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Our society is changing, slowly, but changing nonetheless. While trans people have gained measurable legal rights over the past two decades, societal acceptance and workplace inclusion have lagged legislation. As a result, many trans people continue to live in fear that they’d be fired for being transgender.

That fear is well founded. A McKinsey & Company survey of US employers found that trans people are twice as likely as cisgender adults to be unemployed. When and if they do find employment, trans people make an average of 32% less money a year than cisgender people, find it more difficult to get promoted at work, and feel less supported by their managers.

It also found that more than half of transgender employees say that they are not comfortable being out at work and that they feel less supported in the workplace than their cisgender colleagues do.

It would be easy to dismiss those findings as not applicable to Canada, but in reality the Canadian experience for trans people at work mirrors that of the United States and there is lots that we as people and as employers can do to help accelerate a positive change in the workplace.

The following are just a handful of concrete actions that employers can take to create a more inclusive and welcoming workplace for transgender people:

Update your policies and include “Gender Identity or Expression” as a protected category. Prohibited discrimination against a class is already the law in Canada, why not entrench that you’re your workplace policies as well. It will help display the organization’s commitment to inclusivity.

Educate your employees and encourage them to seek information on their own rather than asking intrusive questions from trans people. Importantly, it is not up to trans people to educate others, this is a personal responsibility for each of us to own.

It would also be good to remember that a co-worker’s discomfort never justifies discrimination. Gender-based stereotypes, perceptions, or comfort levels mean that more education is needed by cisgender employees.

Mind your language and practice using the appropriate pronouns when called for. Sure, it may feel odd at first, but you’d be surprised just how easily and quickly that habit forms, and the immensely positive impact it can have on an individual’s sense of belonging.

That adjustment in language should also make its way to your organization’s personnel records and directories, reflecting preferred names and pronouns.

Here are some key terms that employees need to be familiar with:

  • Cisgender refers to having a gender that matches the sex one was assigned at birth.
  • Gender Expression refers to how a person publicly presents their gender.
  • Gender Identity refers to each person’s internal and external experience of gender which may be the same or different from their assigned sex at birth.
  • Gender Pronoun refers to the pronoun a person uses in reference to themselves, such as she, he, they, or the person’s name. There are a variety of other gender pronouns.
  • Sex refers to the external physical characteristics used to classify humans at birth. AFAB – Assigned female at birth. AMAB – Assigned male at birth.
  • Sexual Orientation refers to who one is sexually and/or romantically attracted to.
  • Transgender is an umbrella term to describe a wide range of people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth and/or the societal and cultural expectations of their assigned sex.

Start your inclusive journey from day 1 – when searching for new team members to join your organization be sure to use language that is non-gender specific in job postings and job descriptions. Most of us never realize that we introduce subtle bias in our written materials, and it would be good practice to run your posting copy through a Gender Decoder to find those subtle biases in your language.

For more information on this topic, we suggest starting with the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity.

Your Engaged HR assignment:

Does this topic make you uncomfortable? To get comfortable with being uncomfortable and to expand your understanding of Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace, attend our course on May 31.


Looking to learn more about other HR topics? Check out our Art of HR series!

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