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HR’s Guide to Supporting Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Employees in the Workplace

How to be understanding, supportive, sensitive, and encouraging to transgender/transitioning employees

by Nikhil Bendre

Here at GoCo, we want to wish everyone a Happy June and a Happy Pride Month! We strive to ensure that we foster a safe space for our LGBTQIA+ team members – one where they’re not only welcomed, but celebrated and valued. It’s common for companies to fall into the trap of “Rainbow Capitalism,” where their allyship is just surface level and for show. Also, this approach isn’t inclusive of just how many various identities there are. Our transgender community is often overlooked and discredited, both from within and outside of the queer community. Unfortunately, transphobia is running rampant throughout our current society, including in the modern workplace. That’s why we want to provide you with some ways to make sure your organization is understanding, supportive, sensitive, and encouraging to transgender/transitioning employees.

Get Educated on Harmful Stigmas and Biases

In order to create an inclusive workplace, it’s important to understand why the need for one exists in the first place. One of the most toxic contributors to how people view the trans community is learned gender roles and biases. This starts as early as the expectations for little boys to like blue and race cars and other “masculine” things, while little girls are expected to enjoy pink, princesses, fairy tales, and other more “feminine” things. Due to these expectations, something like a little boy feeling confident in a princess costume is seen as taboo and preposterous. These gender norms restrict the most basic right for people to explore how they want to present themselves and what defines them.

As we get older, these norms don’t go away – they get even stronger. That’s why it’s typical for transgender employees to go out of their way in order avoid judgement and mistreatment from their peers and superiors. This can include not asking that their preferred pronouns be respected, putting off their transition, and dressing as the sex assigned to them at birth to avoid conflict in the office.

Enforce Trans-Protection Policies

Simply verbalizing your support for the trans community is not nearly enough. If your organization is not actively working to ensure a safe and conducive environment for trans employees, the statements put out by the company are completely empty. It’s more important now than ever to have a zero tolerance policy for any type of bigotry, and that policy needs to be heavily enforced with no exceptions whatsoever. Accountability is key. This goes deeper than someone saying something mean, as trans people are often the victims of vicious attacks and killings. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 27 transgender and gender non-conforming people have been killed in 2021 in the United States. Don’t let this slip under your radar – your team members are counting on you to help keep them safe. Your protection policies should be updated regularly with new information, and easily accessible to all in your HRIS

Enforce Trans-Inclusive Policies

Now that the foundation has been laid with the protection policies, it’s just as important to enforce policies that support your transgender employees while they are with you. These can pertain to the topics of company dress code, allowed bathroom access, and the education of proper pronoun usage.

  • Company Dress Code

As far as dress code is concerned, the policy is extremely simple. Your team members need to be able to dress and present themselves as they truly are – not who anyone else thinks they should be or perceives them to be.

  • Bathroom Access

The next major point is bathroom access. Some steps you can take are to create gender neutral bathrooms and/or encourage your employees to use whichever gender bathroom they align with. We can’t ignore the argument that allowing this could lead to more attacks, as cis-gendered people may feel “uncomfortable” sharing a bathroom with a trans peer. However, this goes back to the zero tolerance policy that we mentioned earlier. Remember, we are creating a safe space for all employees.

  • Respecting Pronouns

Finally, and arguably the most simple implementation, is making sure that everyone respects each other’s preferred pronouns. This is such a simple step, but it goes a long way in making your organization a more inclusive and supportive space. Consider adding an option for your team to include their pronouns next to their names on their professional online profiles. This is not limited to your non-conforming employees. Cis-gendered employees including their pronouns helps to normalize the recognition and respecting of pronouns in general. The key here is to leave this as an option. You never know where someone is on their journey to acceptance with themselves or their journey to finding out who they are and what their true identity is.

Be Supportive of Active Transitions

Keep in mind that a transition is not limited to surgery. The true transition process often takes place over years of searching and self discovery. As previously stated, you never know where someone is on their own journey, so it’s crucial that you support your transitioning team members as they move towards becoming their true selves.

  • Put Your Employee’s Needs First

Here’s what is of the utmost importance: make sure that the transition and your role in it occurs on your employee’s terms and not anyone else’s. This can be an incredibly sensitive time, so you need to ensure that your team members’ privacy and other wishes are respected. If something is told to you in confidence, make sure it stays that way as long as the employee would like to keep it that way. 

  • Adapt Company Insurance Packages

Consider altering your insurance coverage options to help transitioning employees cover the costs of elected medical procedures. A common obstacle is simply the cost of these procedures, so try to help lift that barrier if possible. Doing so only strengthens your bond and trust with your employee, as they’ll truly feel valued and supported from both a personal and professional perspective. At the very least, understanding transition-related care options and treatment as an HR manager keeps you well-versed on what your employees may be experiencing or need assistance with.

  • Address Them Correctly

If a transitioning employee has told your team that they’d like to be addressed by a different name or pronoun, we cannot stress enough how important it is to respect this. Their names and pronouns define their identity, regardless of whether or not it has changed over time. Part of HR’s job is to ensure that peers and leaders remain respectful and mindful of changes, and continue to address employees with utmost respect.

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Pride Month is a great opportunity to bring attention to topics like these, but the reality is that every month needs to be Pride Month. We need to make sure our LGBTQIA+ peers are supported and celebrated year-round, including out transgender team members. If your organization hasn’t started implementing pro-trans policy and change, start today using our suggestions! Let’s work together to create safe and inclusive spaces everywhere.

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