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It’s #TransAwareness Month

History was made this month when seven “out” transgender people were elected to public office on November 7th.

These victories are a sign of future success for people who are working towards having more trans* inclusive workplaces and communities focused on the skills and talents individuals bring to the table. However, for employers who are not familiar with the transgender community, new challenges arise a multi-gender workforce and its impact on Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) initiatives. This year IBIS is actively bringing attention to the transgender community and educating the public through a four-part article series.

One way to create inclusion is to illuminate Transgender Awareness Month (November) and Trans Awareness Week (November 13-20) which ends on Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) which honors the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. Trans Awareness Week’s purpose is to help raise the visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues the community faces.

More Context to Consider

When we educate ourselves on transgender issues, we create a safer workplace for all genders and invite employees to be their authentic selves at work. Our authentic self is who we are at our core, the culmination of our beliefs, skills and how we express these. A person who chooses to transition to another gender identity or expression is owning their authentic self.

To ensure that can happen for people of all gender identities and expressions, it’s important to have a common understanding of the terms and language used to respectfully refer to those in this community.

The Genderbread Person helps us think of gender identity and gender expression on a spectrum.

  • Gender identity is how, in your head you define your gender, based on how much you align (or don’t align) with what you understand to be the options of gender.
  • Gender expression are the ways you present gender through your actions, dress and demeanor, and how those presentations are interpreted based on gender norms.
  • Biological sex refers to the physical characteristics you’re born with and develop, including genitalia, body shape, voice pitch, body hair, hormones, chromosomes etc.

Starting with this as our foundation, it is critical to point out that there is no “cookie cutter” way that transgender people are and or transition if they so choose.

Adopt Inclusive Language

This can all be very confusing as an employer, a manager or a co-worker, so it’s helpful to think of this adaption of a well-known “rule”: Do unto others as they would have done unto them. Simply put, ask others how they want to be treated and addressed. If you’re confused, have some courage and ask people specifically how you can support them, celebrate them, and, for example, what pronouns to use. (she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/their, ze/hir/hirs, ey/em/eir)

There are dozens of terms and definitions associated with gender. [1] It is important to highlight a few more to help dispel some myths.

  • Trans* is an umbrella term covering a range of identities that transgress socially defined gender norms. Trans with an asterisk is often used in written forms (not spoken) to indicate that you are referring to the larger group nature of the term, and specifically including non-binary identities, as well as transgender men (transmen) and transgender women (transwomen).
  • Cisgender is a person whose sex assigned at birth and gender identity align. If a person is not transgender, they are cisgender.
  • Gender Fluid is a gender identity best described as a dynamic mix of male and female. A person who is gender fluid may always feel like a mix of the two traditional genders, but may feel more man some days, and more woman other days.
  • Non-binary is an umbrella term for “all genders”. Non-binary people do not feel male or female. Not all non-binary people identify as trans and not all trans people identify as non-binary.
  • Third Gender is a person who does not identify with either man or woman, but identifies with another gender. This gender category is used by societies that recognize three or more genders, both contemporary and historic, and is also a conceptual term meaning different things to different people who use it, as a way to move beyond the gender binary. An example of this are the people who identify as being of two-spirits in some Native American cultures. The Lhamana (Zuni), Winkte (Lakota) and Nadleehi and Dilbaa (Navajo) are traditional third-genders that are recognized.
  • Transgender is a person who lives as a member of a gender other than that assigned a birth based on anatomical sex. A trans person can be straight, gay bisexual, queer, or any sexual orientation.
  • Transsexual is a person who identifies psychologically as a gender/sex other than the one to which they were assigned at birth. Transsexuals often wish to transform their bodies hormonally and surgically to match their inner sense of gender/sex.
  • Transvestite is a person who dresses as the binary opposite gender expression (“cross-dresses”) for any one of many reasons. A transvestite should not be confused with a transsexual person. A drag-king or drag-queen fall into this category.

As you can see, within the Trans* umbrella, there is a tremendous amount of diversity.

Openly Transgender at Work

If you are not transgender, it’s helpful to understand that there are some advantages and disadvantages for someone to “come out” as transgender at work. As an employer, understanding this is an important step toward inclusion.

Some benefits to building an inclusive company where employees feel save to “come out”:

  • Employees come to work as their authentic selves
  • Stress reduction from not having to “hide” any longer, this can result in increased productivity
  • More workplace role models for inclusion
  • Increased camaraderie and support from other transgender colleagues and allies
  • A deeper understanding of transgender people that benefits the workplace and extends beyond it

Some risks to an environment of exclusion where people don’t feel safe to “come out”:

  • Difficult and unproductive working relationships between co-workers who don’t understand or “agree with” each other
  • Personal confusion without a baseline understanding of the transgender community and the connection to company values in support of D&I
  • Trans* employees simply may not feel physical or psychological safety, undermining the strengths they bring to the workplace
  • Employees experience an ongoing fear of losing their jobs, decreasing morale and loyalty, or they choose to leave the workplace on their own, driving down retention numbers and increasing recruitment costs

There are many ways for trans* people to become “visible” at work. As an employer, you can create a safe space for those who chose to be open about being transgender, making it a safe and respectful environment for that employee.

  • If your role is in Human Resources, you can be a Diversity Champion for the person transitioning, supporting them through working with health insurers, creating bathroom equity, and other daily concerns for that person.
  • Creating a trans* inclusive environment impacts the Learning & Development teams as new training for supervisors, project teams, and the broader organization will need to be developed and implemented. Many companies call this a Transgender 101 course.
  • Equally as important, increasing all employees’ understanding how to be an ally to an individual who is gender fluid, non-binary, transitioning or “coming out” as transgender is a critical step in creating an inclusive organization.

We look forward to sharing more information on these areas as we share our series on Trans Awareness in the coming months.

[1] Killermann, Sam. A Guide to Gender The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook. Impetus Books, 2007.

Zalika Winitzer is a Consultant at IBIS driving diversity and inclusion projects and solutions for organizations and universities. Her extensive expertise in organizational analysis, project management, and group facilitation married with her passion for exploring the multitude of dimensions of diversity create successful project outcomes.