Trans inclusion: moving beyond HR tick-box policies
By Annie Makoff on 20 January 2023
“Workplaces provide a unique environment of comparative safety thanks to policies and protections set out in law and by employers,” says Grace Francis, global chief creative and design officer at human experience company WONGDOODY, occasional academic lecturer and founder of personal coaching business, Elsewhere. “We still might encounter discrimination, alienation and disenfranchisement at work from individuals, but under law, we are protected,” Grace explains.
Employers therefore, have an important role to play in ensuring they are fostering safe and inclusive environments for all.
Trans issues are human rights issues
Many employers are stepping up to the mark, while increased awareness from recent social media-led movements such as Trans Rights and Black Trans Rights has helped cisgendered people understand what Grace calls ‘the trans experience’. “Learning is a great first step – active allyship comes next,” they explain. “I believe in intersectional inclusivity. Until all marginalised and minority groups have their human rights upheld, the work must go on.”
Ellis Johnson, psychodynamic psychotherapeutic counsellor for non-binary, queer or questioning people and a workplace trans awareness trainer, agrees. He told d&i Leaders that the ‘vast majority’ of people he’s worked with understand that trans issues are human rights issues. “They know that being kind, welcoming and non-discriminatory where possible goes a long way.”
Despite this, trans individuals continue to experience discriminatory and non-inclusive workplace environments. According to Ellis, who describes himself as a queer trans man of colour, issues for trans and non-binary employees might include: difficulty or refusal around updating personal details, difficulty taking time off for surgeries or appointments, safe access to gendered facilities and discriminatory language or hostility, bullying and harassment from staff and customers.
So what needs to change? And how can HR move beyond tick-box policies and create authentic and meaningful environments which are genuinely inclusive towards trans and non-binary individuals?
Address misconceptions – at all levels
Ellis believes misunderstanding and misconception are often at the root of issues, especially from a legal viewpoint. “Employers may misunderstand legal parameters, for example – they might decide a trans employee must have surgery or have an updated birth certificate or Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) in order to change legal details, but this is not correct – anyone can update their name and gender markers without a GRC,” he says. “And trans peoples’ access to single-sex spaces such as toilets is protected under the Equality Act, yet I’ve heard of people not being allowed to use correct facilities despite this.”
Equally, management may decide trans issues are not a ‘current priority’ and there’s sometimes the idea that trans inclusion is at odds with the rights and safety of other people which couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Don’t just focus on binary, medically-transitioning employees
As Ellis explains, no two trans people have the same experiences or needs around what transition may – or may not – look for them. For example, some people do not go through medical transition, whilst some do. It’s why trans-inclusive policies must be robust but not rigid. Flexibility must be at the heart, to take into account specific needs of specific individuals.
Don’t rely on one person to train staff
Ellis recommends Implementing robust trans-inclusion training for everyone in the organisation to boost engagement and awareness and help alleviate panic from not knowing the right thing to do. But, he warns, don’t just rely on one person to do this – it leaves an ‘unfair burden of responsibility’ on the individual. As Grace puts it: “You’re only as knowledgeable as your experts. Ensure HR and the employer don’t just lean on one trans person to teach them. Like any group – we’re not a monolith.”
Include pronouns in email signatures
Joseph Williams, trans ally and founder of inclusive hiring platform Clu recommends encouraging staff to include their preferred pronouns in their email signature. “This signals your awareness of and respect for preferred pronouns and is welcome to genderqueer and nonbinary employees.”
Write gender-neutral job descriptions
“It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of using old-school terms to write job descriptions such as ‘salesman’, ‘waitress’, ‘foreman’ or even using ‘his’ or ‘hers’ as generic terms to apply to both genders,” says Joseph. “If you’re not paying attention, these subtle gender references in job descriptions can turn away top candidates. Why? Gender-polarising words can leave a candidate thinking ‘this job isn’t for me’.”
Ensure organisational-wide competence around gender recognition legalities
Ellis advises on ensuring management and HR are ‘fully up to date’ and competent around legalities of gender recognition. “An individual person shouldn’t have to educate HR themselves or worse, have to fight to have to prove that what they require is legally feasible,” he says. Likewise, updating personal information such as gender, should be ‘non-invasive, simple and effective’.
Be loud on your trans-inclusive stance
Finally, Ellis says he likes to ask organisations to ‘be loud’ about their stance. “Can you be vocal in your allyship instead of hiding it away? Right now, the community needs allies more than ever. We need to know where we are safe, where we will be believed, and where the path of least resistance might be.”
Related d&i Leaders content:
- Read our interview with ‘Inclusion Activist’ Bobbi Pickard, CEO, Trans in The City. Click here to read
- Understand how IBM are supporting & advocating for Trans/Non-Binary employees around the world – Watch video
- Access our webinar recording exploring ‘Trans & Non-Binary Inclusion at Work’. Watch now
- Why we need to talk about trans mental health. Read article
d&i Leaders is a global community of senior diversity, inclusion and HR focused professionals, looking to collaborate, network and accelerate their workplace inclusion strategy.