We can all recall moments in our lives when a single decision changed the course of our future. Buying a house. Deciding to have a child. Getting married. Changing gender. Some decisions are hard; some are debilitatingly difficult.
Maternity, marriage, gender. All of course afford protection against discrimination under the law. The difference with equality legislation around gender reassignment is that the individual is protected not from the moment of change in status (becoming pregnant, becoming married) but from the personal decision to simply ‘be’ a different gender.
For managers, leaders and colleagues this means you could easily be the first person your employee or friend comes out to. As one trans friend told me this week, coming out at work is among the hardest conversations she has had in her life. Aside from speaking to her GP, it was the very first conversation she had on the subject. Summoning up that kind of courage felt ‘like stepping off a ledge’. At a vulnerable time in her life, she sought out one senior leader who she felt was most likely to provide a supportive and positive response. Thankfully, she picked the right person.
How can you make sure you’re that right person, and get that critical conversation right first time? Yes there’s a business imperative: we know that people who bring their whole selves to work are more productive, and immensely so. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a human responsibility. Here are three things you can do straight away.
1. Keep it simple. The various debates around transgender may seem endless: what’s important is that leaders clearly vocalise in the most simple terms that someone who has identified themselves as transgender is automatically supported by the company. Be clear about their rights and that the company stands behind them. Explain how they will be referred to and say which toilets they will be using. Don’t be woolly or tempted to use humour to soften your message.
2. Know the legal landscape. Make sure your managers and HR teams are clear on who is afforded legal protection and how. Do they know that legislation on gender reassignment equally protects freelancers, apprentices, volunteers and the self-employed? Do they understand the implications of associative discrimination?
3. Create a workplace culture where trans allies and advocates can have courageous conversations. Seek out trans role models in the company and raise their visibility. Share the understanding among staff that harassment against individuals who champion and support their trans colleagues will not be tolerated.
On 26th May, our specialist consultant Debbie Cannon (above) will be leading a special event on all things trans-inclusive. Sign up today for more practical and proactive steps on building trans-inclusive workplace cultures, and the inside scoop on those organisations already getting it right.