We all want to be progressive employers - after all, not only is it good for us as human beings, but it’s also good for business. If the recession taught us anything, it's that strong community ties are critical. We can trace community support to the survival of a lot of the small businesses we now see as institutions. Just like being a good ally in daily life, being a good ally to your staff will take some changes, but the investment you put in will more than pay off in the long run.
1. Plan aheadAs with any change within a company, the best way to support an employee through their gender transition is to have policies and a plan in place well in advance of anyone actually requiring it. (The fact that you’re reading this means you’re already on your way.)
You plan might include things like:
- The role of Human Resources and management in your employee’s transition in the workplace. You should provide all managers with some basic training on their responsibilities when someone in their department decides to come out. When it comes to HR, it’s good practice to appoint one person to be the general employee contact for aiding transition. That way, your employee knows exactly who to talk to, and the person they speak to is sure to be well-informed on their needs and the company’s responsibilities. This applies even if you aren't big enough to have a dedicated HR person. A manager or even the Executive Director could be the contact, as long as there is one.
- When an employee will change their name in personnel records, employee directories, letterhead, email address, etc. It is generally recommended that you encourage your employee to use their chosen name prior to a legal name change for documentation that is not dependent on legal name, as being forced to remain identified with a name that doesn't match their gender can be a source of distress for some trans people.
- Whether you will bring in an external consultant to aid in necessities like informing employees of their coworker’s upcoming transition and/or sensitivity training.
2. Regularly remind employees of your company’s policiesTry to make the basics of your business’ transition plans and policies easily accessible in some form to employees: for example, they should know the name of the HR employee to contact if they need assistance with their workplace transition, and what their expectations should be for their treatment within the workplace. Your employees should know that they will be safe and supported over the course of their transition.
As with all anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, regularly remind your employees where you stand. Consider sending an email or a company memo reminding your other employees of your company’s anti-discrimination policies and acceptable behavior towards coworkers before an employee comes out to their coworkers. Let your trans employee know what you’re planning to do so they aren’t blindsided, but don’t single them out as the reason for the reminder - after all, it genuinely isn’t just about your one employee, no matter how much you like them as an individual. It’s about maintaining a consistent environment of safety for trans, queer, and gender-nonconforming employees. You may want start sending an annual policy reminder to all employees, just to keep things fresh.
3. Listen to your employeeIf you’re reading this, hopefully you’ve begun educating yourself on the basics of trans identities. That said, not all trans people feel the same way about things or experience transition in the same way. Your employee is the expert on their own experience, so ask them what accommodations they need. They may require time off to pursue medical transition - or, they may not. Some employees may wish to change their name; others may not. (If they do require time off, you should not inquire into specifics beyond the fact that they need time for a medical procedure or court proceedings.)
How your employee handles their transition isn’t your business, except to the extent that it affects your business. The best way to help them is by giving them the support they actually need, not the support you assume they need.
4. Create a transition planWork with your employee to create a timeline for their transition in the workplace: when they’d prefer their coworkers to be informed of their transition, when they wish to begin presenting as their gender full-time in the workplace, when they need legal documentation to be changed to match their legal name, etc. This timeline might change, depending on factors ranging from availability of court and medical appointments to your employee’s comfort level changing over time, but it’s still a good idea to have a basic outline in place so that everyone is prepared.
5. Meet with your employees’ coworkersThis might be in the context of a company-wide meeting or training seminar, or one-on-one. Either way, your employee’s coworkers should have a place to air any concerns or questions that might impede their interactions with the employee who’s transitioning and create problems in the workplace, and you should be aware of any potential problems before they start. Your transitioning employee may wish to be involved in this process, or they may wish to leave it up to management - as always, defer to their comfort level.
Your employees should already be aware of your company’s anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies, but providing them with a well-informed person who can guide them in respectful treatment of their trans coworker may help prevent some of the more subtle forms of anti-trans discrimination that can occur, such as exclusion or simple ill-treatment. Your hope should always be that people who are ignorant or uncomfortable with trans issues become supportive coworkers and members of our overall human community.
6. Work with other progressive businessesLike ours! Marina Martinez Consulting is a small community marketing agency that offers strategic communications plans to retailers and service providers like you. Our job is to work closely with growing businesses to help them build a community around their brand, so we’re at our best when providing our services to like-minded companies who value community and appreciate our inclusive, person-focused style. Call us at 310-876-8538 or email us at email@example.com and let’s talk about how we can build something together.
- Transgender Law Center - http://transgenderlawcenter.org/resources/employment
- Lambda Legal - http://lambdalegal.org/issues/transgender-rights