I have been to numerous job fairs and interviews in my professional career but this one was different. Instead of my black armani business suit and tie, I was wearing a long maxi dress with a formal black cardigan. I nervously adjusted my hair, powdered my nose and put on a fresh coat of lipstick, standing in front of a large mirror at a women’s restroom. With hard copies of my resume neatly tucked in my leather folder, I waited patiently for my interview.
Trans job fair in Los Angeles, CA
“Honey, you don’t have to say you are trans, You look fine”. The HR Manager of a famous mobile company said, smiling at me. As we were getting to the end of our interview, I slowly added, “Actually I am Gender Fluid and a non-op Trans…”. She quickly interrupted, “trust me, you’ll do just fine”. She walked me out assuring that she would pass on my resume to the appropriate managers.
She was kind and had really good intentions. Probably even championed diversity and inclusion initiatives in her company. But sadly she seemed naive about the most important aspect of our conversation — my gender identity. Maybe she thought I was medically transitioning or maybe not. Most of the companies are ok as long as we adhere to their binary policies and mindset.
As a management consultant for a few fortune 100 companies, I have established businesses across the globe and managed portfolios worth millions. After coming out as a non-op trans, the senior most position I was offered, was a case manager role at a medical institute. That was through a Trans Job fair. Such unconscious bias is still predominant at all levels in some companies.
A person’s gender identity or gender expression shouldn’t jeopardize their entire professional career for coming out ?
I am glad that 85% of the fortune 500 companies have made Diversity and Inclusion ( D&I ) initiatives their number one priority. Aiming for the highest HRC’s Corporate Equality Index ( CEI ) score is good for branding and the overall health and performance of the company. In fact most of the CxO’s value this aspect of their employee empowerment.
Working at a client location
Multinational companies are redefining their D&I policies based on race, class, color, ethnicity, socio-economical status , sexual orientation, gender identity and other aspects relevant to the country where they have presence. New roles and titles have emerged where the CPO’s and D&I champions are working closely with their HR, Security, Employee Resource Groups and Legal to redefine their workplace policies. Most of the companies these days have workshops and panel discussions to openly discuss and address workplace abuse, harassment and bias. They even organize campaigns, conferences and webcasts motivating their employees to embrace diverse and inclusive work culture.
However progressive these organizations are, most TGI professionals still feel alienated, misunderstood and restrained at work. Unfortunately top-down approach of inclusivity doesn’t percolate down to every level within the organization. Employees are generally accepting or at least tolerant towards LGBTQ+ professionals. But let’s face it, Work place bias still exists, either consciously or unconsciously.
A recent HRC study reported that 53% of LGBTQ workers have heard jokes about gay or lesbian folks at least once in a while at work.
Some companies overwhelming hire TGI candidates during the pride month to meet their diversity ratings. I call it, “The rainbow effect”. Unfortunately they fail to retain them due to lack of clarity in their policies and procedures nor integrate them within their corporate culture and framework. A Senior official mentioned to me after our training program.“Though most of our policies are binary, we can help them with their medical transition, but we are still not set up for gender non-binary individuals ”.
Interestingly, if you apply for a job at a senior level like I did, you might as well be on your own. My resume was perfect for a senior director position at a financial firm. I was supposed to have meetings with the senior leadership team in a few weeks. The HR Vice President called me and said, “I am not going to lie to you Celia, I couldn’t convince our senior team to meet with you, though you are highly qualified and experienced. They are a conservative old bunch”. I was disappointed but glad that she was being honest.
A few years back Indian railways in Kerala hired around 25 transgender individuals, that was all over the news. Excellent publicity and great press. Sadly close to 40% of them quit within six months. Railway employees are not used to working shoulder to shoulder with transgender individuals in India. Socially they were not considered as “equals”. Expecting cis gender passengers and employees to be open and accepting to the transgender community doesn’t work. Adequate trainings and constant social awareness needs to happen. Cultural stigma and social discrimination towards the trans and gender non- binary community still exists in the Indian society. It hasn’t progressed even after introducing the third gender marker.
Invisible Trans community in India
Sadly the Indian government’s policies and protection is more focused towards traditional transgender ( most commonly known as Hijra ) community (close to 0.5 million ) than the 8 to 9 million Non-Traditional Trans, Gender Variant and Intersex ( TGI ) community who are still living in the closet. They are afraid to come out.
On the basis of sex
In US, the Supreme Court recently ruled that a landmark federal civil rights law from the 1960s protects gay and transgender workers, a watershed ruling for LGBTQ rights written by one of the court’s most conservative justices. Fortunately, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination “because of sex,” includes gay and transgender employees.
TGI employees face immense gender dysphoria, implicit discrimination and bias within their own departments. It might come in the form of offensive comments or plain misgendering which takes a constant toll on their mental and physical health.
According to the survey in 2015, one in six trans folks said they lost their job because of their gender identity or expression. 30% of those who had held a job in the year prior to the survey reported being fired, denied a promotion or subjected to harassment or attack due to their gender identity or expression. Over three quarters of respondents said they had taken steps to avoid such mistreatment at work, like delaying their gender transition or simply quitting their job.
Workplace bias and discrimination can rock the entire universe of TGI individuals. Needless to say, they go through bullying, unemployment, homelessness, poverty, incarceration, mental health and violence, in some form or the other in their lives.
How can your organization make a difference ?
As Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, an American lawyer and civil rights advocate rightly said “ The future is NOT women but Intersectional Identities”.
Change must be every employer’s agenda, not just the CEOs. If you truly want to make a difference in your company, these practical tips might be helpful.
Start with the Teens and youth. A 2017 Williams Institute survey found that 27% of California teens identified as gender non-binary. They do not like labels. Some of them have opted for state issued license with gender marker as “x”, instead of male or female. Companies need to be prepared to handle these graduates from colleges.
Get involved in the community. Your employees might be living in a diverse community with different backgrounds, political affiliations, religious beliefs, nationality, ethnicity, color, race, sexual orientation and gender identity. When your company stands up against hate and discrimination in your community, that instills a good moral among the employees and a great sense of belonging especially among the minorities.
Listen and look for toxic signs within your team or department. Ignorance or unconscious bias can be corrected. But a person with conscious bias or intentional misgendering of trans or gender non-binary employees, needs to addressed immediately. The hate and discrimination that TGI individuals go through are far more serious than Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual individuals.
More closeted TGI folks are coming out at work due to education and social awareness. They are well qualified, focused and determined to succeed in any role. Don’t restrain their productivity by undermining their creativity.
Inclusive organization are great. But don’t just stop there. Integrate themwithin the framework of your organization. Empower them to be vocal and express how they feel. Even if you are cisgender, use proper pronouns ( He/Him, She/Her, They/Them ) and use gender neutral language ( Hi everyone or folks instead of “guys” ) in your introductions or email signatures. That not only affirms inclusivity but camaraderie within your team.
Educate and Train all your team members and department staffs specifically about gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation during diversity and equal employment opportunity compliance training programs. Organizations like TransCanWork and HRC can help. ( See the details below ).
Be clear about your HR policies and legal protections. Many states have their own policies. Protection laws differ from state to state, so it’s important to check the policies in the state you work. Medical benefits need to be addressed with clarity, else it can leave TGI employees confused and fearful of representing their true identity.
Don’t treat them as token material for marketing, philanthropy or branding. Though their voices needs to be heard, don’t be their savior. They want to be competitive and treated like any other employee in your organization.
Change comes from the heart and not from the letter head. Encourage bottoms-up approach as well. Incentivize mentorship programs, peer to peer interaction and periodic reviews to check on them.
Harassment policies. Include “gender identity or expression” among the list of protected categories in your non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.
Confidentiality : Ensure that TGI employee’s personal information is kept safe and confidential. Never ask about their post transition life. If an employee is transitioning, then change the employee’s name, gender and pronouns in all personnel and administrative records, including internal and external personnel directories, e-mail address and business cards.
Restrooms and Locker rooms : Gender neutral bathrooms are important for TGI employees. Allow the trans women and trans men to use facilities that correspond to his/her/their gender presentation, regardless of what stage that person is in terms of his/her/their overall transition process or not.
Dress codes should be made flexible across the organization to avoid gender stereotypes as long as they adhere to the professional attire specific to that industry. This will help the TGI employees to stay professional and present themselves with dignity.
Medical treatments and procedures, such as those defined by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders, should be included in employer-provided healthcare and short-term disability coverage.
Unlike any other employees in your organization, trans and gender non-binary employees want to contribute and be an integral part of success and productivity in your organization. Last but not least, be an ALLY !!
Transgender equality is a great start but when it comes to Gender non-binary equality and social transition, that is a whole another paradigm shift. We still have a lot of work to do.