What can workplaces do to support trans and gender non-conforming employees?
By Colin Druhan
The recent proposal by the Canadian government to include gender identity and gender expression as grounds in the Canadian Human Rights Act, as well as media coverage of non-discrimination laws and ordinances in the United States, have a lot of Canadians asking questions. Much of the coverage of such laws has focused on access to washrooms, which has perpetuated the false idea that making washrooms and other gendered spaces safe for trans and gender con-conforming people somehow poses a risk to public safety. This distracts from the injustices and dangers that face members of the LGBT community who are marginalized on the grounds of their gender identity and gender expression.
Many Canadian workers want to know about what their workplace can do to support trans and gender non-conforming employees. The unfortunate truth is that some employers’ LGBT inclusion efforts address challenges related to sexual orientation, but overlook the needs of other members of the diverse LGBT community. It’s important to round out inclusion efforts to ensure that they address the needs of all LGBT employees.
Here are a few ways Pride at Work Canada recommends measuring inclusive workplace practices related to gender identity and gender expression:
When an employer sets standards of behaviour, it helps employees understand that while they may think whatever they choose, they cannot do whatever they choose. Policies underscore that there are consequences to limiting the advancement of others because of one’s personally held beliefs, prejudices or stereotypes. Practically speaking, policies must change before people change. Many Canadian employers expressly include sexual orientation in their harassment, discrimination and anti-bullying policies. However, the grounds of gender identity and gender expression must be included in order for policies to be truly inclusive.
Education and training
One of the biggest barriers to having conversations about issues facing trans and gender non-conforming workers is the lack of tools to talk respectfully about gender identity and gender expression. It’s a big reason why many LGBT efforts disproportionately address challenges related to sexual orientation. It is true that understanding definitions and knowing a few statistics does not make one an expert in these issues, but education does allow the conversation to be elevated beyond misunderstanding.
Welcoming physical spaces
Providing gender-neutral washroom facilities is just one of many steps that can be taken to provide a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. It’s important to ensure trans and gender non-conforming employees feel safe using facilities that align with the gender they live every day. Workers should see and hear their employer’s commitment all around them through visible messages of support and the use of inclusive and respectful language.
Many Canadian employer-provided health benefit packages do not include transition-related care for employees or their dependents. For employees (or members of their families) who choose to transition, related costs can be a big barrier. It’s also important to recognize that, at work and more generally, many trans and gender non-conforming people experience social isolation and ongoing discrimination. Comprehensive mental health support should also be considered part of an inclusive benefits package.
Guidelines for support
Employers should be ready to provide support if an employee chooses to transition on the job. Having guidelines in place to ensure that the employee leads this process based on their unique needs is crucial.
Identifying and addressing transphobic bullying
Most of us can easily identify overt forms of bullying, such as name-calling. However, it’s important to promote understanding of more insidious forms of transphobic bullying such as consistently mis-gendering someone, refusing to use someone’s chosen name or outing someone without their permission. When employees can identify these behaviours as bullying and the consequences for those behaviours are outlined in clearly communicated policies, it helps make for
a safer and more inclusive environment for everyone.
COLIN DRUHAN is the executive director of Pride at Work Canada, a not-for-profit organization that empowers employers to foster workplace cultures that recognize LGBT employees. For more information, visit prideatwork.ca.