Safety must be fundamental at work
A recent global survey of transgender and gender nonconforming employees (TGNC) reveals that less than one-third feel safe enough to speak openly about their identity at work. In all countries except Brazil, TGNC employees are less likely to be out at work compared to their cisgender lesbian, gay, and bisexual counterparts.
Many workplaces still lack a supportive environment for TGNC employees, as seen in inadequate policies, tolerance of workplace harassment and insufficient support for those who come out. This dynamic suggests that many TGNC employees may feel uncomfortable expressing themselves in the workplace, prioritizing safety over disclosure.
HR professionals and workplace leaders must recognize that employees with this identity are likely in their workplace, even if they are not overtly expressed. The global survey highlights that when TGNC employees go to work, the primary motivation in all countries surveyed is the desire to live authentically in their professional life.
Living authentically shouldn’t feel dangerous
The McKinsey report, which includes multiple surveys, highlights that transgender employees consistently experience feelings of alienation and anxiety throughout the hiring cycle, from the initial interview and hiring phase to their final departure.
One survey respondent put it this way: Some time ago I decided that I was just going to finish work until I retired. I can survive locked up for now. My goal is not to be fully just to not feel insecure.
It is heartbreaking to feel the need to hide an important aspect of one’s identity for potentially 40 or 50 years in order to feel a measure of safety. Leaders and supervisors need to understand the human toll it takes when trans employees find it challenging to be open at work.
Realizing this, how can HR leaders foster an environment that provides psychological and physical safety for trans employees?
5 ways to create psychological safety for trans employees
Starting with the awareness that trans employees may fall into different categories, such as being absent from the start of work, open in their private lives but hesitant at work, or deciding to transition after employment, HR and workplace managers can consider the following specific actions .
Offer trans competency training
There is no wrong time for an organization to provide trans competency training for leaders, supervisors and employees. Education, together with a common vocabulary, serves as a valuable basis for:
- Understanding workplace barriers faced by trans employees
- Respecting the correct use of pronouns
- Addressing internal and external stigma
- Fostering alliances, as some employees may want to fight discrimination but lack the knowledge or language to do so
The key is not to put the onus on trans employees to educate their colleagues, given their varying comfort levels. Speaking for all trans people and constantly asking questions during the work day can be exhausting, especially amidst the existing stress of the workplace.
Consider hiring professionals for educational initiatives and thoughtful implementation of training to address this. For example, including a post-training Q&A or discussion may benefit cis employees, but make attendance optional. This ensures that trans, queer or non-binary employees are not forced to endure potentially ignorant or rude comments.
Support employees in transition
When an employee discloses their transition or readiness to go to work, supervisors or leaders can approach the conversation in several ways:
- Let the employee lead the process: Let them decide whether to address the company formally or informally to their team or department.
- Be open and listen: Be open, listen to the employee and ask about the support they need.
- Confirm the employee: Make sure they will be safe and supported in the workplace.
- Collaborate on the plan: Work with staff and human resources to develop a strategy for notifying others of name and pronoun changes.
- Provide resource information: Inform the employee about available resources or support groups within the company.
Provide an integrated approach so that employees are not constantly explaining themselves to different departments. Leaders must take the lead, setting an example of trans-inclusive behavior and addressing non-inclusive behavior to signal that harassment will not be tolerated.
Create a policy and then put it into practice
Even with the support of HR leaders and supervisors, there may be employees who are resistant to showing respect to their trans colleagues. Although change may take time, incorporating non-discrimination into company policy is a fundamental step in creating a work environment where trans employees can focus on their work without fear for their safety, whether physical or psychological.
In addition to a strong non-discrimination policy, companies may consider implementing:
- Zero tolerance for transphobia or bullying: Clearly state and enforce this policy both in written documents and in day-to-day practice.
- Commitment to equality and diversity: Include a company statement that emphasizes a commitment to equity and diversity.
- Transparent appeals process: Articulate a clear, investigative procedure for resolving complaints, with appropriate follow-up.
Providing material support is equally important. This may include:
- Gender Affirming Care Hours: Offer the flexibility needed to accommodate medical appointments and recovery periods. .
- Trans-specific benefits: Ensure that health insurance covers gender-affirmation surgery and hormone therapy, recognizing that not all trans people choose to undergo medical transition.
Consider this model policy as a guide to effective implementation.
Create space for authentic expression
Gender and gender expression are often subtly regulated, which may go unnoticed by those who adhere to traditional gender norms. Workplaces through gendered dress codes, language in policy documents, bathroom signage and specific job roles contribute to this enforcement.
To encourage more openness in employee self-expression, organizations can implement the following measures:
- Gender neutral and flexible dress codes: Allow employees the freedom to express themselves without conforming to traditional gender norms.
- Options for pronouns: Allow individuals to state their pronouns whenever names are given or recorded.
- Gender neutral facilities: Make sure bathrooms and changing rooms are designed with individual stalls, providing privacy for everyone.
These changes create an environment where employees have more room for self-expression. Cultures that embrace such openness promote creativity, innovation, and dynamism, as individuals feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work.
Set up support systems
Building connections with colleagues who share similar experiences is key to feeling supported and understood at work. Establishing support networks in the workplace involves cultivating relationships, knowing there are allies, and connecting with individuals who understand your experiences.
Organizations can support trans employees by implementing and maintaining the following measures:
- Employee Resource Groups (ERGs): Create groups that provide a platform for shared experiences and mutual support.
- Regular applications: Provide one-on-one check-ins with managers, supervisors, or HR executives to ensure ongoing support and understanding.
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): Offer programs that include therapy and mental health support to address the unique challenges faced by trans employees.
- Community Support Networks: Provide information about external community networks that offer additional support.
- Mentoring and peer support programs: Establish initiatives that pair trans employees with mentors or peers for guidance and encouragement.
Employers have a duty to ensure that all employees are safe
Creating an environment where trans employees feel safe, respected and supported fosters the conditions for greater expressiveness, creativity and authenticity in the workplace.
I hope HR leaders and people will face their own stigma and unconscious biases and identify their origins. Every employee deserves a workplace where they feel safe and can authentically navigate the world without having to hide for fear of violence and harassment.
A workplace that allows trans employees to feel safe and free to express themselves becomes more vibrant, innovative, productive and joyful.
Read this blog next for more ways to create an inclusive workplace, along with where and how to start.
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