Under-represented, under-employed, under-paid and downright discriminated against in the workplace. That, unfortunately, is the experience of many trans and gender non-conforming people today.
Here are some stats, gleaned from McKinsey & Co’s recent US-focused report called ‘Being transgender at work’:
- Transgender adults are twice as likely as cisgender adults to be unemployed.
- Transgender employees make 32% less money per year than their cisgender colleagues, even if they have similar or higher qualifications.
- More than half of transgender staff are not comfortable being out at work and two thirds remain in the closet in professional interactions outside of their own company.
- Transgender adults feel much less supported in the workplace than their cisgender colleagues, finding it more difficult to obtain a promotion and negotiate workplace culture and benefits.
The situation is no better in Europe. According to a 2019 survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, only 51% of trans respondents were in paid employment at that time compared to an average of 74% for the wider working age population, points out Francesca Sanders, a Policy Officer at trans membership organisation, TGEU. She adds that because members of the community are subject to “structural and institutional discrimination”, they are also:
More likely to work in precarious and informal job settings, which were the first sectors to be hit by job losses at the beginning of the pandemic. Many trans people have lost work and subsequently their homes, and at the same time, many have been unable to access government support. The situation has been even harder for trans people who are migrants, disabled, Black and people of color, d/Deaf, and sex workers.
The McKinsey study also refers to such intersectional discrimination but in a pay context. It found, for example, that 75% of Native American and 43% of Hispanic trans people make less than $25,000 per annum compared with only 17% of White cisgender adults.
Becoming an ally
But because the difficult situation for trans people is all too often either pushed under the carpet or bundled up with broader LGBTIQ issues, all too few employers in the tech sector, or elsewhere, are addressing it in any serious way. One exception to the rule is IT solutions and services provider Fujitsu.
The company has been working to effect change here for a couple of years under the guidance of its Pride network, which is headed up by a trans employee. This led to the creation of guidelines to support staff undergoing transition, support for a range of pronouns in IT systems and the introduction of gender-neutral bathrooms.
But such activity was accelerated following an employee engagement survey conducted in October 2020, which revealed that the company’s trans workers enjoyed a less favourable experience than their cis colleagues. The findings were reviewed by Fujitsu Pride and a roundtable was set up to “unpack the feedback”, says Kelly Metcalf, Head of Diversity & Inclusion and Wellbeing.
As a result, the company published an educational Allies Guide during LGBTQ+ History Month in February covering every group included in the acronym, including trans people. Each guide explored what a given gender identity means, the myths surrounding it and the truth of the matter.
Similarly, consultancy Out Now has produced and launched two out of a series of six LGBTQ Ally Activation, with the last one due for release in February. Such content is valuable, Metcalf says, because:
It’s important to start a conversation as that’s when you get meaningful insights you can act on. Most people come from a place of wanting to be supportive but language can hold them back. Language evolves quickly here, which can put people off as they’re scared of saying the wrong thing. So I’d say yes, seek advice, but don’t let fear of saying the wrong thing stop you. People will judge you by your intentions, so if you make them clear and accept feedback if you use the wrong word, there shouldn’t be a problem.
Taking a gender-neutral approach
The HR department also opted to review all of its policies, which were “a bit fragmented”, at the start of 2021 to ensure they took a gender-neutral approach and were based on gender-neutral language. Changes here included ensuring that parental leave policies did not simply refer to ‘mothers’ or ‘fathers’. The move resulted in the creation of a new employee handbook, which was launched in March.
A common challenge when trying to ensure trans employees enjoy a positive workplace experience though is simply a lack of available data as to what their true situation is. Metcalf explains:
Historically we’ve not asked about gender identity in our HR systems, although we will from the start of 2022. It’ll give us a good opportunity to understand what diversity looks like here, so we can see gaps and differences in terms of career progression and the like. There’s huge power in data and people’s insights and stories because when you put them all together, you can get a clear understanding of what inclusion looks like in your organisation. But gender identity is possibly one of the more challenging areas to collect data as your system may not enable you to do so, or people may not be comfortable in sharing this kind of personal information, which makes it harder to model in quantitative terms.
The aim is to introduce a campaign in the first quarter of 2022 to encourage such sharing, with the goal being to start modelling initial data by the middle of the year.
Another vendor that takes its responsibilities towards its trans workers seriously, meanwhile, is cloud-based CRM software supplier, Salesforce. To mark Trans Awareness Week in the US last month, for example, it extended its Gender Inclusive Benefits, which were previously only available in the US to transgender and non-binary employees across the world, in a bid to provide them with appropriate financial and emotional support.
Developed with the help of Outforce, the company’s employee resource group (ERG) for diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity, the benefits consist of:
- Gender Affirmation Medical Reimbursement: Available globally, this provides financial support to employees going through gender affirmation medical procedures and treatments. It includes comprehensive coverage for surgery, prescription drugs and hormone therapy.
- Gender Affirmation Leave: This comprises four weeks of paid leave so that staff can take time to recover after gender affirmation procedures.
- Wardrobe Reimbursement: Employees who are affirming their gender are offered up to $500 to help them look and feel their best.
- Legal Fee Reimbursement: Up to $1,000 will be provided to help staff navigate the hurdles of legally confirming their gender and updating government-issued identity documents.
- Counseling Services: Mental health and counseling services will be made available to transgender and non-binary employees as well as their loved ones at each step of their journey.
- Warmline Support: This employee advocacy program is being scaled up to provide LGBTQ+ staff with a safe space for confidential conversations with advocates to support feelings of equity and belonging and help to navigate their careers.
Gino Ramos, the vendor’s Director of ERG strategy, explains the rationale:
One of the biggest barriers the transgender community faces is access to healthcare. In listening to our LGBTQ+ community, we learned that many transgender and gender non-conforming employees were struggling to get the care they deserve, and that more resources were needed for them to feel safe and supported in our workplace…We want all employees to feel safe bringing their true selves to work every day and we believe these new benefits are an important step on that journey.
And it is this listening element that Ramos feels is vital if employers are to support transgender and gender non-conforming staff in the most effective way possible. He explains:
The most important thing that companies can do is partner with LGBTQ+ employees. If we’re going to address barriers in a meaningful way, we need to start by listening in order to understand the unique needs and experiences of the transgender and gender non-conforming community. And this can’t be one and done. Employers need to create dedicated forums and channels where leadership can stay connected to the LGBTQ+ community.
At Salesforce, for instance, Outforce meets regularly with the supplier’s leaders to discuss needs, issues and “accolades”. There is also a private transgender and gender non-conforming Slack channel to provide community members with a safe place to network. In addition, Ramos says:
Our transgender working group and the Office of Equity are partnering to take a deeper look at our policies, processes, and resources to ensure we’re providing the best possible support for our transgender and gender non-conforming community, now and in the future.
As Ramos concisely puts it, in today’s “hyper-competitive talent market”, it makes sense to seek out and foster people within this all-too-often-maligned community. But it is about more than that too – it is also about helping to create a more equitable and fair world. As he concludes:
Companies have a powerful opportunity to support this community in places where the world has typically fallen short, including broadening benefit policies and healthcare coverage…The unique experiences of the transgender and non-gender conforming community can enrich companies and their services by expanding innovations that may have been overlooked in a predominantly cis-normative world. Going forward, I expect we’ll see more companies embrace gender-inclusive practices in their product design process too.