How employers can secure equality for transgender people in the workplace

While incidents of violent abuse for trans employees is relatively low, lack of supportive infrastructure and microaggressions from colleagues is making some hide their identity

While the numbers of trans employees being physically abused at work are relatively low, transgender equality in the workplace is still a way off, where microaggressions and lack of reporting support could be why more are hiding their identities than five years ago.

Two-thirds of transgender employees have hidden their identity in the workplace while 43% have quit their jobs “due to an unwelcoming work environment,” according to a new YouGov survey with Totaljobs.

In fact, the number of trans employees hiding their identity has increased by 13% from when the last survey was conducted in 2016, where it was 52%.

The latest survey showed that 50% hid their trans identity when job seeking. A further 56% said they believed it’s harder for trans people to find employment because of their identity(s).

The statistics also show that once onboarded, many trans employees feel the need to continue to hide their identity where only  56% of trans employees shared their status with colleagues.

A muted response from colleagues

For those that do “come out” at work, while the figures show that negative reactions from colleagues have decreased since 2016, (from 10% to 5%), positive reactions have only increased by 1% (50% to 51%), which suggests that employees aren’t comfortable about how to react to trans people in the workplace.

While apathy from colleagues or fear of causing offence has meant that “out” trans employees are greeted with a lukewarm response, active discrimination is still an issue for the community.

The study found that one in three trans workers had experienced discrimination at work during the last five years. This includes 32% that have experienced “bullying or insults”, 27% who have been subjected to “deadnaming” where trans people are deliberately called by a former name, and consciously misusing pronouns  (30%).

A further 25% have felt socially excluded from colleagues while 17% “have been left out from work projects.” In terms of physical discrimination, 6% have been physically abused or threatened in the workplace.

While these figures show that trans people are less subjected to acts of physical abuse and discrimination in the workplace, microaggressions, such as consciously disregarding their trans identities continue, and is probably why more are hiding their identities at work.

Remote working has liberated trans employees

However, respondents involved in the survey reported decreased instances of microaggressions when working from home during the pandemic where “31% have felt more confident in themselves” and 20% said “working from home removed the microaggressions they typically experience at work.”

Interestingly, 8% said colleagues have been more supportive during the pandemic period, which might suggest that employees are more comfortable dealing with trans employees virtually. This could be rooted in fears of causing offence physically, or lack of knowledge, rather than active discrimination against the group in the office.

Lack of HR support

The figures also reveal a knowledge gap within organisations about trans issues and support, with only 29% reporting gender-neutral facilities and even fewer (24%) saying their work offers information on trans issues.

Sentiment among the trans respondents reveals a lack of faith in their workplace HR systems, where 36% aren’t aware of the official process to report discrimination while  35% wouldn’t report anti-trans behaviour.

Only 33% of trans workers stated their employers had “dedicated anti-trans discrimination policies”, which could explain the lack of reporting among the community when discrimination occurs.

However, the good news is that 50% of those that have transitioned at work reported “good to very good” support from HR, colleagues, and management.

Lee Clatworthy, spokesperson for UK Transgender charity, Sparkle said:

“We advise businesses and organisations on the importance of communicating their values externally. Many organisations are doing great D, E & I work internally, which is obviously important in retaining a diverse workforce that feels valued, but many are not promoting this work outside of the organisation to attract candidates from a variety of backgrounds.

“We would recommend de-gendering the language on application forms and throughout the recruitment process to ensure the first interaction with your company is as inclusive as possible.

“Having one single point of contact for all candidates, who is trained to be sensitive to the barriers that trans and gender diverse candidates may face, also helps to build the trust from trans employees that they’ll be welcomed in the organisation.”

Jon Wilson CEO of Totaljobs added:

‘‘Having a situation where any employee feels that they have to hide who they are in the workplace, or even decide to leave a role as a consequence of not feeling accepted, is simply wrong. To hear that the number of trans people experiencing this has increased since our last report in 2016 is deeply concerning. As employers, we need to ask serious questions as to what we can do to improve this state of affairs and ensure we’re championing a culture that is inclusive of trans individuals, to ensure they have happier healthier working lives. 

“I call upon all companies, big or small, to consider the steps they can take across their attraction, recruitment, and retention strategies to remove the barriers faced by trans people. In particular, having a firm stance against anti-trans behaviour or abuse at work is non-negotiable; nobody should have to feel unwelcome or unsafe at work. 

“At Totaljobs, we’re grateful to work alongside trans charity Sparkle to raise awareness of the experiences of trans people at work, and ultimately help organisations, including our own, to better build the foundations for a more inclusive workplace, and offer support to trans individuals throughout the course of their careers.’’

While the study shows that HR staff has been supportive of transitioning employees in some instances, the lack of proactive acceptance of “out” trans people from colleagues and ongoing microaggressions show that organisations need to educate employees on the trans experience, and provide the trans community with clear and easily accessible protective policies and discrimination reporting mechanisms.

If organisations are to return to an office environment, they should engage with their trans employees and find out what aspects of remote working helped them feel more equal and empowered and through engagement and policy building, implement these aspects into the office environment.
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