Creating a transgender-positive workplace

People spend a significant portion of their waking lives at work, so a positive workplace culture is important for everyone’s health and wellbeing. The keys to creating a transgender-positive workplace are education, support and empowerment. Here are some practical steps to guide managers along the way.

1. Educate yourself and your staff

Penny Clifford has been both an employee who’s transitioned and an employer of other transgender people. She says that education is key: ‘Have a meeting (with your staff) and explain transgender issues — how to talk to a transgender person, how to treat that person in the authentic life that they’re living.’

Sara Anderson used to work for one of the major banks where, after being cruelly outed as transgender by one of her colleagues, she formed a workplace committee for LGBTI rights, recognition and acceptance. She says it’s important to make staff aware of ‘the reasons why people gender-identify differently’.

Sara recommends the Gender Centre as ‘a fantastic resource for employers’. It offers education and training, and has an extensive collection of kits and fact sheets on its website that cover everything from identity and gender to surgery and sexual health to anti-discrimination and human resources. In Sara’s current role, in an NGO working to prevent domestic violence, she worked with the Gender Centre ‘to create a transitioning policy, should we have an employee who’s transitioning’.

She’s also collaborated with Pride in Diversity, a not-for-profit organisation that specialises in organisational change and workplace diversity, and offers a support program for employers. Membership gives you access to a dedicated account manager who provides LGBTI awareness training and ongoing support.

2. Promote acceptable language and behaviour

From experience, says Penny, one of the most important things you can do is ensure that everyone uses the correct pronouns.

Sara agrees, ‘Make sure (your employee) is called by the name that he or she associates with. For example, if they’ve transitioned from male to female then the pronouns “he” and “him” are no longer appropriate, and “she” and “her” should be used.’

‘There will be slip-ups,’ says Sara, particularly during the transition period. ‘That’s understandable in the first few weeks or months but, over a longer period, it’s inappropriate.’ She also points out that transgender people should be free to use ‘the toilets that they identify with’.

3. Support and empower your transgender employees

When Sara was outed at work, her employer gave her some stress leave and asked what she wanted to do. She said she wanted to educate people, so her employer supported the formation of an LGBTI committee and gave it a budget to promote its cause.

The committee included a mix of LGBTI and non-LGBTI employees. ‘Allies are very important in the workplace,’ says Sara. ‘If an ally hears inappropriate language or sees inappropriate behaviour, they can challenge it.’ Allies model appropriate language and behaviour, and also demonstrate that non-LGBTI employees ‘are very accepting of our lifestyles and are prepared to help’.

Managers can also show their support, says Sara, by commemorating milestone days in the LGBTI community like Transgender Day of Remembrance (20 November) and World AIDS Day (1 December). Your organisation may be able to launch an initiative to support your transgender employees, such as Maurice Blackburn’s LGBTI Network, which aims to improve the experience of both its employees and clients.

And if you’re really serious about creating a transgender-positive workplace, consider getting your employer to take part in Pride in Diversity’s Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI). The AWEI is ‘the definitive national benchmark on LGBTI workplace inclusion and comprises the largest and only national employee survey designed to gauge the overall impact of inclusion initiatives.’

Sara says the AWEI is ‘all-encompassing, and a good blueprint for Australian employers to look at how they’re dealing with the LGBTI community’. It sets a comparative benchmark for employers across all sectors.

Sara knows how hard it is for transgender people to enter a cisgender, heterosexual workplace. But she’s optimistic that the generations who follow will feel more at home.

She knows from experience how much it means to have the acceptance and support of colleagues and employers. ‘It makes a lot of difference to be able to bring your whole self to work, if you’re not having to lie and cover up things about partners or about your past. If you can take your whole self to work, it alleviates a lot of that stress — and you really feel like you’re part of the organisation.’

‘People are much happier when they can bring their whole self to work and they’re accepted,’ says Sara.

TOPIC: Employment law
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Employment law

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Alana Heffernan

Maurice Blackburn Sydney
Alana Heffernan is a Senior Associate in Maurice Blackburn's employment department in Sydney. She is listed by the prestigious Doyles Guide as a member of one of the top law firms for employee & trade union representation in NSW in 2017. Alana provides tailored advice and assistance in relation to a broad range of industrial and employment issues including dismissals, discrimination, disputes, issues related to professional registration, adverse action complaints, workplace investigations, disciplinary proceedings and contract issues. She has a comprehensive understanding of the employment and discrimination legal frameworks, and is experienced in appearing before the relevant courts and tribunals, as well as negotiating out-of-court settlements. “There is an inherent imbalance of power in the employment relationship and I enjoy assisting employees to access their rights, entitlements and fairness. I am able to provide creative solutions for issues faced by senior managers and executive clients, including with respect to statutory and common law rights. I have significant experience advocating for my clients, both directly with employers and their lawyers, as well as at relevant tribunals and courts,” says Alana. “I am creative and leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding practical solutions for my clients. From the outset, I work with my clients to develop a strategy for resolution and achieving the best outcome. “I am driven by helping clients achieve fair outcomes that protect their financial and reputational interests. I have worked across many industries and have a deep understanding of the tactics employers use against employees. These tactics vary greatly across industries and employers and I ensure my approach is tailored to the circumstances. I work hard to ensure my clients are in the best position possible to continue in their career, either with their current employer or with a future employer.” Alana has a particular interest in anti-discrimination law and has actively advocated for amendments to anti-discrimination law to include protections for victims of domestic violence. These proposed amendments have been supported and advocated for by various community and legal peak bodies, as well as the Australian Council of Human Rights Agencies. Some of Alana’s other significant achievements include: obtaining court orders preventing an employer from altering her client’s working conditions negotiating agreements that include reinstatement stopping employers from engaging in unlawful discrimination against clients negotiating settlements for clients that not only provide significant compensation, but also protect their professional reputation representing clients in a Royal Commission, and successfully appealing a decision of the Fair Work Commission in relation to allegations of unlawful industrial action. Alana regularly advocates for the rights and entitlements of the LGBTIQ community, and her diverse employment relations experience benefits from having worked for community organisations, unions and the (then) Department of Employment and Industrial Relations.  Memberships & accreditations Law Society of NSW member Industrial Relations Society of NSW member Awards Employment & Workplace Health Safety, Doyle's Guide 2016 Women's Law Association of Queensland Emergent Lawyer of the Year Finalist, 2015 Lawyers Weekly 30 Under 30 Workplace Relations, Employment & Safety winner, 2015  ...

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