Think about the last time you filled out a standard form. Maybe it was at work, at a medical office, or an organization you support. There it is, the almost ubiquitous question: check the box for male or female. Checking that box might be so automatic you don’t think about it; however, for your transgender coworkers, friends, family or neighbors that question can be complex and frightening. Even those who are accepting and inclusive may have difficulty understanding the daily dilemmas encountered by someone whose gender identity is not easily articulated.
According to the Catalyst Information Center, “gender identity refers to an individual’s innate sense of being a woman or a man, regardless of her or his biological sex.” Today’s organizational leaders must understand that gender identity issues are part of an inclusive workplace environment. It is estimated that in American or Western European populations, estimates for transgender women are between 1:11,900 and 1:45,000. For transgender men, population estimates are between 1:30,400 and 1:200,000. It is likely that these estimates are low due to fear of reporting and the relatively recent emergence of data studies. As competition for talented and qualified workers grows, each organization must include gender identity in recruitment and retention policies and practices. It is not only the transgender individuals themselves that must be considered, it is other employees who value co-workers, family members, and friends. They are also looking for supportive and inclusive workplaces.
Where do you start in ensuring that gender identity is part of your diversity plan? Ben Hladilek, Vice President for Human Resources at JP Morgan Chase, writes that “what we have found in our recruiting efforts is that individuals will often look for signals about what a culture is like; having gender identity protection signals we are a diversity leader and are serious about providing an inclusive environment”. Demonstrate your commitment directly by adding gender identity to the list of characteristics included in your non-discrimination policy. At least 66% of Fortune 500 companies explicitly include gender identity in their policies.
What next? Focusing on positive and practical actions that support transgender individuals sends a powerful message.
- Allow transgender employees to use their preferred name and choice of pronoun.
- Dress codes should avoid stereotypes and gender-specific mandates.
- Ensure that transgender employees have access to an appropriate restroom that matches their presenting gender or—at their preference—a gender-neutral restroom.
- Employers should establish transgender-inclusive health benefits, including official protocols for gender transition.
Organizational diversity training should include gender identity issues. As with any topic that evokes varying opinions and emotions, factual information and open communication breaks down barriers. At the Chubb Corporation, “the organization had a tough time expanding its focus on transgender inclusion. However, by inviting a transgender spokesperson from the financial services industry, Chubb was able to put a face on the issue, which resonated with the audience”.
Creating a workplace where ALL employees feel safe and valued establishes a strong sense of commitment. This keeps your team’s attention on your mission and goals, just as it should be.