“You can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members”, said Mahatma Gandhi. For this week’s #IndustryInsights, we speak with Melissa Griffiths on how to bring the transgender conversation to light in the modern workplace. Businesses can provide an inclusive and safe space for transgender people, who are now the most at risk group within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Intersex (LGBTQI) community for depression, suicide and mental health issues.
The workplace can be an intimidating place for those who identify as transgender, as can be many other areas of their lives. People who feel they can’t bring their authentic selves to work spend more effort and time ‘covering up’, impacting greatly on their mental health, stress levels and productivity, which can be mentally exhausting. One in two LGBTQI Australians have shown to hide their identity in the workplace. It’s 2017 and the transgender conversation in the Australian workplace is still severely underrepresented in public commentary.
At Agency Iceberg, we’re firm believers in equal opportunities for all and have seen first hand the stress and emotional toil of what it feels like to be an outsider. The burden of raising transgender awareness and consciousness should not be left to the transgender employee alone, but should be a cohesive effort by the team at large, supported from management down.
Melissa Griffiths is an LGBTQI advocate driven by helping transgender people in their journey and is in the works of creating her own foundation. Her mission is to educate employers on gender identity and to raise awareness that LGBTQI people are valuable employees that contribute greatly to a diverse and inclusive workforce.
The benefits of nurturing a workplace environment that is non threatening to transgender people include fostering openness and stronger relationships with other colleagues and the team at large, improving employee performance by empowering transgender staff to bring their authentic selves to work, and attracting customers who are loyal to socially responsible companies.
Melissa went through her transition a year ago and since then has had implemented a gender identity policy at Melbourne Racing Club and Victoria Racing Club, where she is a member, to introduce a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination towards people in the transgender community.
A workplace can provide a supportive environment for transgender people who often face discrimination and abuse in multiple facets of their lives. When Melissa was going through transition, she would have faced ‘a lot less grief’ if appropriate policies were in place.
A workplace that has a diverse and inclusive culture will be far more effective in dealing with the social impacts in their workplace of a transgender person working for them. Having policies and procedures in place helps to protect transgender people and enables them to feel more welcome in the workplace. Here are Melissa’s tips on how to create a transgender friendly, supportive and inclusive workplace:
1) Implement a gender identity policy:
Everyone has the right to be treated with respect and courtesy and without harassment in the workplace, where they have a right to work in an environment free from discrimination regardless of the gender they identify with. Having a clear and thoughtful gender identify policy It also presents the business with the opportunity to promote awareness and provide leadership.
A gender identity policy can be a simple document outlining that transgender people have a right to use toilet facilities of their adopted gender identity, that the workplace’s dress code is applicable in its usual way and that members of the workplace are to conduct themselves sensitively and respectfully at all times.
The document can also outline examples of inappropriate behaviour that won’t be tolerated by the workplace. Don’t keep your policies quiet. It defeats the purpose. It should at least be a part of the employee handbook or online with company’s values.
2)When an employee decides to transition, have an action plan in place:
If a person who is transgender decides to transition from male to female or female to male then the workplace can implement an action plan for this, covering an understanding of the transition timeframe, establishing the transitioning person’s name and their preferred gender specific pronoun and expectations and etiquette in the workplace.
This will provide management and other employees with a sensible and supportive approach to assist the employee intending to transition genders. It will also facilitate ongoing, open and informed discussions between the person transitioning with the rest of the team.
Lead by example. A supportive and proactive manager can inform their team of a person transitioning by saying, “Sarah will be taking time off for the next week or so, and will be coming back as Tom and will prefer being referred to as a male from then onwards.” A lack of knowledge has the potential for creating misunderstanding and tension in the workplace.
3) Offer practical help
Whilst an employee is going through transition, HR/employers can offer practical help to colleagues who may need extra support in understanding the transition process and how to behave appropriately towards someone else’s transition. be struggling to deal with that person’s decision. Support can come in the form of one-on-one discussions, or offer referrals to external counsellors. Regularly communicate with your staff about the importance of having an inclusive workplace, and how they play a significant a part in this.
Mistakes will inevitably happen when adopting new gender pronouns. Asking questions, such as what people would like to be referred to/called and be understanding if that changes is the best solution to avoid tension. The burden of consciousness shouldn’t be left to the person transitioning. Transitioning to a new gender takes time and adjustment. Be respectful and positive and challenge any inappropriate banter you might hear.
The benefits of having a transgender-inclusive workplace:
At the end of the day, the person transitioning wants to have a smooth and no fuss process, and this should be reflected in the workplace. It is a huge social adjustment for transgender people to live their lives as their preferred gender, and is a process which impacts those around them.
Fostering an inclusive workplace for the LGBTQI community is essential for Australian businesses who want to achieve a truly diverse workplace. The market rewards diversity and its business case is incontestable. Employees that feel comfortable and encouraged to bring their authentic selves to work can sometimes feel lower levels of stress and anxiety and shouldn’t everyone have an equal opportunity to work in an environment where they feel safe and comfortable?
Resources/support links for transgender people:
Connect with Melissa Griffiths on LinkedIn here.
Photography by Breeana Dunbar.
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