Many years ago I met a co-worker, Terry. Terry was quiet, but friendly enough, a bit of a loner, but social enough. Terry was introverted, but just outgoing enough to be someone to look forward to chatting with. We crossed paths frequently in the kitchen, the men’s room, the elevator, Starbucks, etc. We would chat about everything from food, life, family, sports and our love of shoes. One day during a chat about our childhood, I came to know that the “guy” I knew as Terry was legally named Teresa, and Terry identified neither as he or she, but as “transgender,” something until then, I had never heard of before.
And there began my indoctrination to transgenderism.
The study of emotional intelligence demonstrates that we humans are pre-disposed to the judgment of others who are different. We cling to learned perspectives and behaviors and are quick to adopt established ideals of normalcy that are often one-dimensional. In today’s workplace, HR leaders must be committed to creating an environment conducive to dialogue and honesty about the challenges of adopting a “new normal” and the challenges faced by trans employees that fit the very definition.
If your objective is to create a diverse inclusive workplace for ALL you may find the following guidelines and policy changes useful:
Establish guidelines prohibiting gender bias
We are never as culturally fluent as we think we are. While we may be steeped in the nuances of our own particular environments and subcultures, never assume you you are literate in others. Because myths and misconceptions can influence the behavior of co-workers towards individuals that identify as transgender, make sure your company provides training for all employees on gender-related issues in the workplace to ensure that co-workers do not intentionally or unintentionally create an environment that will negatively impact a transgender employee. Review your company handbook to make sure that it includes clear policies against discrimination and harassment, and the handbook needs to be distributed to employees with attestation of receipt. Most importantly, enforce the policy.
Refer to transgender employees by their preferred name
As they transition to their preferred gender identity, transgender employees may want to change their name. For example, an employee may change their name to a more common male or female name, or even androgynous name, For example, from Teresa to Terry. While it may be challenging for co-workers to understand the change, HR can be instrumental in establishing an environment where transgender employees are addressed by whatever name and gender they prefer. When in conversation, co-workers should use pronouns that correspond to one’s gender identity. Items such as office mailboxes and nameplates should also reflect the preferred name and gender pronouns.
Establishing clear bathroom designations
An inclusive workplace considers the needs of ALL employees. A transgender employee may be as sensitive to the use of single-sex bathrooms as their fellow co-workers. Keep in mind that sometimes transgender employees may be transitioning towards their final gender identity. They may initially want to use a bathroom that corresponds to their biological sex but at some point begin using restrooms that correspond to their new or anticipated gender identity. Wherever possible Human Resources should work with management to designate gender-neutral bathrooms that are available to ALL employees, not just transgender, male or female.
Implement a gender-neutral employee dress code
Does your company have a dress code requirement that differs for men and women? For example, some employers may require male employees to wear pants while female employees are asked to wear skirts. The switch between pants and skirt may leave transitioning transgender employees feeling awkward and self-conscious. Human Resources can help by implementing a more gender-neutral dress code, not specifying gender-specific articles of clothing. Transgender employees may assume the appearance of their gender identity. Any dress codes and guidelines regarding the appearance of your employees that are consistent with business necessity should apply to transgender employees. However, employers should consider dress codes and guidelines that eliminate any sex stereotypes.
Address any discriminatory behavior and misconduct swiftly
Most importantly, Human Resources should address any misconduct that targets transgender employees in the same manner as other forms of discrimination. Your standard workplace investigatory protocols should be adhered to should there be accusations of gender bias. As always, the investigation should be properly documented supported by any materials gathered during the investigation.
In any organization, Human Resources is instrumental in building an innovative and creative environment, which will ultimately attract top talent and positively impact your retention. A business that is inclusive and respectful of ALL its human capital is always good for business.
William has held consulting and strategic HR roles at Virginia Mason, Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Kaiser Permanente, and Williams-Sonoma. He has a proven track record for building employee satisfaction through building leadership competencies and strong collaborative HR partnerships with leadership teams that focus on the staff retention and fostering cultures of engagement. William regularly shared his insights and experience though for a number of Talent publications including Fistful of Talent, Career Crossroads (CXRWorks), and The HR Gazette and believes that an organization’s human capital is their most valuable asset.