“How do I tell my employer I am transgender or plan to transition?” Employers, here’s what you need to know to support your staff

To mark International Day Against Homophobia (Sunday May 17), we asked Joanne Lockwood, Founder and CEO of SEE Change Happen to share her tips to creating an inclusive, trans-friendly workplace. Openly transgender, Joanne promotes transgender awareness and support to businesses and organisations throughout the UK, Europe and elsewhere developing allies’ programs as assisting in policy and LGBTQ+ inclusion strategies.

Words: Joanne Lockwood

Imagine, if you can, a time when you were about to walk in to your annual appraisal, or finally ask for that pay rise, or even resign from your position to move on to pastures new. Remember that sense of anxiety, that feeling of uncertainty and even the optimism that the outcome will go as you would hope?  I am sure you will have rehearsed and practised the conversation in your head many times and even potentially talked it over with someone you trust.

Now imagine your deepest secret, a secret you have held inside of you for all of your life and now you are about to share that with your manager or HR department. A secret so deep you fear rejection, are worried you will be humiliated, or even worse – you will face discriminated and be fired.

Are you ready to have that conversation with one of your employees?

That is the reality many transgender people face when it becomes necessary for them to be open about their identity at work. Many will have already played this conversation over in their heads a thousand times, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. Often, they will be already facing significant challenges in their personal life, family relationships and social circle and now they come to work looking for acceptance and to be embraced.

What happens next, after that moment they say “I am transgender”, is critically important for the person’s wellbeing and sense of self.

Evidence from organisations all over the world, in many different cultures, says that this won’t always go well. Many transgender people are not embraced, the organisation is not geared up for their transition in terms of the company’s culture of diversity and inclusion, first line managers and HR teams are not trained or experienced in being able to respond positively, and regretfully, many react badly or at the very least, with confusion.

Why should organisations care?

Organisations that proactively include gender diversity training as part of their core L&D program are better placed to be able to have these conversations. Trans and gender diverse individuals make up – about the same number of people are vegan. Trans people mayalready be working within your organisation or most certainly within the close network of many of your staff. How you treat and talk about trans people, especially when you don’t think anyone affected is listening, says a lot about the workplace culture.

With an explicitly inclusive culture, transgender employees will know they can trust you to support and look after them. They will also be confident that their colleagues will also be trans positive and are already thinking as allies, ready to embrace and support.

Creating a trans inclusive culture goes further than supporting a person’s name change, using their correct pronouns and ensuring that toilets facilities are inclusive. It is about how a person is welcomed by their colleagues and peers, and opportunities to succeed and thrive are no different than they were before the person was open about their gender diversity.

Supporting a trans person through their transition is not a process as such. There is no “one size fits all”.  It is about providing person-centric support – a pathway that meets their needs and expectations, ensuring that the person can continue in their role. Some people will transition over the course of a few weeks, some years or never. Not every trans person will be looking to embark on a medical process, in the same way that not everyone will want to update their legal identity immediately. It is important that you communicate and work with the individual to adapt to their needs in a way that they feel supported.

How can organisations embark on creating a trans inclusive workplace?

For organisations looking to build an inclusive workplace, there are some basic ways this can be done.

  1. Engage with subject matter experts who have lived experience and are confident in providing support across a wide range of trans identity; trans feminine, trans masculine and non-binary. Use these people to assist in drafting inclusive policies, take their advice when developing support for those who wish to transition or be open at work.
  1. Develop an internal allies programme to ensure that potential colleagues and managers have the tools and skills to be able to help trans individuals.
  1. Provide visible signposting to communicate the support trans people can expect, and the resources and help they can access if needed.
  1. Finally, amplify those who exemplify inclusive behaviour and champion fairness, equity and support for all, regardless of someone’s background or characteristics.

Remember, many trans people constantly “come out” throughout their daily life – when buying a coffee, getting on a train or a bus, and meeting new people in all situations, for example. Engaging in the recruitment process, even many years after their transition, remains a daunting process. There is always the continued anxiety of being rejected or facing discrimination because of biases around who they are, how they look or how they sound.

Organisations that train their hiring and HR teams to be welcoming and proactively inclusive to trans people, and actively encourage gender diverse individuals to apply for roles at all levels of seniority, are by far better places for all people to thrive in.

What can individuals personally do to help?

Please ask yourself “how would I respond to a trans person trusting me with their deepest secret?”  If you are not sure you could immediately respond in a positive and supportive way then now is the time to develop your knowledge, and work with your organisation to create an inclusive culture for gender diverse individuals to be the one who makes a difference.

Businesses are often judged by how they treat the most vulnerable members of their staff, how they treat their customers and the trust they build in their brand. Being authentically inclusive by embracing and celebrating all people, including those who are trans or non-binary, says a lot about who you are as an organisation.

About Joanne Lockwood

Joanne Lockwood is the founder and CEO of SEE Change Happen, an equality, diversity and inclusion practice specialising in providing transgender awareness and support to organisations and businesses throughout the UK, Europe and elsewhere.

As an international keynote conference speaker, Joanne delivers workshops, seminars, and engages with organisations to develop policy and best practises so that they are more inclusive for all people. She helps them challenge biases and helps them to develop a vision and strategy for conscious inclusion.

Joanne was a contributor and featured in the Channel 4 (UK) documentary, The Making of Me, broadcast in February 2019. This documentary was filmed over a 3-year period and detailed her own personal gender transition and its impact on those around her.

Joanne Lockwood Ceo See Change Happen


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