When Jillian T. Weiss transitioned from a male to female in 1998, she lost her job as a corporate lawyer. And while the law firm never explicitly stated her termination came as a result of her transition, she suspects the two are linked.
In the last decade, Weiss went back to school to earn her Ph.D. in law, policy and society. Now, she teaches at Ramapo College of New Jersey in the department of law and society, where she focuses on transgender legal issues in the workplace. Five years ago, she published the book Transgender Workplace Diversity, intended for HR professionals planning and dealing with gender identity-related issues in the workplace.
Transgender issues have largely been ignored in the workplace, but a report last year from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force suggests that the issues aren’t just occurring, they’re pervasive. In the report, “Injustice at Every Turn,” 90 percent of 6,000 trans-identified respondents said they had experienced harassment or mistreatment at work.
Kathleen Galvin, a professor studying interpersonal communication at Northwestern University’s School of Communication, explained why transgender issues have been left out of the conversation at many companies.
“For many older people, it’s just not on their radar screen,” Galvin said. “And in many cases, they’re just totally uncomfortable and bewildered and they’re defensive because they don’t understand it at all.”
HR professionals, however, can provide the conduit to education and development of procedures to make the workplace more welcoming for transgender individuals. Weiss identifies five steps companies can take to foster a more inclusive workplace for transgender individuals.
Review company policies. Gender identity needs to be explicitly included in non-discrimination and non-harassment policies to firmly assert the rights of trans-identified individuals in the workplace.
Be proactive in establishing policies and procedures to deal with common corporate issues during transition. “If somebody were to transition on the job, it’s insufficient to simply have a statement saying we don’t discriminate,” Weiss said. “Company management needs guidance on how to address that dozen or so issues that always arise in transition.”
Some of the most common issues include insurance benefits, the Family and Medical Leave Act, name changes, government record keeping and use of bathroom and dressing room facilities.
Appoint a central person who can act as a resource for transgender-related issues. The person can be in-house or with an external organization that is knowledgeable and has received special training about the process of transitioning. This will ensure that transitioning individuals as well as fellow co-workers will have a designated outlet to address specific issues and concerns.
Ensure employee resource or affinity groups include discussion of transgender issues. “Particularly if there’s an LGBT group, make sure transgender issues are on its radar, so that employees who want support in that area can receive it,” Weiss said.
Look to outside resources for additional assistance. Advocacy groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality publish text and video materials designed for use in the workplace that employers can study.
Jeffrey Cattel is an editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.