Employers being transphobic is “totally unacceptable in 2019”

British workplaces are rife with transphobia. However, it’s in your company’s interest to be more inclusive and make the environment welcoming for every employee

Employers being transphobic is "totally unacceptable in 2019"

Businesses are increasingly encouraging gender fluidity. Recognising that gender for many isn’t easily defined within the dichotomy of male and female, Facebook has expanded its user profile options to over 70 choices, including terms like bigender and pangender. Many other companies such as the dating platforms Her, OkCupid and Tinder followed suit. Even banks like HSBC and Metro Bank started including the Mx prefix on their forms. While the clock on social justice for transgender workers has been ticking for years, many of them don’t feel welcome in the workplace.

And they have reason for their concerns as transphobia is ubiquitous in many companies with 43% of bosses admittedly being less likely to even hire a transgender person, according to research by Crossland Employment Solicitors, the law firm. And only 3% have an equality procedure in place that openly welcomes transgenders to apply for jobs. Additionally, more than half of transgender workers have feared workplace discrimination so much that they masked their gender, according to Stonewall, the LGBT rights charity. “That’s totally unacceptable in 2019,” argues Ben Farmer, head of HR, UK corporate at Amazon

The fact UK businesses discriminate against transgender people is a shame – not only because of the human suffering it yields but also because it can considerably cripple companies. “The drawbacks [for not employing transgender people] are limiting your available talent pool, limiting what different people can bring to the table in terms of co-working, collaboration, creativity, innovation and way of doing things,” argues Jeremy Blain, founder and CEO of Performance Works, the business consultancy. And losing out on trans staff isn’t the only problem with having a non-inclusive workplace – you also risk alienating younger generations. Blain continues: “Millennials and perhaps Generation Z who are more open will see these companies making decisions not to be inclusive and cross them off their list – further limiting talent for the future [and] leading to a competitive disadvantage in human capital terms, which will in the medium to long term impact the business’ health.” 

While some entrepreneurs today are actively prioritising the LGBT issue, there are many who’ve failed to address the elephant in the room. And this can be problematic for a business owner. The Equality Act 2010 protects the rights of trans people working in the UK, rendering employers legally responsible for discriminatory practices against them in both the recruitment process and working environment. So it’s in their best interest to nurture a culture that welcomes trans people. “It’s for the business leaders themselves to embrace it, model the right behaviours and walk the talk,” Blain adds. “If it’s not modelled from the top, then there will be a problem below.”

Indeed, head honchos must make the office environment more conducive to employee wellbeing, irrespective of their gender. “I think all business owners would agree that anything you can do to make your business a more enjoyable and productive place where employees feel they can be themselves is a good thing,” says Farmer. “Not every business can do everything but actively working to foster greater inclusivity is worth it.”

So how can business leaders make their transgender employees feel more welcome? “It starts with attitude,” says Blain. “If the attitude isn’t right then how can the rest of the employees be expected to toe the line? Attitude drives appropriate behaviours and that in turn starts to shape the organisational culture as a more inclusive, diverse and less biased environment.”

Indeed, having an inclusive workplace requires entrepreneurs to instil gender equality, equity and respect as part of their company’s core values. “Improved ways of working on a day-to-day basis are an important way to tackle discrimination and unconscious bias,” Farmer advises. “[Simple] initiatives and habits that drive objective decision-making will always deliver better outcomes than any policy.” For instance, at Amazon, meeting documents don’t carry a named author and “decisions are based on data and evidence rather than whoever has the loudest voice.” Additionally, Farmer says having rainbow lanyards, stationary and avatar ribbons are a great way to show support. 

Farmer also points at how Amazon offers all its employees transgender resources including a toolkit for managers, co-workers and HR personnel through its employee affinity group Glamazon. This initiative has been raising awareness about LGBTQ issues and promoting equal opportunities through mentorship and social gatherings. Additionally, Farmer ensures he keeps developing the guidelines by getting his team’s input. “[We] also made a simple change to our internal directory page that allows over half a million employees to add their preferred pronouns,” he adds. 

Furthermore, employers must go the extra mile to ensure the office is a welcoming space for all involved. “Ask yourself whether there are any changes you can make to your HR policies to appeal to a more diverse range of candidates,” says Chris Stappard, managing director at Edward Reed Recruitment, the employment consultancy. “This could mean relaxing your dress code so that employees are free to wear gender-neutral clothing or by introducing unisex bathrooms. And it never hurts to clarify that you’re committed to creating an inclusive work environment on your job listing and on your company’s careers page.” Moreover, being vocal about your inclusive workplace is definitely a quality to promote on social media. “Not only will this help attract diverse new talent but celebrating your employees’ achievements in this way can help you retain [current transgender] staff too,” he adds. 

Along with making changes in attitude and policies in the company, it’s the leader’s responsibility to educate the entire team. “Values and policies are meaningless unless they’re embraced and practiced at all levels of the company,” advises Alice Hallsworth, solicitor at Child & Child, the law firm. “So ongoing training should ideally be held for all employees and at all levels on gender equality, discrimination and how to both identify and deal with these situations and to discuss what can be done to prevent this happening in the workplace.” Given 39% of LGBT workers have been harassed or discriminated against by a co-worker, according to TUC, it’s essential to give the staff training. 

To aid employers further, Blain believes the government must take more steps. “Perhaps having a minister for diversity and inclusion would be a dramatic statement of intent – it’s inherent in some ministerial posts but not explicit enough for me,” he opines. Additionally, recognising the ones who are on the right path will also encourage other businesses to follow their lead. “[Companies] who are championing the new behaviours and who are inclusive and diverse should be rewarded – i.e corporate tax advantage, benefits advantages.”

Importantly, a company that can pledge its support to employees irrespective of their race, gender or sexuality stands to benefit massively. And by creating a sense of empowerment among employees, businesses can pave the way for change. “There’s much more to inclusivity than just filling quotas: it’s all about building a team with a diverse range of voices, backgrounds and perspectives and then ensuring that each employee is valued and listened to,” Stappard concludes.

Varsha Saraogi
Varsha Saraogi

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