5 actions that really make a difference to your trans employees

Ruby Dark

Mar 31, 2022

International Transgender Day of Visibility is dedicated to celebrating trans people across the world. As employers, what can we do to meaningfully support our trans colleagues? We talked to Maxim Buise about his experience transitioning at work, and the 5 things that made it easier for him.

We all deserve to live our lives as our full selves, express our identities freely and be treated with respect by our peers, at work and beyond.

Unfortunately, for the trans community, this isn’t yet a reality. Many trans people face stigma and discrimination in and outside of work. This leads many people to feel the need to hide their identity to avoid harmful treatment.

🎓 Did you know? Over a quarter (26%) of trans people in the UK aren’t open with anyone at work about their gender identity. People face pressure to hide their identity to suit the expectations of others, which can dampen their sense of belonging.

As employers, we have the power to set the agenda for change.

Everyone has different needs, but what actions actually have a positive impact on trans people’s lives? How do you offer support that really makes a difference, what structures should you set up, and what behaviours should you encourage?

We spoke to Maxim Buise, Senior Business Analyst at Aegon. Maxim recently transitioned and is openly trans at work, and he spoke to us about the behaviours and processes that made him feel accepted and welcome.

Quote from Maxim: “People have different needs to reach the same thing. One size fits all just doesn’t work. We need to approach trans inclusion with equity in mind.”

1) Set norms for inclusive communication

Our interactions with colleagues shape our daily experience at work. The words people use can either foster a sense of inclusion or leave us feeling alienated.

Some people simply don’t know the right thing to say when it comes to trans and LGBTQ+ conversations. It’s down to everyone to make an effort to use the right language, but employers can take it on themselves to educate employees on inclusive communication.

When he came out as trans at work, Maxim told us that, “Lots of people mean well, but they just don’t know where to start.”

As a first step, make sure everyone in your business is on the same page when it comes to gender-inclusive vocabulary.

✅ Fair HQ recommendation: Embed inclusive communication norms in your workplace.

  1. Build a glossary of terms relevant to the LGBTQ+ community (and beyond!).
  2. If you overhear a colleague using outdated or potentially offensive terms, refer them to the glossary.
  3. Use gender-neutral terms when communicating with the team (they/them instead of he/she).
  4. Set the norm to be mindful of pronouns. Ask people to add their pronouns to their email signatures and Slack bios, and make sure leaders do the same. If you slip up, apologise, correct yourself and move forward.

2) Make it easy to change gender and name in your HR systems

When people transition, they may change their official name as well as their gender. Usually, information on employees is stored across multiple systems. If you update someone’s name in payroll, does it also update on your employee intranet? Sometimes, these systems don’t talk to each other.

Inconsistencies across different systems don’t just cause confusion from a bureaucratic standpoint, they can lead to trans employees facing intrusive questions.

“It’s been two years since I changed my name at work, but there are still times when my old name pops up. When new colleagues see this, they start asking questions. You have to go through the conversation every time. For me, I don’t want to talk about being trans at work unless I choose to.”

It’s really important to use people’s correct names in all of your documents and comms. When colleagues see someone’s new name repeatedly, they get reminded and embed new habits more easily.

✅ Fair HQ recommendation: Create a guide for HR on how to update employee names across all your internal systems, and make sure the process is followed thoroughly.

  1. Outline all of your systems and databases where employees’ names and gender is stored.
  2. Create a guide for the People Team on how to update employee names and gender. Make sure you know how every database operates – they might not be connected.
  3. Create a 1-pager on how employees can update their names and pronouns in your internal and external communication platforms (Slack, Email, Zoom). See below for an example we use at Fair HQ 👇
  4. Extra tip: Invite everyone to add their pronouns to their email signature. It will show you have an open approach to changing or sharing pronouns, making it less of a big deal for trans or non-binary colleagues to share.
Guide on how to update pronouns in Slack, Zoom and Gmail

3) Trans inclusive healthcare

Many startups offer private healthcare as part of the employee benefits package. Have you checked that your healthcare offer is attentive to the needs of trans people?

Transitioning is a personal choice, unique to every individual, and not every trans person wants to medically transition. But if someone on your team does want to find out more about options, they should have access to an experienced professional who can answer these questions.

Maxim told us that having access to mental healthcare specialists who had experience helping trans people at work was extremely helpful to him. “That’s the kind of support you want to be able to perform to your best abilities at work.”

✅ Fair HQ recommendation: Make sure your healthcare package caters to the unique needs of trans people.

  1. Can employees access mental healthcare professionals with experience supporting gender minorities?
  2. Does your provider offer trans-specific healthcare, such as access to hormones and gender-affirming surgeries?
  3. Do employees have a personal budget to spend on medical or mental healthcare catered to their specific needs?
  4. Gather your resources on offer in one accessible document, and share it with the whole company.

4) Offer leave options for gender transition

Going through a gender transition is an intensive process. Trans employees may need to take time off for medical purposes or to manage bureaucratic processes, such as updating a birth certificate.

Many trans people need to eat up their holiday or sick leave allowance in order to transition. Maxim told us how this can add unnecessary stress to the process:

“If you’re on sick leave, you tend to get a company doctor calling every couple of days asking when you’ll be well enough to work. This isn’t ideal if you’re recovering from surgery.”

Create a specific leave option for people who are transitioning. Instead of bundling it under ‘sick leave’, you send a clear signal to all employees that transitioning has nothing to do with illness.

If trans leave comes under the umbrella of sick leave, it can stigmatise you, because people assume you’re ill. There should be specific leave options for people who are transitioning.”

✅ Fair HQ recommendation: Offer leave options that allow employees to take time off for gender transition processes, and ample time to heal after medical procedures.

  1. Gender transition is a personal process, and not everyone will follow the same route. Allow plenty of flexibility with your leave options.
  2. Offer leave options for administrative processes, such as updating ID documents.
  3. Allow employees to take time off for gender-affirming surgeries, including time to heal.

5) Set up a solid complaints process

If people experience inappropriate comments or behaviour at work, there should be secure channels for reporting this behaviour.

One-third of trans people in the UK have been the target of negative comments or conduct from colleagues at work in the past year.

Make sure you have a robust complaints policy, including an anonymous complaints form. Not everyone will feel comfortable going to HR to report sensitive issues such as complaints. Ideally, you should give employees access to an external ombudsperson to handle things.

✅ Fair HQ recommendation: Solidify your zero-tolerance approach to discrimination with a solid complaints process.

  1. Set up an anonymous complaints form where employees can raise issues without revealing their name, team or position.
  2. Give employees access to an external ombudsperson who can resolve disputes early and impartially.
  3. Codify your approach in an Anti-Harassment Policy so that employees know what to do if an issue arises.

Other actions to explore

Through Workplace Pride, a platform based in the Netherlands, Maxim helps employers embed LGBTQ+ inclusive behaviours. Here are a few of the projects they’re currently working on:

  • Using inclusive language in job descriptions to attract a more diverse candidate pool. The language and imagery you use in JDs send subtle signals about who ‘fits in’ at your workplace. Learn more about how to write inclusive job descriptions.
  • Embedding LGBTQ+ awareness and inclusion training as part of new employees’ onboarding. This sets the tone for inclusion from the get-go and shows new hires what behaviour is expected.
  • Benchmarking diversity and inclusion (including sexuality and gender identity). Having a grasp on the numbers helps companies keep track of progress and identify barriers. Here’s our ultimate guide to benchmarking in UK tech.
  • Setting the norm for neutral dress codes. This is more of a problem in traditional workplaces where employees are expected to wear suits and ties or dresses. In startups, you probably have a more casual approach. You can still remind your colleagues that people are welcome to dress however they feel comfortable — this boosts inclusion for religious minorities too.

There are 5+ actions that have a real, positive impact on trans people’s experience at work. As leaders, it’s your job to publicly champion these initiatives and ensure people are getting the support they need. To echo Maxim’s words, let’s approach trans inclusion with equity in mind.

Backing it up

Bachmann, C.L. & Gooch, B. (2018). LGBT in Britain: Work Report. Stonewall UK

Thoroughgood, C., Sawyer, K., & Webster, J. R. (2020). Creating a trans-inclusive workplaceHarvard Business Review.