It takes more than just a rainbow version of your logo or a carefully crafted public statement to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. Beyond ensuring their corporate donations aren’t supporting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, companies can and should be doing more to support the LGBTQ+ community, especially within their own walls.
In particular, many employers continue to struggle with providing trans-inclusive workplaces, sometimes focusing more on the “LGB” than on the “TQ+.” In fact, trans employees face extremely high rates of discrimination, even compared to other minority groups. Approximately 2% of individuals in the US identify as transgender or non-binary–meaning their gender identity does not conform to what is typically associated with their sex assigned at birth–and the discrimination, hostility and pressure to “manage” their identity in the workplace can affect trans employees’ emotional well-being, job satisfaction and desire to remain in a job. A 2015 survey of more than 27,000 trans employees in the U.S. found that 77% hid their gender identity, quit their jobs or took other steps to avoid mistreatment at work.
A workplace that does not foster trans inclusivity not only hurts the individual but also the business. U.S. companies lose an estimated $64 billion annually when they have to replace employees–many of them from the LGBTQ+ community–who leave because of discrimination or unfairness. While creating a trans inclusive environment should not be about making a profit or avoiding litigation, businesses should nevertheless understand there is a cost to inaction.
Over the years, my colleagues and I have interviewed and surveyed more than a thousand employees within the transgender community to better understand their work experiences and how companies might drive greater trans inclusivity at work. From those conversations, a number of strong themes emerged.
First, it’s important that companies establish formal policies that foster inclusivity. While landmark legislation recently extended Title VII to cover employees’ gender identity, we know that these kinds of protections are not enough to ensure that discrimination is eliminated at work. Thus, it’s key that more proximal policies also send a strong message of support to the trans community. This includes, for example, formal organizational policies that allow employees to use the bathroom of their choice, as well as requiring the presence of gender-neutral bathrooms (all of which must have trash cans for disposal of menstrual products).
Other constructive formal steps might include dress code policies that allow all employees to wear professional clothing of their choice, regardless of which gender they are stereotypically associated with, and policies that ensure employees’ names are accurately recorded in HR systems. Asking all employees to provide pronouns in email signatures is also an inclusive practice which demonstrates commitment to ensuring that everyone’s gender identity is respected at work.
Second, employers should ensure they are covering gender transitions in their benefits. Not all transgender individuals wish to have surgery, but many do. For these employees, the costs can be prohibitive, and appropriate coverage is necessary in order to decrease their financial burden. Supplying information regarding where to find treatment options and providing organizational support groups for the LGBTQ+ community can help employees find the transition-related resources they need. Further, leaders should model inclusive behaviors toward transitioning employees and cultivate an environment in which they feel comfortable while transitioning. By learning from employees who are transitioning, employers can better provide a safe environment for both them and future employees as they transition.
Third, employers should recognize that not all employees will have had contact with transgender individuals in the past. For this reason, instituting diversity training that includes trans-inclusivity content is key, and hiring diversity training firms that have trans individuals on staff can help employees learn directly from members of the community. Allowing employees the opportunity to learn and grow their capacity for inclusivity will make it more likely that the work environment will be not only be free from discrimination, but actively inclusive.
Finally, to effectively address discrimination if and when it does occur, employees need a formal reporting process that is responsive to their concerns. They also need support for their emotional and mental well-being. While “band-aid” solutions should never serve as stand-alone responses to discrimination, the reality is that experiencing discrimination at work is stressful. Organizations may alleviate that stress by providing tools that may improve trans employees’ well-being after being mistreated by others. Specifically, research shows that mindfulness tools may allow employees to recover more effectively from negative work experiences, as more concrete solutions are devised.
Not least, effective diversity and equity practices positively impact the productivity of all employees. When people feel totally authentic and connected with their organizations, they can achieve their full potential at work. Organizations that strive for and succeed at building truly inclusive workplaces are creating a corporate legacy that prioritizes human dignity and believes employee well-being is fundamental to its success.