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Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace: The Time Is Now

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Transgender inclusion in the workplace has quietly become a phenomenon of global proportions. In the year 2000, there were three Fortune 500 companies that included gender identity in their employee nondiscrimination policies. Today, over half of Fortune 500 have implemented such policies. More major corporations are lining up to join them on an almost daily basis. This marks a significant, relevant, and timely business trend that carries worldwide implications for transgender workers and society as a whole.

Why is this relatively rapid workplace shift in transgender inclusion occurring? What's behind it, and how is an increasingly visible transgender presence being received by the business community? The answers are perhaps as complex and multifaceted as the transgender phenomenon itself.

A number of factors are combining to increasingly position transgender workers as full and equal members of organizational cultures. The advent of the Internet allowed the transgender community to identify and communicate with each other as never before. This was a major breakthrough: before the days of easy digital communication, the vast majority of trans persons were isolated, vulnerable, and deeply closeted. Once the Internet became ubiquitous, the individual transgender person was no longer alone.

As a result, the trans community became more organized and cohesive than at any time previously. From these new community-based connections and alliances emerged a sense of identity and a variety of outreach initiatives. This newfound synergy led to increased demands for respect and inclusion in the workplace. A subsequent rise in awareness of the transgender worker has emerged within the business community over the last dozen years or so.

However, awareness alone -- or even wanting to do the right thing -- is not usually sufficient motivation for employers, who tend to be a hard-nosed, pragmatic, fiscally oriented and bottom-line-focused group. With this in mind, another reason for transgender inclusion on the job is a solid business case.

A significant business case for creating an inclusive, accepting work environment is often the primary driver behind an employer's decision to provide appropriate protections on the job for transgender employees. After all, an employer isn't going to make a business decision unless she or he feels that it will benefit the company in some way and provide a measurable ROI. A strong, unassailable business case provides financial justification for such decisions.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the reasons that today's leading companies are choosing to be transgender inclusive:

  • To lessen the risk and expense of legal action relative to transgender discrimination claims
  • To be aligned and compliant with federal, state, and local laws as they change and develop over time to become more protective of the civil and human rights of transgender workers
  • To attract, recruit, and retain top talent
  • To position a company (especially from a marketing perspective) as a diversity leader within its industry, the larger business community, and society in general
  • To increase the influence of internal branding on the company's employees, which is often the result of effective, inclusive organizational policies that impact the well-being of all employees

Another reason for transgender inclusion on the job involves the enhancement of cultural competence. Organizations operate at their optimum level only when the economic, social, psychological, and spiritual needs of all stakeholders are recognized and fulfilled. Many of today's most successful organizations recognize the need to provide the comfort and understanding necessary for people from different backgrounds to successfully interact with and respect each other. Organizations operate as ecosystems, and individuals depend on each other to help achieve success. Therefore, in the interest of efficiency, inclusion on the job has become everyone's business. Organizations that actively protect and support transgender employees by creating awareness and providing a safe, stable work environment will have a significant effect on productivity at work and on the employee's personal commitment to their employer.

If only by default, transgender people have a distinctive opportunity to view the world from the margins. An "outsider" status allows the transgender individual to have unique experiences and learn in ways that would have never been possible otherwise. This "marginal" vantage point -- which is often more interesting, eclectic, and potentially valuable than the standard, homogenized view from the center -- provides a fresh and unique perspective, positioning the trans person to bring new, innovative ideas and contributions to their employing organization.

As the presence of openly transgender persons in the workplace becomes more visible and commonplace throughout society, reactions from others can and do vary. The responses of co-workers, team members, and colleagues are often positively influenced when appropriate transgender awareness training is experienced. I work with major corporations -- usually in collaboration with HR or Diversity department professionals -- to provide the tools, information, resources, and trainings that are needed in these situations. I've observed repeatedly that when they learn the facts and are able to put a human face on a complex issue like being transgender, most people become more accepting and empathetic.

Occasionally there may be one person or even a handful of diehards who remain firmly entrenched in rigid gender paradigms and/or belief systems that don't allow room for an acceptance of benign human difference. However, such cultural dinosaurs are moving toward extinction as transgender inclusion in the workplace increasingly becomes the accepted norm for business organizations worldwide. A lack of respect for and/or acceptance of transgender workers is sadly indicative of an inability to adapt to changing workplace expectations, business trends, and organizational needs.

Knowledge is power that can shatter myths and help lift the veil of ignorance. When people become more informed about the transgender phenomenon, their fear and misunderstanding tend to dissipate and are replaced by improved trust and an ability to work together more effectively. The ultimate goal, of course, is to create a respectful, professional work environment that is free from discrimination while maximizing teamwork and productivity. Transgender inclusion can -- and does -- help organizations more fully realize that goal.