Workplaces must be more trans inclusive

The UK has made considerable advancements on sexuality inclusion at work over recent years, but we’re a lot further behind with trans awareness and inclusion. The next two weeks are UK Transgender Awareness Weeks, and, although this should definitely not be the only weeks of the year we act on trans inclusion, they are a reminder to kick-start action and to review how inclusive our organisations are, regardless of people’s gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.

From a legal perspective, protection against discrimination on the grounds of gender reassignment is part of the Equality Act 2010. The EHRC have produced advice guidance related to gender reassignment discrimination. They explain, ‘To be protected from gender reassignment discrimination, you do not need to have undergone any specific treatment or surgery to change from your birth sex to your preferred gender. This is because changing your physiological or other gender attributes is a personal process rather than a medical one. You can be at any stage in the transition process – from proposing to reassign your gender, to undergoing a process to reassign your gender, or having completed it’. There does not need to be any medical process so, for example, a transgender man who was assigned female at birth but has a male gender identity and lives as a man would be protected.

However, we know that many trans individuals experience discrimination, bullying or harassment and that needs to be stamped out.

  • Two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months . (1)
  • ‘42% of people not living permanently in their preferred gender role were prevented from doing so because they feared it might threaten their employment status’ (2)

Having clear policies on these issues, with examples of what transphobic behaviour looks like, sets the tone for what won’t be tolerated, as well as acting on all incidents of harassment and bullying.

There’s no universal experience of being trans (3) and no fixed way that a transgender person might engage with their organisation – it’s a personal process that will differ for each individual – but for most, it will go beyond just a need for legal advice. HR has an essential role to play in ensuring that transgender individuals, at whatever stage of their transition, feel included, supported and protected by their organisation. It’s also important to acknowledge that not all trans people will identify as male or female, but may identify as non-binary. Stonewall states, ‘best practice is to treat all individuals, including non-binary staff, as you would other people with protected characteristics. Going above and beyond the law, the most inclusive employers consider non-binary to be a protected characteristic’ .($)

To make sure your organisation is trans-inclusive, you need to critically assess your working practices and workplace culture, including:

  • Equipping line managers, who are often the first port of call for employees, with the understanding and capability to have conversations with individuals and provide the appropriate support. For those undergoing gender reassignment surgery, the process can be lengthy, and integration back to work should be made as smooth as possible. HR needs to work with the individual and their manager to make the process as supportive as possible.
  • Have a transitioning at work policy ensures everyone has the same information and that you have the right support framework in place for as long as it’s needed. However, the current implementation is very low – in a recent CIPD poll of HR professionals, over three-quarters (78%) said their organisation did not have a transitioning at work policy, while just 10% said they did. Stonewall has published a guide for how to create a transitioning at work policy, which we’d recommend. They also have step-by-step guides on supporting trans staff in the workplace.
  • Review your people management policies – employers and HR have a collective responsibility to ensure their people management practices do not exclude trans individuals, for example by using gender-neutral language.

Ultimately it’s a culture of respect and dignity for all employees that’s of paramount importance. This should be driven by senior management and focus on fostering respect to realise different perspectives matter and that diversity and inclusion is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation.

What are we doing at the CIPD?

We have an LGBT+ & Friends employee resource group who are working with all parts of the business to ensure inclusion is part of everyone’s job at CIPD.  

We recently held a lunch and learn session on trans inclusion and the steps organisations can take to be trans inclusive. Our speaker from Stonewall explained the difference between gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation and ran a practical exercise on terminology. All staff were invited and we recorded the session for our international and remote colleagues as well as our volunteers. The key aspect of making of lunch and learn sessions work is creating a safe environment where people feel able to ask questions to really understand the issues being discussed. We use the phrase Ruth Hunt used in the opening of the Stonewall conference – we look at each other with ‘kind eyes’, knowing that most people will have the best intentions but may unknowingly use the wrong language and welcome being corrected.

In a previous lunch and learn with Stonewall, they did an exercise with us where we talked about our weekends but couldn’t mention pronouns, place names or who we were with. It gave a very brief but powerful insight into how exhausting it must be to not feel you can be your real self at work or talk about anything to do with your private life. In a matter of fact way, the amount of concentration and effort that takes is a huge distraction from getting the job done. People should have the choice about how they present at work.

When we changed 4 of our toilets to being gender neutral, we first thought about doing a campaign or consultation. But we didn’t as we knew this change was overdue and staff support was evident on our intranet page.

We are only at the start of our journey but we’re happy to share what we’re doing and we want to learn from other organisations. We’d love to hear what you’re doing.


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