7 Ways To Make Your Workplace Safer For Trans People

June 18, 2019

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I found myself in an unsupportive work environment recently. Now, when I say “unsupportive,” I don’t just mean that they were unwilling to wait for my confidence to build while learning a new skillset, (though that may also be true). What I mean here is that my direct bosses were not only new to the idea of using gender neutral language for an employee, but they were unwilling to learn, try, and be corrected. Thankfully I had an ally in this space, a coworker who had my back and let me know about the mockery that was going on when I wasn’t around.

Due to the nature of this disrespect, I excused myself from the position. I didn’t feel safe knowing that the people in power at that particular workplace saw my nonbinary gender identity as an inconvenience. They saw it as strange, and didn’t hide it. These folks didn’t want to learn. They had no interest in growing.

This got me thinking about those that do want to learn and grow. As millennials and generation z start really taking over the workplace, our societal values around gender identity have to evolve. We need to become more educated and anticipate diversity. These generations in particular are getting more progressive and fluid by the minute. NBC News stated that a GLAAD survey found that 20% of millennials identify as LGBTQ, a rise from the 7% of baby boomers who identify as LGBTQ. Additionally, this article states that younger folks are increasingly deciding to use non-traditional language to identify their queerness. So, if you plan on hiring any younger employees in the near future, the likelihood of them being part of the LGBTQ community is on the rise! Clearly, we have to get on board!

Trans people like myself are at especially high risk for experiencing discrimination and microaggressions in the workplace. Instances like my most recent workplace experience happen far too often and it’s unacceptable. We have to change our spaces to be more accepting and supportive of trans people.

7 Ways To Make Your Workplace Safer For Trans People

Ask for pronouns on applications

One of the simplest ways you can get the ball rolling with becoming a more inclusive workplace is to include a line on your job application that asks what pronouns the applicant uses. This not only signals to trans and nonbinary folks that you value their pronouns, but also gives you a heads up on what to use before you even speak to them! Leave it a blank space though, don’t add options to choose from. There are many different pronoun possibilities and you don’t want to leave anyone out. Make sure you have conversations with management and employees about what this section of the application means.

Side note: The term “Preferred Pronouns,” has been used for quite a long time now. While it was a great way to start the conversation around pronouns, it implies that the person’s pronouns are optional. Set the tone for your workplace by making sure folks know that someone’s pronouns are not preferred – they’re mandatory.

Have a gender neutral/single stall bathroom option

Not all workplaces have gendered bathrooms, which makes this one a slam dunk for some of you. But for those of you who work somewhere with only traditional “men’s” and “women’s” bathroom options, advocate for change! Even making note that a single stall bathroom is available as the gender neutral stall could provide some serious relief for your trans and nonbinary employees.

Enforce a bathroom policy that advocates for and protects trans and nonbinary people’s right to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity – regardless of name and legal documentation. Make sure all employees are aware of this policy.

Practice pronouns

One of the most important parts of learning about pronouns is to make sure you’re practicing behind the person’s back! You have to do your homework. It’s crucial that you make it a point to catch yourself, change your language, and keep moving the conversation forward even when the person is not in the room.

Oftentimes, it feels scary to make the mistake in front of a trans or nonbinary person who uses pronouns you’re not used to. Many people are just simply afraid of hurting their peer’s feelings. Most trans and nonbinary folks are patient, and understand that these changes in language don’t happen overnight. Still, the change gets easier with practice, and we can tell when you haven’t been doing your homework!

Get comfortable with being called out

This is a hard one for a lot of people, myself included! Perhaps “being called out,” isn’t the best way to phrase this. But it does capture the general idea. When you’re learning a new topic – any topic – you’re not always going to get it right. There’s a certain part of the learning process where you simply don’t know what you don’t know! That’s okay. It’s okay to make mistakes and in order to learn you have to become comfortable with being called out on those mistakes.

When it comes to learning about a marginalized identity, you really want to make sure that even in your learning process, you’re remembering that it is not that community member’s responsibility to educate you. Nor is it their responsibility to make you feel better for making a mistake. This comes up a lot when a person with privilege, for example, a cisgender person makes a mistake and upon correction, apologizes profusely and then turns the focus to themselves. It requires emotional labor from the trans or nonbinary person and takes away from your attempt at learning if you require a trans person to feel badly for correcting you. Allow that person to correct you. Its a good thing.

Check out the examples below to see the wrong way, and the right way to be corrected!

Wrong Way
Person A, pointing to their peer: “Did you know he missed work yesterday?”
Person B, pointed at: “I use they/them pronouns.”
Persona A: “Oh my god that’s right I’m so sorry! Shit, I never mess up when I talk about you to other people I can’t believe I did that! Ugh, I’m the worst, please forgive me.”

Right Way
Person A, pointing to their peer: “Did you know he missed work yesterday?”
Person B, pointed at: “I use they/them pronouns.”
Persona A: “I apologize, did you know they missed work yesterday? They’re going to have a lot of meetings today!”

Trans competency training

You know all about professional development and trainings. Maybe your boss requires you to participate in certain training sessions throughout the year to keep you up to date on changes and refresh your skills that the job requires. LGBTQ competency training is a THING! Sometimes it’s called something like “cultural competency training.” The goal of these trainings is to teach employees/providers how to properly care for minority groups that too often go underserved.

Whether you have clients, customers, or any employees at all, competency training is a must. It can provide your team with the adequate language, skilled problem solving, and knowledge necessary to be qualified to work with the LGBTQ public. These professional development and personal growth trainings are the best way to bring in an expert with up to date information and will improve the quality of your workplace and the services you provide.

Hold others accountable for misgendering, microaggressions etc

Microaggressions are often indirect, very subtle, comments or actions, that show discrimination against someone of a marginalized group. These microaggressions can be unintentional, and still, require attention to keep people feeling safe in your workplace.

Have a plan in place for how to handle microaggressions in the workplace. Make sure your team understands the value in creating a safe environment for their trans and/or nonbinary peers. If someone says something harmful to/about a trans person, be the kind of leader that encourages employees to report these microaggressions. Support and uplift employees who are also doing the work by holding others accountable or reporting harm. This will help your team build trust in you to look out for them.

Update your systems and protect privacy

To be honest, it still astounds me how often I run into issues related to my birth name and my actual name not aligning. It’s not only frustrating, but it’s also embarrassing and quite scary when forced to share this discrepancy with new people.

Think about your hiring process: How many people currently look at job applications and legal documents like tax information or paychecks? Is there a way to minimize harm to your trans employees and protect their privacy by having these documents see less hands? Is there a way to update your online system that allows space for a note to be added that a certain employee must only be called the name they introduced themself with?

These are the changes in the workplace that often go unaddressed. This could be because it doesn’t always occur to folks that these issues exist until a trans person encounters them. Taking a little time to problem solve around these issues can truly make the world of a difference for a trans or nonbinary person to feel safer in your workplace.

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