Joanne Lockwood: treat transgender and non-binary people as people

Employers need to do more to support people who are transgender or non-binary and not allow them to be afraid of who they are. Joanne Lockwood, an inclusion and belonging specialist, explains how.

The way that transgender and non-binary people appear in the media shows that there is some truth in the saying, ‘don’t believe what you read in the newspapers.

As Joanne Lockwood points out: “The media like to portray trans people as a kind of fetish, drag or way-out – it’s equivalent to the punk era in the 70s with their statement dressing. They see them as being visibly different, rather than just getting on with their lives. I’ve met non-binary people who I had no idea were non-binary because they didn’t look any different from every other person in the room.”

Joanne is an inclusion and belonging specialist, international speaker, trainer and consultant. She works with recruiters and HR professionals across a wide range of sectors, helping them to become trans and gender diverse and inclusive. Police forces, the NHS and Sport England, are just some of the organisations that have benefited from her training and workshops.

“My basic premise is ‘this is what makes me happy, and this is what makes me sad’,” Joanne explains. “These are the kind of things that are going to upset other trans people or me. We need to feel great about ourselves. So, it’s about identity, dress codes, toilets and transition at work policies, that kind of thing.”

A bridge too far

Joanne experienced how difficult transition in the workplace can be – she wasn’t able to face it; even though she was running her own IT company with 20 staff. The problem was that some of the employees held negative views about trans people.

“I was apprehensive and under extra pressure as a business owner, employer, employee and supplier,” she recalls. “I had had enough trouble with my family and friends, so being uncomfortable at work was just a bridge too far. The business offered to buy me out, which was good. I later found out that they had known what I was going through all along, but no one talked about it.

“Their views have changed – we’ve met several times since – and they’ve got no issues at all. Whether it would have been the same if I’d still been working there, I don’t know. Would I have transitioned differently? I’m not sure.”

A warm welcome

A downside of the buy-out was a non-compete clause, which excluded Joanne from starting another IT business. So, she set about becoming a trans-awareness specialist. To her delight, attending various networking events proved to be a positive experience.

“I was walking into rooms full of strangers as me, selling myself and my business,” says Joanne. “And I was almost instantly welcomed with open arms. In both mixed and female entrepreneur environments, I was pretty universally accepted.”

The same applied to charities where she was a trustee. She’s not sure whether this is all down to luck or how most transgender people are treated.

“I think the world treats you as you treat it,” she adds. “I am privileged; I have good experience, I’m white, I’m middle class, I’m intelligent and well-spoken, I mix with business entrepreneurs and people who are professionals. So, I’d say I work in an effortless environment. I can’t speak for anybody who works in a more gig-orientated, service or low-paid environment.

“Most people who I work with are talking to me because I’m in diversity and inclusion, so they know what they are going to get. If I was still in IT, would I get the same reception? I don’t know.”

Different reactions

However, men and women have reacted differently to Joanne’s transition. Women have, generally, been more inviting, treating her as “one of the girls”, whereas with men “it’s more of a stand-off relationship”. But the men she meets professionally are fine.

Joanne says it’s all about how you present yourself to the world: “If you’re not careful, you can be hyper-vigilant of problems. You interpret every look as a slight. I sometimes wonder when people look at me if they’re being nosey or curious rather than giving me a funny look, so I tend just to put the blinkers on.

“Most people want to hear my story. They ask a lot of questions, sometimes too many, and that means I have to educate them. It can get exhausting sometimes, but it’s kind of what I do.”

Building awareness

Her advice to organisations for how to make life easier for trans and non-binary people at work is to assume that they are already in the building – don’t wait until they reveal who they are. 

They should have a non-discrimination policy that clearly states that everyone who works there is respected and included, whatever their identity. Joanne suggests building up awareness through guest speakers and engaging through ‘transition at work’ policies.

“Make sure the first-time managers are trained,” she states. “So, if someone says ‘I’m trans’ or ‘I want to transition’, they go ‘wow, brilliant’ rather than ‘oh, my god’. It’ just trying to normalise those conversations. Being trans is just somebody. Making trans, or non-binary people, simply seen as ‘people’ is what I’m trying to do.”

Joanne points out that there are trans people who are afraid about coming out and of going to interviews. The transition process can, she adds, be very traumatic and causes a lot of anguish.

“When we are different, we internalise, put shields up and go into the world fighting. And then we realise that the world doesn’t actually want to fight back.”

Hear more from Joanne at the DiversityQ Practitioners Summit on December 4.

Joanne Lockwood is the founder and CEO of SEE Change Happen, an Equality Diversity & Inclusion Practice specialising in providing Transgender Awareness and support to organisations and businesses.

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