Being Transgender in the Workplace: Navigating Questions, Concerns, and New Laws

Tony Yuskaitis Culture, Talent Management

How Organizations Can Best Support Their Transgender Employees

Transgender (trans) employees in the workplace face unique challenges and concerns. As equality issues and challenges to the rights of trans individuals play out in the media, be mindful and sensitive to the fact that the news cycle can negatively impact your trans employees. The wave of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation across the country can bring about anxiety and stress to your trans, gay, lesbian, non-binary, and other LGBTQIA+ employees that may not be apparent or upfront, so it is in your best interest to continue to provide an HR (or similar) resource that may be able to help with questions and concerns. Alongside an internal resource, there are numerous ways that organizations can foster empathy, reduce biases, and create a more inclusive workplace culture for all employees.

Here we highlight five things that employers can do to create a supportive, affirming, and inclusive work environment for your trans and LGBTQIA+ employees.

Maintain and Retain Confidentiality

It’s critical that employers respect their employee’s privacy and ensure that their employees’ information is kept confidential. While one employee may be comfortable sharing information about themselves (being trans, their sexual orientation, or anything else), another may want to keep that information private. These can be very sensitive issues for employees, particularly when dealing with outside vendors or clients. It also could be information that they don’t want public (they may not have told family, friends, or others yet), so keeping that information confidential is key.

Track Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws

It’s important for employers to keep track of policies concerning LGBTQIA+ rights by closely monitoring legislation not only in states where your organization has offices, but in any state where an employee may need to travel for business. If you have offices and employees in some of the states that have passed anti-trans laws for example, this will likely affect your employees and might even cause anxiety for them. Your trans employees might be nervous about traveling to states with policies limiting their access or participation to facilities or events, such as what restroom they can use or if they will be denied certain medical coverage in an emergency.

Companies should factor in these laws when planning any type of business travel, whether it be meeting with clients or having a company retreat, to ensure all of their employees feel safe and supported. Employers can help navigate these changes in the legal landscape by communicating and having an open dialogue to address any concerns. Consider what you can do for your employees and clients to make it easier to do business as new laws come into place. This might involve doing research before booking a business trip to a certain state or offering alternative options so that more of your people are able to attend. Are you going to be missing your top talent if they don’t feel comfortable traveling to a particular state that has implemented laws that discriminate against them? Will you need to make accommodations? These are important factors to consider.

Create Trans-Specific Policies

These should include workplace gender transition guidance and resources to ensure employees feel comfortable coming out. Companies should implement and enforce policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression. This should include harassment-prevention training for managers that covers sexual orientation and gender identity. If you want to foster an inclusive environment, check to see if your healthcare benefits cover gender-affirming treatments, therapies, and surgeries. Companies focused on growth and expansion should also make sure that company policies protect their trans and LGBTQIA+ employees in those states that have enacted discriminatory laws.

Provide Trans-Specific Diversity Training

Conduct training sessions to educate employees about transgender issues, including proper language, respectful behavior, and the importance of creating a safe and inclusive environment. Here at Keystone, we are a learning organization and provide educational opportunities on these issues, where people can learn safely. Encouraging the use of pronouns for all employees, regardless of gender identity, is an inclusive practice that can foster a respectful and supportive workplace environment. For example, you could start by adding (he/him), (she/her), (them/theirs), and more after your name in an email signature or company badge.

Promote a Sense of Community

Affinity groups or Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) offer safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ employees and allies to network, plan social activities both in and outside of work, and support one another while navigating any issues. Companies can also have a DEI group that includes LGBTQIA+ employees. Creating Slack or Microsoft Teams channels for all these groups can offer an informal way to network, learn from one another, and get support.

Here at Keystone, we pride ourselves on having an accepting and inclusive work environment. We have made great strides in focusing on diversity and inclusion and are committed to having thoughtful, ongoing conversations about issues that may affect our trans and LGBTQ+ employees. Companies should actively seek input from trans employees to understand their needs, challenges, and suggestions for creating a safer workplace. These situations can be sensitive, but companies should evaluate and focus on what is important in terms of their employee base, retention, and expansion.

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