Listen carefully: transgender voices in the workplace

Introduction

The worlds of entertainment, media and government have increasingly focussed on transgender (‘trans’) issues, whereas the business world seems a little slower to catch on. Dr. Beauregard (Middlesex University Business School, UK), Dr. Arevshatian (Kingston University Business School, UK), Dr. Booth (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK) and Professor Whittle (Manchester Law School, UK) explored the issue of the lack of the trans voice within the workplace. The researchers found that only 17% (Beauregard et al., 2016) of the websites for major British organisations referenced trans individuals.  The researchers concluded that trans voices are largely silent in the workplace, exploring possible causes and implications for both individuals and organisations.

Aim

This study aimed to illustrate the extent to which trans voices are heard or unheard in the workplace.

Method

  • Sample: The researchers reviewed the websites for FTSE 100 (Financial Times Stock Exchange 100) companies as of February 2015. This group is comprised the 100 largest organisations by market capitalisation on the London Stock Exchange.
  • Analysis and Steps: The researchers ran a content analysis on the websites, which involved capturing data classified as the following segments: gender, sexual orientation and transgender. The researchers conducted their analysis in the following three ways:
  1. A search on each website’s diversity or employment pages
  2. A manual search for key words using the search function on the company website
  3. A manual search using Google for the company’s name and key words

Findings

While most companies referred to gender or sexual orientation, only a minority referenced trans individuals.

  1. Whilst 97 organisations referenced gender, and 74 referenced sexual orientation, only 31 companies made relevant reference to trans individuals on their websites.
  2. Only 17 of those referring directly to transgender individuals (the other 14 made indirect references to ‘LGBT’)
  3. The term that was used most often when referring to the trans community was ‘LGBT’, followed by ‘gender reassignment,’ ‘gender identity’ and/or ‘gender expression.’ This implies that companies view trans individuals as part of the larger LGBT group. Additionally, organisations may focus primarily on trans individuals who change their genders.

The researchers proposed five possible reasons for the lack of trans voice within organisations:

  • Quiescent silence – many trans employees experience mistreatment and remain voiceless to protect themselves
  • Subsumption within LGBT – “as a group, LGBT voices tend to be dominated by L and G” (Beauregard et al., 2016), resulting in trans voices being overpowered
  • Assimilation – after changing genders, trans individuals may choose to ‘go stealth’ and not discuss their trans identity, preferring to be identified only as their new gender
  • Multiple trans voices – many voices exist within the trans community: some individuals will want to transition from one gender to the other; alternatively, other individuals identify themselves as both genders or as genderless. The lack of one consistent voice for the community may make it harder for these voices to be heard in the workplace
  • Limited access to voice mechanisms – trans individuals face higher unemployment rates than the rest of the population, or may choose to be self-employed to avoid discrimination in the workplace. These phenomena imply “that transgender individuals have low levels of status and power in most workplace contexts…” (Beauregard et al., 2016)

Implications

The findings above have several implications for organisations seeking to improve their inclusion of trans employees:

  • Do not assume that protective legislative environments for trans individuals means that organisational policies are not required: professional identity is a core component of any person’s whole identity, and trans individuals are no different. The creation of a forum – such as a GLOBE or PRIDE network – can help support a trans voice being heard and the development of suitable policies and practices
  • Consider creating inclusion and/or anti-discriminatory policies that cater for the entire trans community, not just those that are seeking to undergo/have undergone gender reassignment – a broader policy on respect for employees’ affirmed gender identity may be more appropriate
  • Do not assume that a lack of voice from the trans community means that they are low in numbers or that they have nothing to say – whilst it has proven difficult to accurately quantify the prevalence of trans individuals in the community, deliberate efforts should be taken to create an organisational environment where trans individuals feel safe and supported to share their feedback and ideas
  • Consider advertising trans policies externally in order to attract diverse and inclusive individuals, who over time will create a trans-friendly organisational climate
  • Focus on wider workplace concerns in addition to policy – incorporating education on trans issues into learning and development activities, and including options for gender beyond “male” and female” in practices, can help to introduce more positive attitudes towards the notion that gender identity is not binary.

For more information, contact Andrew Vitaliti

To read the full article, see Beauregard, T. A., Arevshatian, L., Booth, J. E. and Whittle, S. (2016) “Listen carefully: transgender voices in the workplace.” The International Journal of Human Resource Management, DOI: 10.1080/09585192.2016.1234503.

URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2016.1234503


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