Acas recently commissioned a research paper into the experiences of transgender employees in the workplace. Their paper offers some useful insights and practical guidance on how employers can better foster a culture of inclusion. The research paper can be found here.
The legal framework
We cannot address all the issues in this short blog but there has been some criticism of the current legal framework in that protection against discrimination only covers ‘transsexuals’ rather than the much wider trans-community. We use the term ‘transgender’ in this blog to refer to the wider umbrella body of the trans-community and not just transsexuals (those who are making a transition medically).
The research pointed to a general lack of awareness of transgender issues and prejudice being quite prevalent in the workplace. However, it offers some practical steps for employers to consider:-
- Recruitment – Applying for a job can be a daunting prospect for transgender employees because they are not sure how they will be received. Having a clear position on diversity signposted at the recruitment stage will attract the widest possible pool of applicants.
- Policies – This is an important part of supporting transgender employees. Policies should receive endorsement from top management and be filtered down to line managers who will be dealing with issues at a practical level.
- Diversity training and awareness – Educating staff was seen as another important consideration. Colleagues may not be aware that a careless remark can cause great offence. Specific diversity training should be offered starting with underscoring an employer's policies at induction. The aim should be creating a culture of inclusion and having a zero tolerance approach to bullying, including anything that might be passed off as ‘banter’.
- Recognising individuality – No two gender journeys are the same. Individual consultation is an enormously useful tool for getting it right. Employers should not confuse gender identity with sexual orientation. Employers should consult with an employee and agree, for example, a plan to take into account medical appointments.
- Confidentiality – It is important for an employer to get to grips with the careful management of data or risk ‘outing’ an employee accidentally. Older identity documents may, for example, bear a different name and/or sex of an individual.
- Toilet facilities – This can sometimes be a contentious issue. Where resources permit, employers could have gender neutral toilet facilities (wall to floor toilet cubicles which can be used by anyone). Other employers have chosen to permit transgender employees to use the disabled facilities. However, it has been suggested that transgender employees should have a choice and this should only be used as a temporary measure which should not in turn disadvantage disabled employees.
- Dress codes – Usually employers who require staff to wear uniforms will have either a male or female uniforms. However, where possible, a gender neutral uniform could be provided. It has also been suggested that employers could remove titles such as ‘Mr’, ‘Ms’, ‘Miss’ from name badges etc.
It is widely accepted that having a diverse and inclusive workforce is good for business. Therefore getting inclusion right can ultimately contribute to an employer’s bottom line. Getting it wrong, however, can damage an employer’s reputation and mean facing potentially expensive discrimination claims.
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An inclusive workplace, in which managers lead by example on equality and diversity issues, will help to create a supportive environment for all forms of gender identity and expression.