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.

Transgender friendly workplace


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Giri Sivaraman

Maurice Blackburn Brisbane

Giri Sivaraman is a Principal at Maurice Blackburn. He is the head of the firm’s Queensland Employment law department based in Brisbane, which is listed by the highly respected Doyle's Guide to the Australian Legal Profession as one of two top tier law firms for employees in Queensland. He is part of the National employment law practice recognised by the respected Doyle’s Guide as the only first tier legal practice for employees in Australia.

Giri is recognised as a preeminent lawyer for employees in Queensland by Doyle's Guide and he is a member of the La…

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