Be Proactive: Five Steps To Best Support Transgender Employees

09/01/2016 04:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This is an open letter to all Human Resources and Diversity and Inclusion people

In June of 2014, Laverne Cox was on the cover of Time Magazine as it proclaimed The Transgender Tipping Point.

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In June of 2015, Caitlyn Jenner was introduced to the world on the cover of Vanity Fair Magazine, and, whatever opinion different people have, this event pretty much knocked that tipping point over.

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Now as the summer of 2016 come to a close, the Williams Institute has revised its estimate of the transgender population in the USA from 700,000 people to 1,400,000. Incredibly, they doubled their estimate!

The truth is no one really knows the number of trans people in the USA, nor even how to take an accurate census. My own sense is that these estimates are still quite conservative and low, and perhaps even by one order of magnitude. Discussing this would be a much longer article, but I chat about it in the appendix of my book, No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth.

So what does this all mean to you? The estimates above mean that of our adult population, perhaps 1 out of every 200-400 people may "come out" as being transgender and desire to "transition," and live their life as how they perceive their true self. If you have a large employee base, if you have not yet supported an employee who desires to transition their gender, there is a good chance that some time very soon, you will be having this experience.

Many companies are not well prepared for this event. They have done little planning, little preparation, and in fact may be confused and be sorely in need of education to prepare for not only the employee but for all the coworkers and perhaps even external customers and vendor that the employee is in contact with.

I know some companies that do not want to talk about the topic, as they feel it is still something that brings up the issues of sex and gender that they may feel have no place in the workplace. What they miss is that gender identity has nothing to do with sex, sexual orientation or sexual behaviors. For many people, this alone is a challenging concept to understand as it does not match the binary cultural norms that we have all been raised with.

However, I ask you, as a diversity leader within your company to learn that one's gender identity is just another form of diversity, and you should be prepared to support any and all of your employees who choose to come to terms with inner challenges they may have dealt with in secret all of their lives.

How can you best be prepared to support these individuals proactively, rather than reactively?

Allow me to offer five steps for you to consider:

1. Develop a Gender Transition Guide for your company, and publish it. This will require some training for your Diversity, HR and Benefits staff

2. Research and determine the benefits that your company will support for transgender employees, and any transgender family members of employees. These need to be published so employees understand what is or is not covered.

3. Invest in training of your diversity staff to be able to be in-house resources that are the first responders to any employee needing to find information in a confidential manner. Please note: most EAP therapists are not trained as gender therapists and may not be able to properly support the employee.

4. Consider proactive training events - that can be part of regular Diversity and Inclusion events, even if there is not a specific employee transitioning. It is advised to bring in an experienced trainer and if they themselves are transgender it is a huge plus, as they can answer personal question within their own boundaries.

5. Understand that no two people and their journeys will be the same. Please do not assume that when you have successfully had one employee transition that the next one will have the same issues, or need the same training. My own experience has shown that each training class I have facilitated has been a unique event. Therefore a "canned" set of slides and cognitive information is necessary, but not sufficient to address the emotional needs of all the people attending the training.

There is hardly a day that goes by now, when we do not hear about some transgender issue in the media. Yes, we seem to be everywhere, and maybe we truly are.

I encourage you to be prepared to best support your team, and have everyone learn that we are just people like you, trying to live our very best life. You are in a place that can help with this.

...

Grace Anne Stevens is the President of Gender Variance Education and Training, and an inspirational and motivational speaker on living authentically. She has written two books and has a weekly column on the Huffington Post: My Transgender Life.

Grace will be presenting EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT GENDER TRANSITION IN THE WORKPLACE BUT DIDN'T EVEN KNOW TO ASK at the SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Conference in Austin on 10/26/16. https://conferences.shrm.org/conference/2016-diversity-inclusion-conference-exposition/session/everything-you-wanted-know-about

Learn more about Grace's work at www.graceannestevens.com