The lived experience of trans people in the workplace

This Transgender Awareness Week comes at a time where trans and non-binary people are bearing the brunt of a great deal of hostility from the media. However bleak it can seem at times, there is good news too: polling of the UK public shows that most people are supportive of letting trans people live their lives freely! But one major downside of the hostile media environment is that there is little mainstream coverage of the reality of trans lives, and information on how employers and teachers can best support colleagues and students.

TransActual’s 2021 Trans Lives Survey shows that life as a trans person can be hard. 63% of trans and non-binary people reported transphobia whilst seeking employment, rising to 73% if they were also black or a person of colour. Despite the well meaning of many, there is a lack of education over how to support trans people, or to recognise transphobic behaviour in others, which can act as a barrier to building a safe, happy and supportive work or study environment.

As a trans person myself, I’ve been privileged to come out and transition whilst working at Culture Shift, with excellent support from colleagues and managers, but listening to my trans peers my experience is sadly uncommon. Many do not come out at work, instead choosing to suppress their gender identity and go to the workplace as their gender assigned at birth, adding to the difficulty of transition. You may have trans and non-binary people in your team and not know it! Others instead choose to leave their job and instead apply for new jobs where they are already out in the interview process, rather than come out and manage a transition in the workplace. Even well-meaning colleagues who have known someone for a long time might accidentally use the person’s dead (pre-transition) name or the wrong pronouns, which can cause an uncomfortable situation.

Fortunately there are accelerating trends to allow trans and non-binary people to participate fully in the workplace. From having gender-neutral toilets with individual cubicles, to normalising the advertisement of pronouns in email signatures (but never enforced, lest a closeted trans person might have to choose between outing themselves or lying), small progress is being made in trans acceptance despite overwhelming pushback from some quarters.

The Equality Act 2010 includes transgender identity as one of the protected characteristics which you can not discriminate against. The Act explicitly states that this includes people at any point in their transition, and has no requirements around whether or not someone has taken any medical steps in their transition. This was further reinforced recently in an employment tribunal appeal, where the judgement stated that those who hold transphobic “gender-critical” beliefs can not use those as the basis for discrimination: “This judgment does not mean that those with gender-critical beliefs can 'misgender' trans persons with impunity.“

Allowing people to report incidents of discrimination is one way of demonstrating that you take your obligations under the Equality Act seriously. However, barriers to reporting can put people off doing so, especially if they feel they may have to out themselves to do so, and allowing anonymous reporting can give people still in the closet an avenue to speak up that they might not otherwise have. Similarly, allowing people to report things they’ve witnessed can also help identify areas where your culture isn’t all you want it to be, and all of these are areas where a Report + Support site from Culture Shift can help you.

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