LGBT inclusion blog series: focus on transgender and non-binary workers

By Dr Luke Fletcher, Associate Professor, University of Bath School of Management.

Inclusion and diversity is an increasingly important area within people management practice, and our People Profession 2030 report also highlights this will continue to be a key driver of change in the future. One area that organisations focus on is LGBT inclusion This general grouping of LGBT refers to those who are either not heterosexual (i.e., a sexual orientation other than straight) and/or not cisgender (i.e., a gender identity that is not the exact same as the one given by birth). LGBT therefore includes a wide array of alternative gender identities (e.g., non-binary) and sexual orientations (e.g., queer) that are not within the acronym itself.

However, by categorising sexual orientation and gender identity within the same umbrella grouping, important nuances in experiences and challenges related to gender identity tend to get missed. Those who are transgender (referred to as ‘trans’) or non-binary tend not to have as strong a voice and tend to be marginalised more in the workplace. Therefore, we recognise this in our Inclusion at work: perspectives on LGBT+ working lives , where we explore the experiences and perceptions of trans and non-binary workers in the UK separately from those related to sexual orientation. In this blog we highlight some key findings and offer some starting recommendations for people professionals to think about.

The challenges surrounding being open about being trans or non-binary in the workplace

Although 39% of trans and non-binary workers stated they are open to most people at work, our report also found that over a quarter of trans and non-binary workers are not open at all about their gender identity in the workplace. The figures suggest that many find disclosing and being open about their gender identity in the workplace difficult and challenging. Non-binary workers are particularly less likely to be open about their gender identity. Our research suggests those who are more open about their gender identity at work are more likely to feel a sense of affiliation and pride about being trans or non-binary, and be their authentic and full self at work.

What might be preventing trans and non-binary people from being open and authentic at work?

Our research suggests that workplace conflict is potentially much higher for trans and non-binary workers compared with heterosexual, cisgender counterparts - 55% of our trans and non-binary respondents had experienced a conflict at work over a period of 12 months compared with 29% of heterosexual/cisgender counterparts, with the most common being related to feeling undermined and humiliated at work. Moreover, most conflicts were reported as not being resolved - between 40% to 80% depending on the type of conflict. This may explain why many trans and non-binary workers do not feel psychologically safe at work. – only 35% reported high levels of psychological safety.

We also find that active support and allyship from colleagues may be perceived as lacking by trans and non-binary workers even though heterosexual, cisgender workers may report that they want to be allies to trans and non-binary colleagues. For example, 89% of heterosexual, cisgender workers we surveyed report that they would stand up for a trans worker if they faced a conflict at work, but just over half of our trans and non-binary respondents state they feel that their heterosexual, cisgender colleagues would stand up for them. In addition, there may be a discrepancy related to what people  professionals are putting in place at a more strategic level. We find that trans and non-binary workers tend to perceive that their workplaces aren’t putting in place adequate policies and practices that help protect, support, and nurture different forms of gender identities and expressions. For example, only 30% agreed that they thought their organisation provided adequate inclusion and diversity training that included gender/trans identity.

What support can people professionals and organisations put in place?

There are no magic bullets and or quick fix solutions for trans inclusion, as the issues at play are complex.  However, we acknowledge that people professionals may not be sure where to start when it comes to trans and non-binary inclusion. Therefore, here are some general do and don’t tips that we suggest, based on our research. We provide some links to some extra guidance at the end, which you may find useful.

Dos:

  • Do run an audit of HR policies and overall people management strategy. Scrutinise the extent to which gender identity is addressed across the range of policies and strategies. Identify specific areas where trans and non-binary people may be disadvantaged or excluded. This is like an equality impact assessment yet is more specific and finer grained. If you don’t have a specific gender identity and/or transitioning at work policy, it may be important to develop one. It is important that you seek external expertise and advice where necessary as this could be one of the more difficult areas to work on.

  • Do promote allyship and social support across the organisation. There are many ways you could do this. At the everyday level, promote trans inclusive language and use of personal pronouns in meetings and in emails. Build this into inclusion and diversity training packages and initiatives, and make sure you cover gender identity in these trainings. Encourage people across the organisation to become allies or champions where they are given bespoke training and guidance on how to act as advocates for trans and non-binary people, and as enforcers who can spot and deal with problematic norms and behaviours within work teams.

  • Do put together specific guidance and training for line managers. Line managers are often the first port of call when an employee wants some immediate help and support. However, line managers are often not best equipped with the knowledge and experience to deal with complex cases surrounding gender identity and expression. People professionals can put together some basic guidance documentation, bespoke training, and advice/lunch and learn sessions to help develop best support any of their team who may be trans or non-binary.

Don’ts

  • Don’t assume you don’t need to do anything because there is no-one visibly out as trans or non-binary in the organisation. Often organisations include sexual orientation to some degree in their general inclusion/diversity policies, but gender identity is not the same as sexual orientation – there are unique challenges and experiences that need to be understood and catered for. Think carefully about how employee data/equality monitoring surveys ask about gender/gender identity and about sexual orientation. Be mindful that trans and non-binary people will be diverse in terms of sexual orientation as well.

  • Don’t make HR systems too bureaucratic and impersonal to navigate. One of the core barriers trans and non-binary people face in the workplace is regarding changing their gender identity/status, preferred and formal names, and pronouns used in formal communications. Provide support and linkages between the technological infrastructure and the practical policies/practices being embedded in the organisation.

  • Don’t make assumptions about what a trans or non-binary person needs. Every trans and non-binary person will be on their own unique journey with their own specific needs regarding potential transitioning arrangements etc. Some may want others to know about their gender identity, others will not. Find ways to communicate and involve a wide range of gender identities and expressions in decision-making regarding inclusion strategy and practice, for example utilising LGBT staff networks or trade union representatives.

 

This blog is the second in a series that will explore the key issues and recommendations for people professions from our report Inclusion at work: perspectives on LGBT+ working lives.

 

For more resources and information regarding gender identities and terminology please visit:

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