@Work | Education

7 ways to make your workplace welcoming for trans people

Transitioning from one gender to another at work is challenging. Here’s how organizations can make their workplaces more affirming and inclusive.

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People in trans-affirming workplaces don’t make assumptions about what pronoun to use. They create opportunities for people to signal their pronouns. (Shutterstock/fizkes)

It’s not easy coming out as trans at work.

People who transition from one gender to another often face discrimination in the workplace, says Laura Gibbon, manager of education and training at , a city-funded agency in Toronto, Ont. that helps organizations become affirming and inclusive spaces for LGTBQ2S* people.

According to the , a 2010** survey of trans Ontarians over the age of 16 showed that 18 per cent had been turned down for a job because they were trans, 13 per cent had been fired for being trans, and another 15 per cent were fired from their jobs but were unsure if it was because they were trans.

So how can companies become more welcoming for trans people? 

1. RESPECT THE INDIVIDUAL

Every trans person has unique preferences about what information they want shared and what they would like to keep private as they go through the social and medical processes of a gender transition.

“Ask questions about what they want and respect their preferences. That’s the bottom line,” says Gibbon.

For Michael Cherny, a CPA who came out as trans earlier this year by posting a note on LinkedIn, the support of leaders and colleagues at work was key. As chief of staff to the national audit public practice at Deloitte, he has contact with many people across the organization.

An internal profile, on the firm’s intranet, included quotes from Cherny about his journey to becoming a leader—including his transition story—and helped spread the word. People congratulated him and many immediately started using the name Michael—rather than his former name, Michelle—as well as the pronouns he and him.

Michael Cherny (Photograph by Nick Wong)

2. TALK ABOUT PRONOUNS 

People in trans-affirming workplaces don’t make assumptions about what pronoun to use. They create opportunities for people to signal their .

“Cis-gendered*** people can demonstrate allyship by starting the conversation—and not just when trans people are around,” says Gibbon.

Some companies start meetings by allowing participants to state their pronouns, a practise that is appropriate in some situations, she says. Other ideas include noting pronouns on name tags, email signatures and employee files.

Mistakes happen, but it can be uncomfortable, says Neila Karassik, who came out as trans last year, changing her name from Neil to Neila and using the pronouns she and her.

Karassik’s experience was largely positive, but as a senior producer at Bell Media, she found people sometimes referred to her with the wrong pronoun or name in meetings. Colleagues close to her readily made the change, but people she was less familiar with sometimes required reminding or correcting.

“That can be devastating, when someone does that to you,” she explains. She handled such situations with a follow-up email asking the colleague to work on it. Usually, they expressed regret and didn’t do it again. Nonetheless, such interactions distracted her from work, says Karassik.

3. PROVIDE SAFE WASHROOMS

Washrooms are a source of stress for trans people, Cherny says, because they are the number 1 place where trans people face harassment.

Providing gender-neutral washrooms is one way to reduce that anxiety, says Gibbon. 

Having a policy—and appropriate signage—that gives people permission to use the gendered washroom that aligns with their identity is another. Such a policy reflects court decisions in Canada that have affirmed the rights of trans people to use washrooms and changerooms that match with their lived identity.

4. SHOW EXPLICIT SUPPORT

Coming out as trans at work was a positive experience for Cherny, thanks to support from inside the company as well as on LinkedIn.

Work friends gave a gift of a personalized leather notebook featuring his new name, and one leader in the organization took him shopping for pocket squares. Those touching gestures made him feel accepted—as well as fashionable.

“I realized I have these layers of support that extend beyond my close family, friends and partner,” says Cherny. “People I don’t even know reached out to show support.”

Neila Karassik (Image provided)

5. CREATE CLEAR PROCEDURES

Companies can use internal websites to communicate with people who are considering a transition. For Karassik, having clear guidance to follow for administrative tasks involved with her gender transition would have helped. 

“I did have to carry around my old security pass for a long time...,” she says. “It took several months, and I didn’t want to carry around the old pass. Eventually it got changed, but I had to be patient.”

Information should be easily found on internal websites, adds Karassik. Though her company’s site did have some, she couldn’t readily find it and the human resources department didn’t have immediate answers.

“I shouldn’t have to ask,” she says. “It should be there.”

6. OFFER INTERNAL RESOURCES

As national chair of Deloitte Pride, an employee resource group, Cherny works to ensure that Deloitte is inclusive for everyone. Such groups lead to a more creative, innovative and productive workplace, he says.

Karassik has worked with her company to update human resources procedures and advocate for inclusive policies. She participated in the making of an internal video about diversity, which will be shared with staff and stakeholders.

“If I had seen that [video], maybe it would have motivated me in a different way,” she says. “Maybe I would have done it sooner.”

7. WORK TOWARD DIVERSITY

Representation matters. Companies must be willing to recruit, hire and work with people who are trans, learning about their lives and the barriers they face, says Gibbon.

“Do you hire a trans person and then do the work around what an inclusive space looks like?,” she asks. “Or do you do that work ahead of time and then invite trans people into your space?”

The answer to those questions is not either-or; it’s both, says Gibbon. Doing workshops with organizations like The 519 will help, and available on The 519’s website can help start the conversation.

*Acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning and Two-Spirit.
**More recent survey information is not available in Canada
***According to The 519’s glossary, “Cisgender is used to explain the phenomena where a person’s gender identity is in line with or “matches” the sex they were assigned at birth.”