Supporting trans employees in the workplace

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New Acas research reveals many employers demonstrate little understanding of trans and intersex issues

Over recent years increased media focus on trans people's experiences has helped bring gender identity issues into the limelight. It is also clear that public attitudes are beginning to change for the better with events like Pride London and Sparkle in Manchester moving from strength to strength.

However, new research from Acas – Managing Gender Identity in the workplace – reveals that the workplace is lagging behind, with many employers demonstrating little understanding of trans and intersex issues.

Trans employees often bear full responsibility for encouraging employers to embed inclusive practices. Transphobia, bullying and negative treatment are major issues: a 2016 survey by Totaljobs found that 60% of trans employees have experienced transphobia in the workplace, and that 36% had left a job because of it.

So how can organisations better support trans employees?

1. Educate the workforce

The biggest barrier to an inclusive workplace identified by our research was a lack of knowledge among employers of trans and intersex issues. This gap was particularly evident in relation to people who do not identify with binary male or female gender roles; for example those who are gender non-conforming, gender non-binary or gender-fluid.

Furthermore, to prevent trans employees from being overlooked in the wider LGBT community employers must be more mindful of them. Often the T is the part of the acronym people know the least about, and coupled with low disclosure rates among trans staff this can lead to confusion between gender identity and sexual orientation.

This lack of understanding often results in insufficient confidence among line managers to effectively support trans or intersex employees, and organisations may lack initiatives to drive forward and embed fully inclusive practices.

To improve support introduce training on trans issues for all staff. As organisational culture and awareness comes from the the top it is important that senior managers attend and are fully on board with inclusive initiatives. LGBTQIA+ staff networks and workplace champions can advocate better inclusion, increase awareness, and provide support.

2. Understand legislation and terminology

While current legislation affording protection to trans individuals (namely the Gender Reassignment Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010) was welcomed, concerns were raised in our research regarding the terminology and definitions employed as they do not explicitly apply to all members of the trans and intersex community.

The issue of terminology in relation to gender identity is also discussed more generally because this is continuously evolving and can be very sensitive, which can make it tricky for employers to keep pace with and feel confident about.

Best practice for employers is to extend support to all trans and intersex employees, including those not explicitly protected by the law, and for trans employees to be given the opportunity to describe their gender identity and preferred name and pronouns in language they are comfortable with.

3. Have appropriate policies supported by good line management

Having trans-specific policies that draw on the knowledge of external agencies, trade unions, and trans and intersex employees themselves can help trans staff feel more secure and protected at work.

Developing policies proactively (as opposed to reactively when a worker approaches you with their situation) can make all the difference. Cascading policies throughout the organisation and monitoring their implementation were identified as key factors to their effectiveness.

And while having clear policies on trans-related issues can act as a guide on appropriate behaviour, it’s important not to underestimate the importance of good line management.

So what’s next?

A lot remains to be done for workplaces to become fully inclusive for trans and intersex employees. The Acas research discussed here suggests some ways in which employers and employees can be better supported to start doing this effectively.

Acas has also recently published new guidance, Gender reassignment discrimination – key points for the workplace, which provides good practice advice for employers on how they can address the issues identified in this research.

Nicola Bowman is a research officer at Acas

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