Gender transition, especially in the workplace, is never easy. Unless properly planned, it can be a complicated, nerve-wracking, and confusing process. However, transitioning is a liberating experience. For trans individuals, this is a chance to fully express their authentic selves and be accepted by peers for who they are.
Organizations should support employees who express the desire to transition. Making the workplace a safe place for them to come out communicates how valuable they are as a team member. It also demonstrates the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Despite their best interests, we know that some organizations are at a loss to properly manage gender transitioning in the workplace. In this article, we provide practical tips that go beyond a simple diversity and inclusion statement. It’s not enough that we tell trans employees that they are accepted; our policies and actions should demonstrate acceptance as well.
Managing Gender Transition in the Workplace
- Develop a transition plan together with the transitioning employee.
Gender transitioning involves a lot of decisions and steps that will fundamentally change a person and how other people interact with them. When one decides to fully embrace the traits of the gender they identify with, it usually involves changing their names, pronouns, registered sex, dress styles, and other gender expression characteristics. These can seem like a lot of changes not just for the trans employee but also for the people who frequently interact with them.
Every transition is different, and a good transition plan involves consulting the trans employee. It is up to them to determine what information can be shared and with whom. A good practice, especially at the beginning of the transition, is to share information only on a “need-to-know” basis. This helps protect the employee’s privacy and prevent preempting their transition.
It is also important to establish a clear timeframe for the transition. Identify key moments such as when peers will be informed, name/pronoun changes, access to gender-appropriate facilities, and personal leave time. Employers should provide the employee time off from work, so they can attend medical and legal appointments and other requirements related to the transition process.
- Create a core team who will support the employee’s gender transition.
During the transition, a core team consisting of managers and peers must be formed to support the trans employee. Again, the employee must be consulted on who will be included in this group.
If the trans employee experiences discrimination at any point, they must know they have a safe space for discussing the issue. Having a trusted circle helps ease the strain and alleviate the stress that transitioning in the workplace creates. Someone from management must be part of this group because they reinforce the leadership’s support for gender transitions.
The group should also help answer questions about the employee’s transition. It’s normal for other staff members to start wondering why someone is suddenly wearing a different uniform or going to a different toilet. The support group can answer these questions with a reaffirmation of the employee’s valuable contributions and the company’s core principles.
Company leaders must stress policies on zero-tolerance for bullying and discrimination during this process. It must be clear that the workplace is an inclusive place that offers equal opportunities.
- Prepare the facilities and documentation the trans employee will need in advance.
The use of the toilet is one of the most pressing issues for transgenders. The 2015 US Transgender Survey revealed that 59% avoided public bathrooms for fear of confrontations and 31% avoided eating or drinking to reduce trips to the restroom. During transitioning, transgenders who decide to undergo medical treatments experience body changes similar to puberty. Depriving them of the right to an accessible bathroom is inhumane.
The ideal solution is to adopt a mix of gender-neutral, female, and male toilets and make them accessible to everyone. Let the employees choose the toilets they want. Don’t simply designate another bathroom, like the disabled toilets, as gender-neutral.
Also, don’t mandate trans employees to use a specific toilet, even if it’s a unisex one, because it can make matters worse. In everything, always consult transitioning employees about their preferences. This also goes towards the use of other gender-related facilities like locker rooms.
Gender transition requires the change of personal identification documents such as company ID, email signature, staff photo, employee badge, and others. It’s better if these changes are made before the employee’s official transition date to avoid confusion.
Hold a staff briefing to inform everyone about these changes. These can also be the venue for asking questions. The transitioning employee should have the freedom to attend or not and must be the one to decide if the briefing will be conducted by email, face-to-face meeting, or in small group settings.
- Conduct training to prepare colleagues and help them develop empathy.
Sometimes, well-meaning individuals want to ensure a smooth transition for their colleagues but are unaware of how to do so. Others may not understand what’s happening, and their ignorance may cause harm.
Workplace training aims to broaden perspectives and prepare colleagues for what will happen. It’s best to conduct these prior to the official transition to help the entire team build empathy for what their peer will go through. These sessions should also be safe places where they can ask questions.
Training shouldn’t be limited to only when a gender transition will happen. Continuing education on gender issues and inclusive practices must be a regular company practice. Make resources on diversity and inclusion readily available for anyone who wishes to learn more. Conduct refresher courses for new staff and those who wish to be updated with the latest trends.
Companies can always tap professionals trained in DEI practices to conduct this training for them. DEI professionals can also help organizations manage the daunting tasks involved in gender transition by providing consultations, resources, referrals, and other related services. When tapping external support, always make sure that the transitioning employee feels comfortable doing it.
- Offer continuing and regular support.
Gender transition is not a one-time event. It’s a process that doesn’t end with the employee changing names and uniforms. Medical treatments and surgeries take years to complete, and even without it, the adjustment phase alone takes time.
It’s important to make your employee feel safe and supported even after the official transition announcement is over. Provide regular check-ins to know how they’re doing and offer continued access to professional support that they can talk to any time. Reinforce your company’s zero-tolerance for discrimination and bullying and make sure any perpetrators are dealt with. Implement inclusive policies and programs such as LGBTQ ally networks, and inclusivity training.
Managing gender transition in the workplace is not an easy task. However, we shouldn’t leave a trans employees to manage transitioning on their own. It takes the entire workplace to create a smooth process that makes the individual feel safe, valued and loved.
We hope the tips above help you implement a successful transition. Always remember that transitions are unique and consultation with the trans employee is important. If you need help with inclusivity training, gender transition checklists, coaching, and DEI consultations, you can always reach out to us. We’d be happy to help.