Transgender in the Workplace

26 Oct by HPA/LiveWell Clinical Psychology

Coming out as transgender in the workplace has become a more prevalent issue in recent years. A small number of people find that their birth gender does not match their gender identity; at birth we are typically labelled either “boy” or “girl”, but more recognition has been given to the groups of individuals who do not fit into these two rigid boxes. These people are living examples that gender embraces a variety of different identities and experiences.

When someone transitions their gender, it generally refers to the process of changing from the gender that they were assigned at birth, into the one that they identify with. For many people, the obstacles that they encounter will be more than just the physical difficulties of transitioning; gender reassignment is a very personal process and will look and feel different to everyone.

The bravest thing that a transgender person can do, is to step across the threshold and into the outside world. It can leave them vulnerable to potential verbal and physical abuse, and as a result, may have a huge strain on their mental health. For this reason, it is particularly vital for them to have a safe space, like the workplace, for them to be themselves.

If you, or someone that you know, is struggling with anxiety around transitioning, then we at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY can help.

Coming Out as Transgender in the Workplace

It is entirely up to the individual when, and how, they come out. Some people may choose to transition socially before they present themselves as their preferred gender in the workplace. However, when they do come out at work, they may choose to make an announcement, tell everyone individually, or tell just a select few people. Whatever they feel comfortable with, is the way in which they should approach it.

No matter what way in which a person chooses to deal with their transition, work should be a safe space for them. It may be the only place in which they feel secure. However, just because someone feels out and content as transgender in the workplace, does not mean that they have the same respect and understanding in the other domains of their lives. It is a stressful time for most and requires a lot of resilience. It is normal to experience high levels of anxiety during transitioning, and therefore, it may be useful to have the knowledge about how to manage anxiety and mental health during this time.

Furthermore, what we should all remain cognizant and vigilant about, is that despite that fact that a workplace may be open and accepting, there has been a surge in hostile attitudes towards transgender people in recent years, which is undeniably related to the political stance of some world leaders.

Transgender Issues in the Workplace

While employers should endeavor to show understanding and support, some company’s policies, while typically well meaning, can lead to discrimination in the workplace. The following are some key issues that people coming out as transgender may encounter in the workplace:

  • Harassment – many transgender people suffer from bullying and harassment in the workplace. It is vital that employers have a policy in place to protect against this, but they should also remain vigilant, especially regarding their more vulnerable employees. A separate policy which protects the rights of transgender employee’s may be necessary.
  • Ignorance – many people will have a lack of understanding around what it means to be transgender in the workplace. They might not know the appropriate terminology to use, and what is unacceptable. They may also want to know how to support their transitioning colleagues. This may be mitigated through appropriate training on the various issues around being transgender in the workplace, as well as how to create a welcome and inclusive environment.
  • Discrimination – transitioning employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This means that they cannot be treated less favorably than their colleagues because they are transgender. However, discrimination can still occur from ignorance. Education of staff, as well as understanding legal rights, is an important step towards protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace.
  • Practicalities – this is an issue that concerns many people as they transition. Common practical issues for transgender people in the workplace include: access to toilets and changing facilities, dress code, and when and how to inform people of their transition. There are also issues around pronouns and how to refer to a person. The best thing to do, is to ask the employee about how they wish to handle it. Seeking advice from an outside source that supports transgender issues may also be advisable.
  • Policies and procedures – written policies and documents around procedures should support transgender employees in regards the type of language used and the general operational

Transgender Rights in the Workplace

Not taking the steps to provide an inclusive environment for all employees is no longer an option for employers. They are liable for their behavior, as well as their staff’s behavior, in regard to providing a space which is free from harassment, bullying, and discriminatory actions.

In order to ensure that their employees are protected both physically and mentally, employers should enforce anti-harassment and bullying policies, as well as equality and diversity training. They should also consider establishing a separate transgender policy to ensure that all staff feel comfortable and free to be themselves in the workplace.

If you have concerns about mental health while you, or someone that you know, is transitioning, then you can find out more about the mental health services provided at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY or contact us at 518-218-1188.