Building trans-inclusive workplaces

A survey by recruitment website TotalJobs reveals more transgender employees are hiding their identities at work. What are the implications for duty of care in home and host countries?

Transgender flags held by people on a demonstration
The TotalJobs survey of 410 trans people showed two-thirds (65%) continue to hide or disguise their gender identity at work, compared to half (52%) in 2016.There are warnings that without supportive policies, practices and culture for transgender people, employers could find themselves in breach of their duty of care."The fact that the number of transgender employees who hide their identity at work has increased over the last five years shows that there is still a lot more work to be done,” says Kate Palmer, HR and Advisory Director at Peninsula, a multinational professional services company for small businesses.“As a society, we are getting better at recognising the struggles trans people face and we should be seeing this reflected in the workplace."More than ever employees are looking for what sets your company apart from the others that they will be applying to. Proving that you actively support your employees and are a trans-friendly workplace could be the selling point that persuades them to join your team."
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Disclosing gender identity at work

There are many reasons why trans people decide not to disclose their gender identity at work. Four in ten respondents remain worried about the reaction of co-workers – the same proportion as people who feel acceptance in the workplace has improved in the last five years.People who are trans also report experiencing more obstacles to both gaining employment and progressing their careers. Around half (56%) of trans people say it’s harder for them to find a job and think they experience more barriers to progress to senior positions than non-trans people (53%). A full third has experienced discrimination in job interviews and applications.According to the 2021 study, Trans People and Work, published by LGBT Health and Wellbeing, which promotes health, wellbeing and equality for LGBT people in Scotland, among the common obstacles trans people face when applying for jobs or promotions are:
  • application forms which exclude non-binary identities
  • difficulties obtaining references and proof of qualifications to match gender and new name
  • a lack of awareness, and sometimes transphobia, from interview panels
  • feeling unable to be out about their trans identity when applying for jobs.
While in work, the challenges include feeling the need to be careful about who to be out to, or whether to be out at all, a lack of awareness and understanding of trans identities, as well as the onus being on trans people to create change. 

International mobility for transgender people

In the context of gaining global experience and international assignments, people who are trans also face more challenges than most. This matters on many levels. Not only for embedding diversity, equity and inclusive practices and supporting cultures, but also from a talent retention and a legal standpoint.According to the latest ILGA Trans Legal Mapping Report, published in 2020 by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association – a worldwide federation of over 1,700 organisations from more than 160 countries that campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex human rights – there are 13 countries where trans people are explicitly criminalised: Brunei, the Gambia, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malawi, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, South Sudan, Tonga, and the United Arab Emirates. However, there are many more where harassment and the legal context around gender recognition discriminates against and impacts trans people’s opportunities and quality of life, as well as unconscious and conscious bias. Relocate Global’s free factsheets offer global mobility and international HR expertise and the relocation supply chain a wealth of insights and advice into what global mobility teams can do to support trans people on international assignment.

Enforcing the legal rights of trans people at work

In the UK, every transgender employee is protected under the Equality Act 2010. People who are trans may have additional protection if they have received a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC)."If someone is granted a GRC they are protected through law against the disclosure of any information relating to their gender history,” says Kate Palmer, HR and Advisory Director at Peninsula. “It should be noted that employers are not allowed to ask if an employee has a GRC.”"Less than 2% of businesses have a transitioning at work policy and only 3% have an official support system in place for workers that wish to disclose their transgender status.“Harassment based on gender identity and expression can take many forms in the workplace, including inappropriate comments or questioning, teasing, isolation, bullying, and other forms of verbal abuse,” continues Kate Palmer. "Employers have a duty of care to prevent this but with the number of trans people choosing to hide their identity, it seems not enough is being done.""While the trend over the last five years is concerning, there are ways for employers to challenge and even reverse it. By encouraging open dialogue and demonstrating tolerance in the workplace, transgender employees will feel more confident in safely coming out."A combination of factors has led to this trend, but to help reverse it, you must make your company one of the leading voices in trans visibility and acceptance. One way to do this is to openly celebrate Trans Visibility Day [31March], both in the office and on company social media, while featuring trans workers in marketing and promotional material."

How to support trans people at work

As Generation Z enters the workplace, how gender is expressed is likely to become more diverse. A recent Gallup poll from the US predicts that the proportion of people identifying as transgender or gender fluid is likely to increase with each generation. The US study found that 1.8% of Gen Z identify as transgender, the highest percentage of all living generations. This compares to 1.2% of Millennials and 0.2% of both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. In the UK, the national transgender charity, Sparkle, offers a five-point plan for employers looking to do more for transgender employees as part of the TotalJobs survey.

Sparkle’s advice for employers:

  1. Train your staff
  2. Don’t expect trans people to educate others
  3. Start with managers and leaders of the business
  4. Get everyone involved
  5. Start a conversation.

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