What to do when your employee comes out as transgender

Vancouver Pride Festival is less than one month away. As a week of celebration, it offers locals the opportunity to celebrate diversity. It also gives workplaces another opportunity to rethink inclusion for trans employees fighting a stigma that involves gender identity and sexuality.

It’s been reported that LGBTQ+ adults are more than twice as likely to develop a mental health condition.1 The statistics involving suicide are even more harrowing as the attempted suicide rate is almost 9 times that of the general US populace.2

With these dark realities, the onus is on human resources teams to take care of their transgender employees, making them feel safe and comfortable in a healthy workplace. Here are some tips employers can use when an employee comes out as transgender.

Respect the individual

There’s no one perfect way to address an employee who comes out as transgender since everyone is different and each situation unique. No matter what, each transgender individual who comes forward will have information they’d like to keep private and/or share with the team. Allow your employee to set the boundaries. Don’t force them to share their transition story and provide an open-door policy. They should never feel under any obligation to share more than what they are comfortable with. Work with them to understand their preferred personal pronouns and whether you are using their name correctly. More than anything, show support. Ask if there are things you can help with and what steps they are interested in taking next. Their safety and comfort is paramount.

Institute gender-neutral bathrooms

Opting for gender-neutral bathrooms can be an integral step in building a more gender-inclusive work environment. In an ideal gender-inclusive workplace, bathrooms would welcome all transgender and gender-nonconforming employees alike. If there are gender-neutral restrooms, then transgender people can worry less about avoiding restrooms while at work which can negatively affect job performance. As an example, one study indicated 59 percent of transgender people avoided using public restrooms out of fear that they would be harassed, assaulted and more.2

Taking this pressure off transgender people not only makes them feel safer, but will allow them to work more effectively. Just like everyone else.

When creating gender-inclusive restrooms, signage is key. For example, instead of “women’s washroom,” you can simply write “washroom.” Signage can be used to accommodate people in other ways, too. For example, mothers or fathers with a baby at work could benefit from signage such as “parents feeding rooms” instead of “mother feeding rooms” since not all lactating parents might identify with the term “mother”.3

Use inclusive language

Encouraging employees to alter their use of pronouns is a positive step in creating a gender-neutral workplace. Even the human resources team might often use gender-binary language out of habit. Some of these changes require just slight differences in language. For example, you can encourage others to address a group of coworkers with “hey team” instead of “hey guys”. Let employees choose their own pronouns in a comfortable manner. One way of doing this is allowing for them to include their preferred pronouns (Example: Her/She) below their email signature.3 Since employers and employees can’t simply assume they know someone’s gender based on their appearance, creating an environment that’s conducive to positive non-binary language is salient.

Provide leniency with dress codes

Some workplaces require gender specific outfits that can be stressful to transgender people. Take, for example, Airlines that have traditionally provided skirts or dresses for women. In any case that a workplace has a “male” or “female” version, the workplace should allow workers to choose which they identify with. But when possible, if gender specific outfits are not needed, putting them aside can be the most helpful for creating a more gender-neutral environment.4

Education for both HR and employees

It’s important that workplace leaders understand the significance of gender-inclusivity, but enforcing it requires training. Investing in trans-specific workshops and training is helpful not only to employees, but to employers who will deal with ongoing challenges of ensuring safe and healthy work environments.

When a human resources team seeks education, they can then revise human resources material to update policies and advocate for better practices. More than this, remember that representation matters. It’s important to be more than willing to hire and work with others who are trans and to communicate with them about their barriers. Actions speak louder than words.

Cited works

1. Mind, One. “Why Workplace Mental Health Policies Must Take LGBTQ Experiences Into Account.” Forbes. June 24, 2019. Accessed July 04, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/onemind/2019/06/17/why-workplace-mental-health-policies-must-take-lgbtq-experiences-into-account/#aebd9a25c152.

2. “The Report of the 2015 U.S. Gender Survey” National Center for Transgender Equality. Accessed July 04, 2019.

3. “How To Create An Inclusive Workplace For Transgender Employees.” Girlboss. October 23, 2018. Accessed July 04, 2019. https://www.girlboss.com/identity/transgender-inclusive-workplace.

4. Jagannathan, Meera. “12 Ways to Make Your Workplace More Inclusive of Transgender People.” MarketWatch. April 23, 2019. Accessed July 04, 2019. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/12-simple-ways-to-make-your-workplace-more-inclusive-of-transgender-people-2018-11-12.

Author Profile Picture

Karen Epp

Karen Epp, CPC is the Senior Finance and Accounting Recruiter at Goldbeck Recruiting Inc and brings over twenty years of experience recruiting professionals in Accounting, Finance, Insurance, Banking, and Human Resources. One of the advantages of working with Karen in your search for Accounting Professionals is the extensive long standing relationships with candidates and reputable clients.

Senior Recruiter at Goldbeck Recruiting Inc.