Many people believe that “transgender” means a man dressed in women’s clothing or a woman with a “butch” appearance. In reality, the term goes much deeper. Transgender people are those who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. They feel they were born in the wrong body and prefer to live according to the gender they identify with.
The transgender person may also be homosexual, or they may not. Failing to understand what it truly means to be transgender can lead to a whole host of problems for an employer, the transgender person, and their coworkers. Now that laws are changing to support transgender rights, employees need to understand their responsibilities to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace.
Understanding the “T” in LGBT
It is difficult to handle issues when you lack the basic understanding of what those issues are. An uneducated employer may not realize the importance of providing access to the bathroom according to the sex with which the individual now identifies. There is also the problem of being mistreated by coworkers.
According to Huffington Post, 90% of transgender people report being harassed or discriminated against in the workplace. Not only does this have a negative impact on the health and well-being of the transgender person, it is also against the law.
In the same article, Huffington Post mentions the availability of “Understanding the T in LGBT: Gender Identity and Gender Expression,” an online training program for employers. This program provides an easy-to-access guide on what transgender people need, and the legal and moral obligations of the employer to provide them.
A large number of companies are putting their efforts into making the other sections of the “LGBT” community a cohesive part of their workplace; it is the latter group who gets ignored the most. Obeying the laws regarding gender discrimination is not the only reason employers should implement a transgender policy. Forbes magazine explains that 51% of transgender people reported they would not work for an employer that did not have a LGBT policy in place. That means employers could lose out on talent that could be valuable to their company.
Another advantage to putting a policy in place that supports transgender people is that it gives multiple individuals the opportunity to work with others who have a similar mindset. By providing a transgender policy that is visible to every employee and implemented in every area of the business, the employer creates an atmosphere of acceptance and respect.
Creating a Supportive Environment
Management sponsorship is another way to support transgender staff. Higher level management will be especially impactful when they take an active interest in changing attitudes toward transgender employees and in promoting transgender candidates into positions for which they are qualified without regard to their gender specification.
The Use of Restroom Facilities
One of the biggest areas of controversy in the workplace is the use of the restroom. Regardless of what point of the transition the individual is at, failing to allow them to use the restroom of their choice is considered gender discrimination. To further exacerbate the problem, some employers single out transgender employees by giving them permission to use the “other” bathroom if they are transgender, or providing a unisex bathroom separate from the facilities of traditional gender employees.
In many cases, if not singled out, the other employees will not even recognize that the person is transgender unless they decide to announce it. Any difference in appearance is likely to be minor and shouldn’t be an issue in the use of the restroom.
The attitude of coworkers largely starts at the top level of power. When the employer makes it clear that there will be no gender discrimination in the workplace, and that there is no leeway for employees who harass, discriminate, or otherwise mistreat a trans employee, everyone else is more likely to be understanding and supportive. A better understanding of what a transgender person is and a no-tolerance policy for gender discrimination are a good start to creating a workplace that puts each employee on equal footing.