Trans discrimination in the workplace – how to protect your employees

There are 1.9 million trans people in the UK, and more than half of them have had negative workplace experience due to their gender identity.

A YouGov survey commissioned by Stonewall found that one in eight trans employees have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers in the last year, and half of trans and non-binary people hide the fact that they are LGBT at work. As the rise in trans hate crime continues, employers must do whatever they can to ensure the safety and inclusion of their trans and non-binary employees.

Despite its multiple anti-trans controversies, The Guardian has been speaking to transgender workers about their experience in the workplace. Abigail Ward told the newspaper: “It wasn’t just my co-workers. Once, while working on the tills, a large gentleman and his family became aggressive. He leaned down to look at my face, gave me an ugly stare and shouted ‘Are you a woman?’ I looked up, startled. He continued ‘Are you a man dressed as one? Are you a man?’

“A few months later I was let go. It was clear the decision was partly based on the fact that I’m LGBTQ. I didn’t fight it, the workplace was unpleasant. I hope that no one in future has to experience anything like this.”

Abigail isn’t alone in facing workplace discrimination based on her gender identity. Anna Kays also told The Guardian: “I changed gender fine at work, but since transitioning things have altered. I work in a male environment and my opinion counts for a fraction of what it once did. I am routinely excluded from discussions, not informed of meetings and denied equal training. Despite requests, I have been given nothing but unrewarding and unpopular tasks since I transitioned, while new starters are assigned high-profile work.

“I don’t know if this is discrimination, but it feels like it. I can’t tell if it’s because I’m trans or a woman, I have no idea what to do about it. Despite this, transitioning is still the best thing I have done in my life. I now have a future.”

Laws in place

Trans and non-binary workers still often feel unsafe or uncomfortable at work. Even the legislation put into place to protect against discrimination doesn’t do a lot to help.

The Equality Act 2010 aims to protect individuals at work who are “proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex”. Changes defined in the act do not have to be permanent physical changes but can be lifestyle changes. The individual must still identify as a man or women, excluding non-binary people from the act.

Although the Equality Act 2010 provides some level of protection, 79% of cases of trans discrimination do not get reported to the authorities. Trans and non-binary people often do not feel supported by the police and fear further discrimination. Even as we claim to be a tolerable and accepting society, our laws do not reflect that and still allow for discrimination against societies most vulnerable members. So, employers and individuals must take it upon themselves to ensure that trans and non-binary people are safe and comfortable in not just the workplace, but in our society.

What employers can do

So, what can employers do to help?

In their Yougov survey, Stonewall provided advice to employers on actions that they should take to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their trans employees:

  • Develop clear zero-tolerance policies on transphobic bullying, discrimination and harassment policies, supported by all-staff training
  • Using Stonewall’s guidance, develop a policy to support trans employees who are transitioning, including information on confidentiality, dress codes and using facilities, with related guidance for line managers
  • Join more than 760 employers on Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme, the UK’s leading best practice forum for employers on LGBT inclusion.

Examples to follow

Fearless Futures is one company who not only makes effort to provide protection for their gender non-conforming employees but provide advice to other business on how to do so, too. They have shared some of their policies to enhance trans and non-binary inclusion and protection in the workplace in a recent weekly digest:

  • We are now working with the reception at our client’s offices so that they don’t misgender anyone when they arrive to deliver an inclusion workshop – it’s a painful experience, let alone when you need to hold space for others’ learning shortly after
  • Providing information in advance on the availability and location of gender-neutral toilets at client sites so that when facilitators are there they don’t have humiliating experiences when trying to go to the loo. Gender-neutral toilets remain a significant barrier in most buildings
  • Calling ahead to reception at hotels on the day of check in to emphasise the person’s correct pronouns/title so they aren’t misgendered
  • Providing choice over modes of transport for travel where possible, when airports as sites of ID checks may be stressful or humiliating

Taking any of these steps would help ensure the safety and comfort of trans employees, as everyone has the right to feel safe and comfortable at work, regardless of gender identity, and it is the responsibility of employers to ensure those rights are protected at all times. It is not enough to simply ‘accept’ that some of your employees may be trans; it is your responsibility to protect them. As Fearless Future says: “It’s never not an essential time to do allyship with and for our trans friends, family and colleagues”.
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