June is Pride month! Let’s talk about trans visibility in the workforce. In our last post we shared a Gender-Neutral Language Cheat Sheet, and while obliterating the use of dated, masculine-centric language in professional spaces is important, it is equally important to realize that gender-inclusion pertains to ALL genders, not just the traditional male and female binaries. Trans men, trans women, and intersex individuals deserve to feel comfortable, welcome, and heard in their workplace, and 2019 is the year to ask yourself: “Has my organization made space for transgender and non-binary individuals?”
A study conducted by Quartz at Work suggests that trans individuals often feel pressure to repress their authentic selves and conform to the gender that they were assigned at birth to avoid undue discrimination from recruiters, employers, and co-workers. At present, 20 states list gender identity as a protected characteristic; this means, in those 20 states, it is illegal to discriminate against an individual based on their status as a trans or intersex individual.
What is “Dead-Naming?”
One of the most common microaggressions that trans people experience in the workplace is the practice of “dead-naming;” that is, calling a trans person by the name they were using before their coming out and transition. Dead-naming is considered very disrespectful because it displays an indifference (or worse–refusal) on the part of the “dead-namer” to take into account the feelings and identity of their co-worker. While an adjustment period may be required, and it can be difficult when someone transitions at work, everyone who interacts with a newly trans individual should make a conscious, deliberate effort to adjust.
When discussing trans issues in the workplace, it’s important to acknowledge the difference between a teaching moment, and a moment that may require discipline. It is not uncommon for someone less sensitive to refer to a trans person at “it” as opposed to their preferred pronouns, or even they/them. This is not a microaggression; it is a hostile act. Dead-naming or the incorrect use of pronouns, while insensitive, stems from a place of forgetfulness and adjustment. Calling a trans individual “it,” is intentionally dehumanizing, belittling, and inflammatory. Dead-naming is an opportunity to teach someone how to act, the use of “it” as a pronoun is an indication that an employee has no desire to adjust their actions to welcome or even allow a trans co-worker in their space.
Take Action with Gender Sensitivity Training
As an employer, you cannot force an employee to accept something they are uncomfortable with, nor can you attempt to change their firmly held beliefs, but there are steps you can and should take to create space for any trans individuals in your organization. Train your employees on how to handle trans issues, and encourage them to conceptualize someone else’s experience as their own. When asking for clarification on a trans person’s gender identity, ask employees to be respectful, be discreet, and be self-aware. Gender sensitivity training should also emphasize that a person’s status as a trans individual should in no way, shape, or form negatively affect their ability to do their job. Discourage employees from asking questions outside of the scope of the work you are doing and identify the harm in labeling a co-worker as a “trans co-worker.” After all, nobody wants to be defined by just one characteristic, like being seen as “the African-American” on the team or the “office gay guy.”
Showing sensitivity and respect to a trans individual is just as important as showing respect to any other individual on the team and helps define your workplace culture. Given our changing social demographics, everyone should be able to navigate gender-identity issues respectfully. The Human Rights Campaign is a great resource for issues connected to identity politics. Check out this Transgender Visibility Guide to better understand the experience of trans people in your community, and to use as a resource for your workforce. You also may benefit from a look at this interactive map of the US, which outlines the laws and policies that affect the LGBTQ community in your state.
Check out Emtrain’s new, interactive Preventing Workplace Harassment Training course to dive deeper into this issue and others like it, or share the below gender identity video scene, “My Name is Jennifer,” with your team to start a conversation on this issue.