assault. Specifying the protections that transgender employees can expect at work and ensuring awareness of these protections can help employees feel more comfortable coming out at work.

Other types of support include providing:

  • Guidelines for applicants, new hires, and transitioning employees
  • Information on state-by-state non-discrimination laws
  • Information on how to apply for a new passport/driver’s license/Social Security card; Lists of additional resources, such as local support groups

Being inclusive towards transgender and gender non-conforming employees does not have to be costly. Ultimately, inclusive measures will be beneficial for the company as a whole by unlocking the full potential of trans employees.

Listening is the first step

These tactical actions to support trans employees are only effective if it is reinforced by accountability, values and culture around supporting people as individuals. Leaders must analyze their employee experience survey feedback to understand if their culture efforts are working and then make change from there — especially if they learn that their employees are afraid to be out at work.

Ask us about how to measure inclusivity and belonging with our employee experience survey.


Ruby Storm Green