As transgender and genderqueer people become more comfortable expressing themselves in a professional setting, the culture, and habits of any workplace will need to adjust or risk, at best, alienating its employees, and at worst, committing outright harassment. Here are some pertinent statistics on the harassment that genderqueer individuals have experienced in the workplace:
- A study, linked below, of aggregated surveys by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy found that 90% of transgender workers have been harassed on the job
- The same study found that 47% of workers have experienced an adverse job outcome because they are transgender. This includes:
– 44% who were passed over for a job
– 23% who were denied a promotion
– And 26% who were fired because they were transgender
With these harrowing statistics in mind we can turn to figuring out how to better support our trans coworkers. The foundation of feeling secure in the workplace should be a robust and routinely communicated sexual harassment policy and an anonymous reporting system. Most organizations have some sort of sexual harassment policy in place, yet sexual harassment still happens everyday. Which is exactly why the the leadership team is the best place to start with any improvement to company practices.
People respect people in positions of authority. It isn’t enough to just have some outside company come in and show some videos, and discuss some hypothetical situations with your team. As a leader, you are responsible for taking a hard line against harassment, and for articulating that every complaint will be thoroughly investigated so as to discourage false reporting, (which is so rare it hardly needs discouraging). This communication doesn’t need to be a long drawn out meeting, either. In fact, you would be better served keeping things as clear and concise as possible, so as to leave no room for misinterpretation. If it does nothing else, this small effort on the part of those in leadership positions, will communicate to anyone who may become a victim of harassment that they should come forward. Ultimately, anything that promotes a culture of acceptance is worth the effort.
How to Help Transgender Coworkers
Building an accepting workplace culture takes more than an email. Leaders have to demonstrate this acceptance in their day to day actions and conversations.
- Keep in mind that repeated misgendering is a form of sexual harassment and should be dealt with as such. Meaning, misgendering and deadnaming should be explicitly included in any sexual harassment policy, and should warrant the same consequences as any other form of verbal sexual harassment would.
- If someone has a nickname, any nickname, ask them if they are ok with it, preferably in private.
- Take a look at your access requirements, and other forms in your organization. If they require the use of a legal name, this could be extremely distressing to your trans and gender expansive colleagues. On the flip side, the use of alternative names should be a standard policy across your organization. Meaning, if nicknames are allowed to be used for email addresses and other access points, you should definitely allow a trans person to use their correct name for these items.
- Be sure to always address people by their chosen names, and proper pronouns. Please do not revert to using only their name. This is obvious to everyone and is still considered harassment as you are essentially refusing to acknowledge them in the same way as anyone else.
- Be careful what jokes you repeat. Workplace culture has changed so rapidly that some older employees are not aware of what is appropriate. i.e. Buffalo Bill jokes, Ace Ventura jokes, ladyboy jokes. When they happen, call these jokes out and calmly explain that they are offensive to some people, and have always been. This is not a new thing, the only difference between now and the 1980s is that people are speaking up more.
- Avoid tokenism – if you are putting together a diversity panel, or are looking to ask questions about “the trans experience”, “how you can help” or “how you can improve company culture in regards to transgender issues”, your one trans employee is NOT the first place to find this information. This is a form of emotional labor that many marginalized communities are forced into performing. LGBTQ+ people and people of color are not your source for all things relevant to their identity. They are not representative of their entire community. All it takes to shift this idea of the token “insert identity here”, is for white/cis/hetero people around us to do the work of educating themselves up front. Read books and articles written by trans people and people of color. Listen to our podcasts, follow our Instagram pages, support our causes. Get in the trenches with us, so you can be an accomplice, not just an ally.
Lastly, keep in mind the reality that your employees may be facing. This country is not a terribly accepting place. We have not made as much progress as some would have you believe. People face harassment and micro-aggressions everyday. In fact, before the landmark Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, it was completely legal to deny a promotion, refuse to hire, or terminate an employee for being transgender. Bostock v. Clayton County, which was only decided on in June of 2020, finally extended the Title VII protections against discrimination on the basis of sex to gender expansive individuals. Meaning that terminations like the one that Vandy Beth Glenn faced will finally be illegal. Let Vandy, who held a job with the Georgia General Assembly, tell you in her own words what transgender people face when cis people become “uncomfortable” with their transition.
[My boss] told me I would make other people uncomfortable, just by being myself. He told me that my transition was unacceptable. And over and over, he told me it was inappropriate. Then he fired me. I was escorted back to my desk, told to clean it out, then marched out of the building…I was devastated.
Wrapping it up
To sum up, if you have read this far you are better informed than most people out there. Use the suggestions here to shape your company culture going forward, even if you aren’t in a position of leadership you can still have a positive impact. Intervene when someone makes an inappropriate joke, or comment. Use people’s chosen names, and proper pronouns, and insist that others do as well. Stay informed on the issues facing transgender people. Focus on being kind to people instead of just how you come off when speaking to someone. There is no downside to a basic sense of consideration in the workplace.
If you are interested in learning more about the reality of being transgender you can learn more about the financial challenges trans people face, and I highly recommend you watch this video by Milo Stewart on how using they/them pronouns for people who do not use them is, in fact, misgendering. Their videos have greatly improved my understanding of gender as a concept and of nonbinary people, specifically.