Discussions about transgender and non-binary people have dominated the media and press in recent years, for better and for worse. Transgender people make up a very small percentage of the population, with estimates between 1-2%. However, ongoing discussion and narratives around trans and non-binary lives seem to forget that at the heart of it are human beings. Everyone deserves to be able to come to work and be comfortable and authentic without fear or judgement.
At Mermaids we’re seeing more young people coming out as transgender or non-binary, with a demand for our support services increasing by over 500% over the last five years. We attribute this to increased visibility of trans people in popular culture, language about gender identity quickly evolving and social media making it easier than ever for people to find others like them. Acceptance of gender diversity outside binary ‘norms’ is also becoming more widespread amongst younger generations.
Research from Stonewall found almost two in five non-binary people aren’t ‘out’ at work, and that one in four trans people aren’t open with colleagues about their identity. It’s not only the right thing to do for employers to create inclusive and welcoming environments, but should organisations not take trans inclusion seriously, they could become left behind and lose out on potential talent, both cis and transgender.
Strong policies lay the foundations of inclusive workplaces. To ensure trans young people feel safe at your organisation, your antibullying and harassment policies should explicitly include examples of transphobia and commit to a zero tolerance approach. This means that if someone needs to report a transphobic incident, they will have confidence that they will be heard. Trans people are protected by the Equality Act under the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.
A recent tribunal judgement, Taylor V JLR, found that non-binary individuals also fall under this protected characteristic. This ground-breaking ruling showed non-binary and gender-fluid employees are clearly protected from discrimination under the Equality Act. Before this ruling, the level of protection the Equality Act offered was unclear.
Many employers now have specific policies in place to support transgender staff should they want to transition at work. These policies should outline the support that trans employees can expect from the organisation, including info around confidentiality, dress code and leave entitlement, should they need to take any for their transition.
This information should be accompanied by guidance for line managers on implementing the policy and information available to all staff should they have questions about what it means to be transgender. Of course, having good policies on their own is not enough. Regular communication of policies to all staff that they are available, alongside consistent, effective staff training on their implementation, is essential.
Transgender people can fall victim to employer’s bureaucracy and the need for certain documentation as well as old systems that don’t recognise the true spectrum of gender identity. A trans person may have socially transitioned and use a name that doesn’t match their official documents. This can create barriers (real or perceived) for them at work. Non-binary people (those who do not exclusively identify as male or female) may come up against workplace systems that only recognise two genders, without any space to self-describe. This means that not only are they not being affirmed in their gender identity; but the organisation will be failing to recognise the diversity of its staff.
To ensure your organisation is embedding trans inclusion at every step, a careful review of your employee lifecycle, from hiring through to on-boarding and training, with a trans inclusive lens, will help ensure you are not creating barriers for potential and current trans staff to be themselves at work. While non-binary identities are not yet recognised in law, many organisations are going beyond legislation to provide support for the trans staff by creating provisions/workarounds to ensure everyone is seen as themselves.
LGBTQI+ employee resource groups (ERGs) are now commonplace at organisations. They create vital routes for staff to support organisations on their inclusion work and create safe spaces for them to voice concerns. They can also be amazing drivers of real change within work cultures. LGBTQI+ is a broad acronym and ERGs should ensure that all identities under the umbrella are being accounted for. Should this not be the case, some staff may feel that the group is not for them and self-select out of joining events or engaging in their work.
To remedy this, ensure your steering committee assigns responsibility to members to guarantee each ‘pillar’ of the community is accounted for, in this case transgender and non-binary people. They may not share this identity but they will be responsible for ensuring that they are being represented through work streams and at events.
Visibility and Allyship
Every March 31st is Trans Day of Visibility, an opportunity for organisations to platform trans role models from within and outside their organisation. The adage ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ is especially relevant here. Trans and non-binary people in the workplace may not be open about their identity at work. Seeing trans people celebrated at an organisational level and/or from senior leaders will not only start conversations, it can make trans employees feel recognised. You can also mark events like Pride, Trans Awareness Week and Trans Day of Remembrance.
There are simple steps you can take to be a positive ally to trans people in the workplace. We recommend:
Learning about the key issues from LGBTQ+ sources – education of the challenges facing the community is key.
If comfortable doing so, add your pronouns to your email signature e.g. My pronouns are he/him, they/them, she/her. This shows others you are considerate of trans inclusion. We would also strongly discourage use of the phrase ‘preferred pronouns’ in this context.
Being humble and not feeling you have to have all the answers. If you make mistakes, acknowledge and move on. If you don’t know something, take the initiative to find out more.