Existing as a transgender, nonbinary, or gender non-confirming (GNC) person in the workplace comes with its own set of unique challenges, heartaches, and barriers. While it’s important for individuals to advocate for themselves, the responsibility falls on the employer to make a workplace safe and inclusive enough for their trans+ employees to do so. Here are some important things to consider when building a gender-inclusive workplace.
Assume you already have trans/non-binary/GNC in your staff
A pervasive misconception about trans+ individuals is that they are always easy to spot. While many cannot – or choose not – to “pass” as a binary gender, just as many are able and choose to present that way in the workplace. Just because everyone in your workplace seems cisgender (inwardly aligned with the gender assigned to them at birth), does not mean that they are. Even if your workplace seems entirely cisgender, beginning from the opposite assumption allows you room to build an inclusive groundwork without putting pressure on individuals to out themselves. Being outed by another member of the workplace, or being forcibly outed by company policy (eg: legal name displayed publicly, bathroom access or dress code tied to legal gender marker, etc) can be detrimental to the mental health and safety of your gender diverse employees. Never, under any circumstances, “out” a coworker or employee without their explicit consent.
The trans+ community is highly diverse, in ways that do not always match public perception. Anyone from any background can be trans, nonbinary, gender non-conforming, etc. As you build a workplace ready to accept trans+ workers, it’s important to leave your assumptions at the door, and make sure you’re also ready to accommodate workers from different cultural, racial and economic backgrounds, neurodiverse individuals, and well as those with physical, psychological, and developmental disabilities.
Dress Code & Bathrooms
Potentially the most “visible” issue comes down to attire, and the ability to use adequate restroom facilities. While this is a complex and multi-faceted issue, the easiest first step is to separate these aspects of the job from gender entirely. Gender-neutral bathrooms allow your trans+ workers access to adequate facilities without having to out themselves if they don’t wish to. Gender-neutral dress codes in turn permit your trans and GNC employees room to express themselves comfortably.
Other aspects of dress code to consider are the fact that your employees may need breaks to change their clothing as the day progresses. The use of a binder, for example – a piece of clothing used to compress and hide the appearance of breasts – can become unsafe if the binder is worn for longer than 6-8 hours, especially if worn daily. If your employees feel safe from scrutiny about their appearance and/or need to take extra breaks, they will be less likely to suffer injury by overexerting themselves.
Proper benefits are a top perk for many, and for trans+ employees they can be life-changing. Not only is access to transition-related care vital, so is adequate coverage of mental health, dental care, and other resources. Trauma often comes hand-in-hand with marginalized identities, and unfortunately poverty and medical discrimination often do as well. If your workplace offers decent pay, plus substantial trans-inclusive medical coverage, it may very well be your employees’ first opportunity to get long overdue medical, psychological, and dental care. Provide them not only with these benefits, but adequate PTO so that they can actually make use of them.
Expect and accommodate change
Being trans, non-binary, or GNC is almost by definition a journey of self-discovery, , and our culture shows it. Frequently adapting clothing and makeup styles, gender expressions, hair colors and lengths – being trans is about embracing change and non-conformity. We would not be who we are without it. As a trans+ person becomes more comfortable with themselves (or with their environment), you may see remarkable changes in their fashion, physical appearance, and demeanor. This is a good thing, and should be both encouraged and accepted as normal workplace culture, even if they seem unusual or confusing. Perhaps Mark comes to work in a wig and skirt for the first time. Sophia is exhausted and hasn’t shaved her facial hair in a week. Katarini is now sporting stubble and goes by he/they pronouns. You hear that someone in HR has changed their name to Pocket.
These choices don’t have to make sense to you in order to be respected. These are serious, life-affirming choices, made by adults who are extremely aware of the potential social repercussions. Compliment Mark’s fashion sense, buy Sophia a coffee, practice using everybody’s new names and pronouns with your coworkers, and make sure the rest of your company does the same. There’s nothing you need to do other than accept this as part of your workplace’s new normal.
Accept personal responsibility for your education
This is arguably the most important point to abide by. Learning to embrace and support any marginalized group is a life-long lesson in active listening, and humility. Like housework and hygiene, acceptance and education is a life-long, daily process. You are going to mess up. You are going to offend. You are going to experience failure. What matters is what you do next. Don’t get swept away in feelings of shame or failure. Things to avoid can include:
- aggressively and/or profusely apologising
- Getting visibly upset when an apology is not accepted
- Repeatedly or emotionally telling a trans/nb/gnc person how hard the experience is for you
- Writing off a trans+ coworker because they got upset with you (ie not offering the same forgiveness to trans+ people that you do to cis people)
- Giving up because you’re “not doing it right”
- Constantly asking questions without checking for enthusiastic consent to educate
- Any invasive/non work appropriate questions/comments/jokes
It never feels good to make a mistake or be told that you’re offensive, especially when you’re actively trying to improve. However, it’s important to recognize that any marginalized person who corrects you has likely fought against a lot of fear and trauma to do so. Take it as a sign that they believe you can do better. Remain professional, and do your own research with the goal to improve, not impress. Through your improvement, you can show them their trust in you was correct.