How to Communicate an Employee's Gender Transition Respectfully

March 19, 2024
How to Communicate an Employee's Gender Transition Respectfully
Change can come in many forms. Companies that find ways to navigate these changes create opportunities for long-term success. One of the biggest changes companies have faced recently is learning how to support transgender employees. Having transgender individuals in the workplace is not a new occurrence; however, it is becoming more commonplace. Organizations need to create detailed policies to help these employees safely exist in their working environments. This includes finding ways to support them during a gender transition. Organizations must take a proactive approach. They need to build systems that support and protect transgender individuals in every aspect of their employment. Most companies are more than willing to take meaningful steps toward providing resources and support to employees who identify as transgender. We'll explain the importance of supporting transgender and transitioning employees, and outline ways companies can communicate an employee's gender transition respectfully.

Why companies must support transgender employees

A transgender person is someone whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex at birth. There are roughly 1.4 million transgender individuals in the United States. According to a report from the National Center for Transgender Equality, 90% of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals surveyed reported experiencing some form of harassment on the job or took action to avoid it. To deny that discrimination based on gender identity exists is more than irresponsible and insensitive. Federal laws strictly prohibit discrimination based on:
  • Gender identity
  • Gender transition
  • Sex assigned at birth
  • Transgender status
Companies are legally prohibited from:
  • Unfairly firing transgender employees
  • Refusing to hire an individual based on their gender identity
  • Harassing or discriminating against individuals who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming

Defining discrimination and harassment

Discrimination in the workplace and harassment in the workplace can look like many things, and sometimes it is less recognizable than others. Forms of harassment in the workplace can include:
  • Inappropriate jokes
  • Derogatory comments
  • Repeated and intentional misgendering through the use of names or pronouns
  • Invasive or personal questions
  • Physical threats or harm
Companies are legally required to protect transgender or transitioning individuals from harassment or discrimination. Also, organizations have a responsibility to provide employees with certain rights and protections. Some of these considerations include the right to safe access to restrooms and facilities consistent with an individual's gender identity. The right to privacy and the right to not be unfairly fired or reprimanded are also included. Many companies may struggle to know where to start. But there are steps that companies should take as soon as possible. This ensures that when the situation arises, they will already have an infrastructure in place to successfully handle it.

Tips for communicating an employee’s gender transition respectfully

Creating a detailed framework of support and resources for transitioning and transgender employees is vital. This helps ensure that the guidelines and expectations surrounding transgender employees are a part of the company culture.
Creating a detailed framework of support and resources for transitioning and transgender employees is vital.
It communicates those expectations to every employee within an organization, so there can be no confusion or misunderstanding.

Develop and document official policies addressing gender inclusiveness

Companies should make sure that specific non-discrimination policies are in place and documented as part of the standard operating procedures. Provide these policies to all new employees during the onboarding process, or even sooner. Employees need to be well informed of expectations surrounding their interactions with transgender coworkers. Companies need to make it crystal clear that no form of discrimination or harassment is acceptable. Without clear and documented guidelines, there is a risk that managers or HR executives may treat situations differently, inadvertently opening themselves up to problems. Every transgender employee who expresses their right to transition deserves fair and equal treatment. Having specific guidelines in place ensures this happens every time. Guidelines should include:
  • Individuals in a company tasked with helping transgender or transitioning employees manage their transition
  • What a transitioning employee can expect from the company and their managers
  • Procedures for implementing and communicating workplace changes, such as adjusting personnel records and communicating with coworkers
  • Answers to questions regarding pronouns, dress codes, restroom access, and more

Provide training programs to foster a culture of acceptance

While LGBTQIA+ issues are becoming more understood and culturally accepted, there are still many people who may not understand the importance of supporting transgender equality. Providing comprehensive training courses on non-discrimination practices and anti-harassment policies sets the tone for an organization. Training provides all employees with an even basis for understanding and communicates expectations regarding behavior in the workplace.

Designate a support team

Helping transgender employees feel comfortable and supported in their work environment needs to be a team effort. And it needs to start from the top. The support team should include a senior leader, HR professional, licensed counselor, and the employee's immediate manager or supervisor. It may be helpful to include other employees who are transgender or have undergone a transition if any are available. The goal of the support team is to show transgender employees that their company cares about them and their potential transition. It creates a safety net of professionals and executives working together to facilitate an environment that supports the individual in every way possible.

Have a singular point of contact

At least one person in the support group should be a permanent point of contact. Communicate this person’s role and responsibilities to all employees within the organization. This way, transgender individuals who wish to discuss a potential transition — or discuss any issues related to their treatment in the workplace — will know exactly where to go and who to speak to.

Communicate changes with coworkers

The scariest part of transitioning for many transgender employees is reactions from coworkers. The possibility of harassment, discrimination, and physical harm is a real threat for many transgender individuals. For this reason, companies must make a concerted effort to communicate plans to coworkers and emphasize expectations. The conversation should start with the designated support group. A small, personal meeting with the employee's immediate coworkers, or those they interact with the most, can help transgender workers feel safe and supported. Messaging and communications with all company employees need to come directly from top leadership officials or HR executives. This gives the messaging a sense of authority.

Be flexible and respect the individual’s wishes

Every situation and every employee will be different. Companies must listen to the needs of transgender employees and respect their privacy. Some individuals may want to transition quickly. Others may express the desire to do so slowly, over several weeks. Some others may never fully transition one way or the other. The choice is a personal one and has absolutely nothing to do with a company. While guidelines should always be in place to provide managers with a framework for action, each situation will require individual attention and care.

Follow up on employees' well-being

After an employee has transitioned, and throughout the experience, follow up on their well-being. Keep communication open so the employee feels comfortable sharing issues with coworkers that may arise during or after a transition. Every human being deserves respect and safety in the workplace. Companies that take proactive steps to assist and support employees who are transgender or transitioning will help cement their culture as one that values inclusiveness and diversity.

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