Have you ever worried about being called by the wrong pronoun or had to worry about a basic background check revealing confidential medical information? For many trans and non-gender conforming professionals, workplace experiences and interactions that many take for granted can be rife with challenges. Everything from employment applications to health insurance coverage can be a source of discrimination and unequitable treatment.
While a laudable number of employers have adopted policies to protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identify-specific policies often lag behind. That’s because trans and gender non-conforming employees face workplace challenges that are distinct from the rest of the LGBTQIA+ community. As a result, trans and non-binary people often report significantly higher employment discrimination, including being hired, retaining employment, and being promoted and compensated equitably.
“A lag in gender identity-specific policies in the workplace isn’t surprising,” says Lou Weaver, a consultant on transgender issues including healthcare and employment. “Transgender and non-binary individuals often seek jobs at companies with a culture of transgender inclusion, including healthcare that covers transition-related care. Since many companies have not yet been in the position of working with a transgender or non-binary person, this creates the illusion that there is no need to proactively address transgender and non-binary employment issues.”
Unique employment challenges facing the transgender and non-binary community include:
Background checks and employment paperwork: Background checks require sharing previous names, making it impossible to obtain employment at many companies without disclosing a transition. Filling out employment forms when there is no option for non-binary or when one’s legal gender does not match their gender identity is likewise problematic.
Bathroom Access: As has been well-documented in the media, bathroom access is often met with complications.
Medical Needs: The lack of insurance coverage for medical needs relating to a transition precludes transgender employees working for most companies while bringing their full self to work.
Misgendering: Many trans and non-binary employees are regularly misgendered, creating an atmosphere that impedes productivity and engagement.
Inaction may be costing employers high quality talent. In my experience as a recruiter, I’ve observed that a substantial portion of Gen Z and young Millennials believe that gender is not fixed. They place enormous significance on discrimination against any group and they are reluctant to work for employers perceived as discriminatory.
Here are five actions companies can take to expand inclusivity and become an employer of choice for transgender and non-binary job candidates and their families and allies.
1. Work with Your Insurer on a Gender Non-Specific Insurance Plan The unique healthcare needs of the transgender community mean that trans professionals are often forced to limit their career options to companies offering insurance plans that will meet their needs, such as those identified by the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. Ensure your company offers a plan that covers hormone treatments, post and pre transition support, and transition-related surgeries for employees and their children.
2. Update Your Employment Policy to Cover Trans and Non-Binary Employees including Transition Guidelines
Companies are relatively new to managing transitioning employees and there is not yet a universally accepted framework for how this should be handled. When the situation does arise, the burden of creating a plan is often placed on the employee. Be proactive and create your transition plan now rather than unfairly burdening your employee or rushing a plan through HR. Your policy should address the following questions among others:
What legal and insurance paperwork is required in our jurisdiction?
How do we educate and communicate with our employees and other relevant parties?
What paid or unpaid time off/leave and financial resources are offered for surgical procedures?
What optionality should we provide to meet that individual where they are?
How will we define and address discriminatory behavior or harassment specific to trans and non-binary employees?
3. Add Personal Pronouns to Corporate Materials
Requesting the use of one’s pronouns is a regular source of anxiety for many trans and non-binary individuals, especially those whose appearance doesn’t overtly match a cultural expectation of what their gender and pronouns would be. Normalize voicing pronouns by including them in all email signatures, website bios and other corporate materials, creating an inclusive atmosphere for employees, clients, and vendors.
4. Audit Communications for Gender Neutrality I didn’t realize until recently how often I use the phrase “you guys,” nor did I recognize the problematic nature of that phrase. Gendered language sneaks into all aspects of our lives and the outcome is often dozens of microaggressions per day, inadvertently impacting trans and non-binary individuals. Hire an experienced professional to audit your policies, guidelines, and internal and external communications for gender neutrality.
5. Show Support from the Top Policies and guidelines are only as good as the support they receive from leadership. Leaders must give direction that they want to attract, retain, develop career paths, and provide services for transgender and non-binary employees, just like the other DE&I demographics they focus on.
If your company is interested in creating or improving its approach to trans and non-binary inclusivity, the following resources can help:
If you have questions about employing trans/non-binary employees or are a trans/non-binary professional seeking employment, I’m here to help or direct you to the best resources for your needs. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to Lou Weaver for his support in writing this article. Lou is a queer transgender man and a leader in Houston’s LGBTQIA+ community. Lou has served as a topic specialist advising Fortune 500 companies, including Chevron, Dow and Shell, on employee engagement issues related to trans workplace policies. He is also a sought-after speaker on transgender topics and a consultant to healthcare providers and law enforcement agencies. He welcomes outreach from employers seeking to recruit, retain and engage transgender and non-binary talent at email@example.com.