Inclusivity is key in successful and diverse workplaces. It’s essential for a positive employee experience, and also to create a high-performing culture that attracts the best talent.
Today we want to focus on transgender employees, and the five key ways we can create a culture that’s inclusive for them.
1 - Use appropriate pronouns and terminology.
Using colleagues' chosen pronouns is essential. You can ensure you’re doing this from the start by introducing yourself and saying ‘Hi, I’m X, my pronouns are she/her, what pronouns do you prefer?’
To accommodate everyone, ensure that any paperwork for new employees provides inclusive options, including neutral titles like ‘Mx’. Try including gender pronouns in your company email signatures too, so everyone can be mindful of others and easily share their own preferences.
As this article from Prospect states, sharing pronouns at work and online ‘tells everyone that you are not going to assume their gender'.
Remember that if any employees are not comfortable declaring their preferred pronouns, they should be able to approach you about this and be exempted.
Understanding a host of other terms, such as ‘cisgender’ (identifying as the same gender you were assigned at birth) can allow us to have clear, important conversations without causing offence.
2 - Understand the different identities that the Trans community encompasses.
Transgender is a wider umbrella term than many people realise.
It refers to anyone whose identity does not align with the one typically associated with their biological sex at birth. There are a host of identities that sit within this definition, including trans men and trans women, but also non-binary, agender, and sometimes genderqueer people.
This pamphlet from the American Psychological Association details some of the categories that fall within the transgender community.
We are all individuals and don’t always fit into an exact system. Approach things on an individual basis. Whichever way a colleague identifies themselves, respect it and follow their lead.
3 - Be a student and your own teacher.
It’s okay to be curious, as long as it is always appropriate.
There are out-of-bounds topics, especially in the workplace. If you wouldn’t be comfortable with a question, don’t ask it. It’s as simple as that.
It also depends on the colleague. They may be keen to chat openly, or they may be very private. Either way, respect the boundaries they put in place.
As yourself: ‘Do I actually need to know this to behave appropriately or be supportive?’ If you don’t, it’s best not to ask.
If you’re still curious, there are plenty of sources out there to get answers without the risk of offending anyone. Always be discerning with where you get your information, but many questions can be answered with a simple google search.
Articles and downloadables like ‘Frequently Asked Questions about Transgender People’ from the National Centre for Transgender Equality can be a reliable start.
4 - Discretion above everything.
Open discussions can help people to feel affirmed and welcomed, allow us to support others, and to become educated. But privacy is crucial, so we need to be careful about sharing what’s been shared with us.
Just because a colleague often references their gender identity or history to you, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are comfortable doing so with other co-workers.
Making a reference like this when another colleague is present would not be appropriate unless the person in question instigates the topic. You could even ‘out’ someone without meaning to, which would be a serious incident. So be careful not to make assumptions, and always exercise discretion.
5 - If you make a mistake, apologise and move on.
This one is important to close on because mistakes can happen.
Even when our intentions are good, we put in the effort and educate ourselves, we may have a genuine slip-up. For instance, what if you misgender someone?
It may be tempting to ignore it and hope no one noticed, but that’s incredibly unlikely. Or, you may find yourself over-apologising and justifying yourself.
If you make a mistake, own it. Don’t try to convince the victim of your misstep that you’re ‘actually a really good ally’. By doing this, you are simply making the situation about you, when it is them that may need support.
This article from Harvard Health explains what misgendering is, and how to correct yourself effectively and avoid defensiveness.
Once you’ve sincerely apologised, move on instead of making them more uncomfortable. After that, make a real effort to learn from it, and avoid similar mistakes.
If you’re concerned about the impact on this person’s mental health, make HR, their Manager or a Mental Health First Aider aware to look out for signs that the person might be struggling.
In sum, the common theme is to be respectful and intuitive.
There are various policies and practices that an organisation can put in place to support transgender employees. These only succeed, however, when an attitude of acceptance permeates throughout your whole team.