This article will look at some of the causes behind this statistic, and then practices and policies in the workplace that could be used to improve them.
It’s important to acknowledge that even though a workplace might have diversity programs or equal hiring practices in place, it may still have policies that disproportionately act as a barrier to the employment of trans individuals, effectively discriminating against them.
No workplace would believe it fosters a discriminatory environment, and yet these statistics exist. So if you’re an employer, manager, or HR person, I’m going to ask you to set your beliefs about the fairness of your own workplace aside and listen.
The intended audience for this article are cisgender (not trans) individuals who oversee staff in the workplace, though the content is also relevant to educators, school administrators, and others.
Before We Begin…
If you’re not trans and haven’t seen the John Oliver segment on trans rights, then I’m going to ask you to watch this video before we continue. It’s 15 minutes long, but it provides a solid primer to the content that is to follow.
The article will use an umbrella term “trans” to refer to transgender people, but also other identities (or lack thereof) such as non-binary, agender, etc. Other gender diverse populations, such as Two Spirit, are also included. Studies, like those from Trans PULSE, included these identities in their data collection despite using the word “trans”.
I live in Ontario, Canada. Therefore the examples and statistics in this article will centre around my home province. Ontario is one of the most legislatively progressive environments in the world for trans people, and yet, as we’ll see, much work remains to be done.
I want to get this out of the way first, because bigots are how television and film most often portray prejudice against trans people in the workplace. In reality, bias usually does not manifest itself in such an easily identifiable way.
Trans PULSE found that of “trans Ontarians, 18% had been turned down for a job because of their trans identities or histories and another 32% were unsure if they were turned down because they were trans. 13% say they were fired for being trans and another 15% were fired from their jobs, but were unsure if it was because they were trans.”
Note the lack of certainty. While 18% of trans people had been turned down for a job, twice as many were not certain that it had happened. Were they not hired because there was a better candidate, or because they were trans? While bias can be easily identified by looking at group statistics, it’s very difficult to make such assertions on a case by case basis. As Michelle Leard told the CBC:
No one is going to be able to come out and say to you, we’re not going to hire you because you’re trans, that’s never going to happen.
Even when blatant prejudice is involved it can be hard to identify. Take the case of Dani in London, Ontario. She was working at a shop that sold candles in a local market with two of her friends. The trio were all trans. The tribunal documented what followed:
That night, the market manager called [the shop owner] on behalf of the market’s owner, Edward Kikkert. The market management claimed the call was to relay a complaint about the burning of incense at the booth and that those attending at the booth were dressed scantily and inappropriately for the “family market.”
According to Kikkert, he subsequently asked the shop owner to remove the employee or face eviction:
She was asked if she could not look after her booth, if she was not able, then she was asked to leave it because of the people she had running it.
Both Dani and the shop owner contested this version of events. Twelve days after the incident, Kikkert was interviewed by 980 AM in London. Over the course of the interview he reaffirmed that he wasn’t discriminating:
Why would I be discriminating? I’m not discriminating at all.
The story could have ended here. One party providing legitimate reasons for having an employee terminated, the other alleging discrimination, and trans people having their source of income taken away.
The story, however, did not end here as Kikkert then told 980 AM:
I’m just asking which washroom would they use? How can you go into a men’s washroom dressed as a lady, how can you go into ladies washroom when you’re a man. That’s the difficulty I have. It’s not discriminating at all. The issue is at hand.
The three transgender women filed an application to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Three years later, in 2014, the tribunal awarded Dani and the other applicants $40,000. In its decision, the adjudicator referred to the radio interview:
Mr. Kikkert was interviewed on the radio about 12 days after this incident. An electronic copy of the interview was introduced as evidence. At no time during the interview did Mr. Kikkert comment on the applicants’ clothing or even on the incense. He also raised the spectre of unpaid rent by [the shop owner] at the hearing, another issue he did not address in the radio interview.
Mr. Kikkert’s comments on the radio show were with respect to the market being a “family market”; the fact that he did not have washroom facilities for “these people”; and he referred to the applicants as “people like that”.
When Mr. Kikkert was asked in the interview if transgendered people had a right to make a living and whether they could do that at the market, he said they could if they followed the rules. When asked to clarify what those rules are, he referred to the washroom facilities, implying that the three applicants may have attempted to use a washroom at the market. However, I heard no evidence that the three applicants had used, or tried to use, any washroom on the day in question.
Most cases of discrimination will not have a radio interview. They will resemble this initial situation, with legitimate sounding reasons for an outcome that negatively impacts a trans person.
Perpetrators won’t ever think that they are acting in a discriminatory manner, and instances of bias will almost never clearly be presented as such.
So for the rest of this blog post, I’m going to talk about the other kind of prejudice. A kind that isn’t explicit, where the perpetrators don’t even realize they’re prejudicial, but that as a result of the bias they carry, cause harm.
From Explicit to Implicit Bias
The Kirwan Institute from Ohio State University defines implicit bias:
Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.
This comic summarizes it pretty well:
Everything from policies to architecture embed assumptions about the people that are affected by them. For instance, that a person’s gender is fixed or that anyone can walk up a set of stairs leading up to a building.
When these assumptions do not take into account how the world is experienced differently for certain groups of people, they can translate into extra obstacles for those groups. It makes it harder for them to reach the same end as their peers and so fewer do.
For example, a person using a mobility device might not be able to access the services offered inside a building that has neither ramp nor elevators. When looked at the group level, this would translate into fewer benefits being conferred to those using mobility devices compared to able-bodied individuals. It creates a disparity.
As another example, school administrators and teachers may not call trans student by their name or let them use the washroom and change room that corresponds with their gender. The staff’s actions would contribute to an unsafe learning environment for trans students in a way that cisgender students would not experience. Another disparity is created and one that could carry for life – the poorer grades that result translate into diminished income years later.
With all this talk of obstacles, it should be noted that cisgender people face obstacles too. However, there won’t be an additional set of obstacles related to them being cisgender. Cisgender people might face obstacles for being poor, but trans poor people will face one set of obstacles for being poor, a second for being trans, and a third for being trans and poor. As an example of the last category, a poor trans person might not be able to afford the fees to update their birth certificate to reflect the correct gender, causing difficulties later on. It’s not just that they’re trans, not just that they’re poor, it’s the intersection of the two and that adds an additional set of challenges.
Implicit bias also accounts for the difference between what we think we believe and what we actually believe. For instance, Canadians largely believe they support the rights of trans people.
When polled by Angus Reid, 84% of Canadians supported adding gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act, 77% said Canada should work to accommodate and protect transgender people in society, 85% agree that transgender people face a lot of discrimination in their lives and 78% regarded increasing acceptance of trans people as a sign of social progress.
Yet in the same poll, 59% of Canadians would prohibit trans people from using a washroom or make its use conditional, 42% said trans celebrities worsened their personal opinion of trans people, and 24% of Canadian men were uncomfortable with a trans person moving next door. Prohibiting or restricting washroom use, generalizing a whole minority based on perceptions of a token few, and being uncomfortable with a specific minority moving next door are all hallmarks of prejudice. And yet, many of these same individuals believe they are supportive of trans rights. They are unaware of their bias.
This bias has real ramification for trans people. Trans PULSE found that 57% of trans Ontarians avoided washrooms because of a fear of being harassed, being read as trans, or being outed. 36% avoided malls or clothing stores. 23% avoided restaurants or bars. 23% avoided public transit. 21% avoided emergency care. These are all workplaces for someone, and it makes these environments all the harder for trans people to access not just as clients, patrons or patients but as current or prospective employees as well.
The difference between cis people’s widespread perceptions of their support and the reality is made even more clear when you ask trans people about their experiences. In Ontario, trans people reported that:
- 96% had heard that trans people were not normal.
- 73% had been made fun of for being trans.
- 78% reported their family had been hurt or embarrassed for being trans.
- 26% had been hit or beaten up for being trans.
- 18% to 50% had been turned down for a job for being trans.
- 13% to 28% were fired for being trans.
Those people who say trans people aren’t normal work somewhere. Those people who ridicule trans people work somewhere. While most workplaces do not tolerate such behaviours, the underlying bias can manifest itself in other ways acceptable to the workplace, such as passing over trans employees for advancement opportunities.
Because many Canadians believe they are supportive while acting otherwise, I personally believe that education in this matter is of limited value. It’s too easy to do training, say you believe in a supportive climate, but to then leave discriminatory policies and practices in place. Instead I favour collecting metrics, the implementation of concrete measures, and to reduce opportunities for people to exercise their bias. I’ll be covering some concrete measures that can be implemented in the following sections.
A Note on Equality
Before we do talk policies and concrete measures, I think it’s important to clear up a misconception: treating people equally perpetuates inequality. At least in this environment where certain groups of people face more challenges than others to reach the same end.
This is counter-intuitive, but I find this comic by the Center for Story-based Strategy helps elucidate the matter. When you treat people equally, you end up with the top-left pane, where barriers still remain for some individuals:
There’s a few strategies to address inequality. Some, such as employment equity, involve providing special measures and accommodations of differences to correct the conditions that disadvantage employment. That would be the top-right pane in the comic. Examples of this could be to add a ramp for mobility devices or to ensure the workplace has a gender neutral washroom.
Another approach is to remove the barriers that exist to begin with, instead of correcting for them. That’s the bottom-left pane in the comic. However, even if a workplace removes barriers, trans employees can be disadvantaged from barriers they encountered previously. As an example of previous barriers affecting the current employment situation, 58% of trans people cannot get transcripts with their current name or gender and 28% cannot get references with their current name or gender.
To provide equal opportunities, workplaces must then not only account for how present conditions affect current or prospective employees, but also understand how past treatment affect these same employees.
There are concrete measures that can be implemented to address the barriers trans people face to employment. We’ll look at some of these, starting off with policies to address the needs of current employees.
Employers need to let employees specify a legal name and the name to use for the employee. The latter is how the employee should be referred to in all communications with employees, name tags, etc. Employees should be able to change their name. There should be no requirements imposed changing names to go by. No legal name should be asked of the employee before or during the interview process. Only those who handle taxes, benefits, or other documents that require legal names should be aware the legal name.
Processes to change names in the company should be formalized, in the same way that changing addresses might be formalized. What you don’t want is for HR to address the matter in an ad-hoc fashion, because while one HR person might allow and facilitate a name change, another HR person might not. Creating a formal process removes room for personal bias.
Gender & Pronouns
Don’t track the gender of employees unless it’s mandatory (eg. for benefits). If gender is to be tracked, employees should have the option to specify a legal gender and the gender to use for the employee. Employees should be able to change both. Only those who handle benefits, or other documents that require legal gender, should be aware of the legal gender. Like names, processes to change gender should be formalized.
Employees should be able to specify gender to use other than male/female, such as non-binary, two-spirit, or none. Employees should also be able to direct staff to use pronouns, and those pronouns should not be tied to perceptions around the employee’s gender. Employees should be able to use he/him, she/her, but also pronouns such as the singular they/them, xe/xir, etc.
If that bit about gender other than male/female and pronouns is new to you, then I would introduce to you the notion that gender exists on a spectrum. The Queer 101 comic made by Sam Orchard explains this spectrum:
Trans PULSE found that 20% of non-cisgender Ontarians considered themselves not to be in the male/female binary, but to be both male and female, neither, or some fluid position between the two. If there’s more than the male/female binary out there, then there’s also more than the he/him/she/her set of pronouns to reflect those other gender identities. Some employees might ask to go by the singular they/them, for example.
There will likely be some opposition to employees having the option to self-report their gender, as Angus Reid found that 24% of trans Canadians should have their documents reflect the gender that was incorrectly assigned at birth in spite of their actual gender. This goes back to the concept of implicit bias. The mistake to make is to assume that because cisgender individuals have not experienced issues around gender, that the experience is less real for trans people.
Ask the employee how they want you to handle the times where they are misgendered in your presence. They might ask you to correct the pronoun for them, or prefer you to leave it be.
Dress codes should be identical for men and women and applied consistently irrespective of gender. If women can wear dresses, so can men. Dress codes should not be to sexualize female employees (commonplace in restaurant jobs.)
Some Ontario employers require female employees to dress in a sexualized or gender-specific way at work, such as expecting women to wear high heels, short skirts, tight clothing or low-cut tops. These kinds of dress codes reinforce stereotypical and sexist notions about how women should look and may violate Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
Washrooms and Change Rooms
Employees, patrons and clients should be allowed to use the washrooms and change rooms of their choosing, irrespective of the gender on their ID. All single stall washrooms should be gender neutral.
Not allowing employees to use the change room that corresponds to their gender identity creates a poisoned work environment according to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario as per Vanderputten v. Seydaco Packaging Corp.
Employees need to be referred to with the pronouns they ask to be referred to. It is the manager’s responsibility to check in with the employee, and ask them if they want the manager to correct other team members or staff who misgender them.
There is a double standard when it comes misgendering. If a cis person was repeatedly misgendered at work, that would be considered workplace harassment. Trans people are, however, largely expected to put up with it. Employers should accord the matter the seriousness it deserves. The emotional impact is no less on trans employees than it would be on cis employees.
Now let’s take a real world example, with this question posted on the Human Resources sub-reddit:
We’ve hired our first transgender employee that we’re aware of. On its face, this is a non-issue for our company as we’ve always been very inclusive.
However, this young man shows their biologically feminine features enough that our guests (we’re a restaurant) are using the incorrect pronouns which is bothering him.
We’ve of course directed everyone that should know to use the correct pronouns internally, but we can’t preemptively tell our guests that. Today, the employee arrived to work with a name tag indicating that people should use a “he/him” pronoun. We’ve directed him to remove the tag as it is not part of our uniform policy, but was hoping to get some advice/insight for proceeding from there.
My immediate direction to the operations manager was to let him know that we understand it is frustrating to be referred to by the wrong pronoun and that as long as he is polite and professional about it, he can gently correct a guest of the error or just ignore it as appropriate for the situation.
The employee is being continuously misgendered, but comes up with a solution and alters their name tag to include their pronoun. Management comes down on the trans employee for responding to the misgendering with this simple and effective prevention method, presenting an alternative that forces the trans person to submit themselves to being misgendered. While the human resources person states the company is inclusive, their actions in fact undermine inclusivity. This is an example of what not to do.
The correct path would be to make accommodations for the employee. An exception should have been made to permit the employee to alter their name tag.
Never ask a trans employee if they’ve had “The Surgery.” You’re essentially asking about their genitals, as a curiosity. Don’t do that.
Don’t bring up the show or movie you saw with a trans person in it in conversation with them, assuming the colleague may be interested because they’re trans too. That may be perceived as tokenizing.
Disclosure of Trans Status
Do not disclose that an employee is transgender without that person’s consent. Such disclosures could have social and professional ramifications for the employee. Ask the employee whether to disclose. Approval to disclose once is not approval to disclose every time.
Requiring trans people to undergo surgery in order to change documents even if the trans person doesn’t desire such a procedure is tantamount to involuntary sterilization according to the World Health Organization. As the agency explained in its statement Eliminating forced, coercive and otherwise involuntary sterilization:
In many countries, transgender and often also intersex persons are required to undergo sterilization surgeries that are often unwanted, as a prerequisite to receiving gender affirmative treatment and gender-marker changes.
According to international and regional human rights bodies and some constitutional courts, and as reflected in recent legal changes in several countries, these sterilization requirements run counter to respect for bodily integrity, self-determination and human dignity, and can cause and perpetuate discrimination against transgender and intersex persons.
As a real-world example, some insurance companies have the surgical requirement in order to update the gender marker for policy holders. The policy holder may have a birth certificate with the updated gender and could get a new policy elsewhere under the correct gender, but because of this requirement, cannot change their existing records.
Such policies are dehumanizing for clients. But it also sends a message to trans staff that their gender is perceived as illegitimate unless accompanied by a medically unnecessary procedure that they do not desire.
Companies with surgical requirements should remove them. For similar reasons, a letter from a medical professional should likewise not be a requirement for updating the gender marker in company records.
As a final note, surgical requirements to change gender was deemed discriminatory by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in XY v. Ontario (Government and Consumer Services). The case was with regards to the Ontario birth certificates, and the tribunal stated:
[The] requirement that Ontario birth certificates reflect the sex assigned at birth unless a person has and certifies to the respondent that he or she has had “transsexual surgery” is substantively discriminatory because it perpetuates stereotypes about transgendered persons and their need to have surgery in order to live in accordance with their gender identity, among other things.
Living Wage Canada defines living wages as:
A living wage is not the same as the minimum wage, which is the legal minimum all employers must pay. The living wage sets a higher test – a living wage reflects what earners in a family need to bring home based on the actual costs of living in a specific community.
The minimum wage in Ontario, as of the time of this writing in September 2016 is $11.25 per hour. The living wage in Ontario, as calculated by Living Wage Canada, can be anywhere from $14.15 in Windsor to $18.52 in Toronto.
In Ontario, 10.9% of the population earns minimum wage. No one should be earning less than what it costs to live. If your business doesn’t pay a living wage, then it is contributing to the poverty faced by trans Canadians.
Minimum & Stable Hours
According to the Law Commission of Ontario, 33% of part-time jobs can be characterized as precarious. The statistic is lower for full-time employees, at 9%. Part-time work represents 80% of all newly created jobs in Canada.
Part-time employees should be paid a living wage, guaranteed a minimum set of hours, and schedules should be stable from week to week. Businesses should support employees who wish to unionize rather than to stand in opposition.
No employee should involuntarily be given so few hours to work that they live in uncertainty. No employee should be asked to give up their week so that their employers may, or may not, call them in on a whim. This precarious work contributes to the poverty faced by trans Canadians.
When salary is chosen in a discretionary manner, it provides room for individuals to exercise bias. This bias may not be intentional, but it results for instance in women getting paid less than men for the same jobs, even if they have the same experience and degree. This disparity is documented in most sectors, from finance to software development.
To reduce the effects of such bias, salaries should be transparent and dictated by policy. Employees should not be prohibited from discussing wages. This will ensure that trans people are fairly compensated for their work.
Company Culture & Workplace Incidents
Businesses need to be preventative rather than reactive to workplace incidents. Every workplace incident should be treated as preventable, and addressing the conditions that favour such incidents should be regarded as instrumental. That means making a concerted effort to make the company culture inherently more inclusive.
Reporting mechanisms can only be seen as part of the solution to workplace incidents especially as so many incidents go unreported. In Canada, sexual harassment is experienced 43% of women, but goes unreported 78% of the time. The leading reasons given for not reporting is that the victim feels the issue is too minor or that the employer would not respond well. Reporting mechanisms present a reporting cutoff point, letting damaging behaviours persist. Lowering the bar for reporting isn’t enough as the process itself is only invoked after the employee has been harmed. That harm should not occur in the first place, and to do that the role of the workplace as an enabler has to be looked at and addressed accordingly.
I’d like to further drive this point with an example from my own work history. At one of my jobs, I was sitting in the outdoor employee lunch area with my friend eating lunch. We were alone at the time and both of us are trans. The building manager for my workplace came out and yelled at us. We weren’t allowed here, he said. I told him that I worked here, but he didn’t believe me. We were made to leave. His behaviour was based on assumptions from our appearance.
Being reactive is too late: I was already kicked out of my own workplace. Prevention is key. It takes more than a paragraph in a training manual to make a culture welcoming of all workers, it has to be a continued conversation and backed by concrete policies.
If the workplace is large enough to bring in a dedicated diversity consultant, bring in one that knows discrimination first hand. The content will likely be far more relevant even if their experience isn’t around transphobia specifically. For example, a cisgender person that experienced racism and understands the mechanisms that sustain it would be far better positioned to challenge the practices that perpetuate transphobia.
For workplaces that have more than a few workers, monitoring diversity is a concrete way to know if there are barriers to employment. If there is low employee diversity then there are likely discriminatory practices at play. Such numbers dispense with good intentions and instead speak to the reality of the situation.
Angus Reid found that 0.6% of Canadians who responded to their poll were trans. This is consistent with the findings of the Williams Institute the US, which found that 0.6% of Americans were trans. I expect the figures will one day be higher, as the stigma around coming out as trans decreases.
With such low estimates, it’s difficult for most workplaces to gather metrics on trans employees as a percentage of total workers specifically. However, there is another good set of measures: the percentage of women in the workplace, the percentage of people of colour, the percentage of people with disabilities, the percentage of francophones, the percentage of First Nation/Inuit/Metis employees, etc.
If workplace conditions improve for women, if they improve for people of colour, if they improve for people with disabilities, then they very likely improve for trans people too.
All companies, especially those in traditionally male-dominated fields, should monitor diversity. These numbers should be disclosed, and companies should strive to improve them. A second set of numbers should also be disclosed for the diversity as found in upper and executive levels of management. In Canada’s top 100 companies, women only make up 8.5% of executive positions, presenting a different set of challenges than that found in the positions below. Accountability there is important.
I’d like to give a personal anecdote on the value of monitoring the percentage of women in the workplace. One place I worked at was a mid-size tech company.
The company sponsored an initiative to support high-school girls interested in getting into tech. The founder was awarded the Diversity Champion of the Year by a national organization of women in technology and communications. Things looked good on paper.
But this company had a sexism problem. A video sexually objectifying women was circulated in the company-wide internal chat, to the approval of an executive. Sexually charged jokes and language were becoming regular. Women were subjected to sexual harassment. Women were passed up for opportunities that were given to less qualified men. In this company, only 9% of technical roles were occupied by women, despite the fact that in the city this company was based, 26% of computer and information systems professionals were women.
That 9% figure, especially as compared to the 26% of women in the field, spoke to a tangible problem. This is why collecting and disclosing this data is so important, which this company did to its credit. It not only brings a clarity that could otherwise be obscured by goodwill and corporate initiatives, but it creates pressure to improve those numbers.
And if you hear excuses like “all the people who applied are men!” then you need to look at your hiring process, because that’s where some of your flaws are to be found.
Benefits & Leave
Employers who offer health benefits should make them immediately available upon employment. Employees should not be made to wait a probationary period to access benefits.
According to Trans PULSE, 43% of transgender Ontarians were currently on hormone replacement therapy. This treatment is costly. Ensuring that all employees can access benefits immediately ensures that trans workers do not experience a period of financial strain that cisgender employees, as a group, would not experience. Otherwise this creates income disparity.
Employers should negotiate with insurers to ensure that the language in health benefits are not gendered, so that trans people can access medical care relevant to their bodies. Short-term leave coverage should include recovery time from surgical care.
Companies should regard raising children as the responsibility of all parents involved and correct for a correct for a culture that both expects and penalizes women for being parents. PayScale found that while men prioritize home over work more frequently than women, women in similar jobs still endured the greater loss of salary over work-life balance.
All partners should be given generous and equal leave. Men in positions of leadership should be taught to avoid expressions such as telling staff they are “babysitting” their kid as it subtly reinforces the perception of women as caretakers. Gender equality in this matter makes a difference for trans people, for example, by ensuring transgender fathers who gave birth have access to appropriate leave.
Equal Pay For Equal Work
Canada has the 7th highest wage gap out of the 34 countries in the OECD. One of the reasons for this is that women have high representation in the 20 lowest paid occupations. However, this is not because women choose lower-value jobs. It’s because jobs devalued precisely because women work them. As the New York Times wrote of one of the most comprehensive studies on the pay gap, looking at 50 years worth of data:
[W]hen women enter fields in greater numbers, pay declines — for the very same jobs that more men were doing before.
Consider the discrepancies in jobs requiring similar education and responsibility, or similar skills, but divided by gender. The median earnings of information technology managers (mostly men) are 27 percent higher than human resources managers (mostly women), according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. At the other end of the wage spectrum, janitors (usually men) earn 22 percent more than maids and housecleaners (usually women).
“It’s not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance,” Ms. England said. “It’s just that the employers are deciding to pay it less.”
The same thing happened when women in large numbers became designers (wages fell 34 percentage points), housekeepers (wages fell 21 percentage points) and biologists (wages fell 18 percentage points). The reverse was true when a job attracted more men. Computer programming, for instance, used to be a relatively menial role done by women. But when male programmers began to outnumber female ones, the job began paying more and gained prestige.
Businesses choose the remuneration they give their employees. They can contribute to the wage gap by paying those who work in (primarily female) human resources less than the (primarily male) software engineers they oversee. Or they can close the divide between the two. This is a choice.
To my knowledge, there has not been any data collected on occupations held by trans people. However, as Trans PULSE found, half of trans people make less than $15,000 a year and closing the wage gap will be especially beneficial to those working the lowest paid occupations where women have had high representation.
Another significant barrier to trans people accessing the workplace occurs during the hiring process. In this section, we’ll address concrete measures to reduce these obstacles.
Education & References
According to Trans PULSE, “more than half of trans Ontarians were unable to get academic transcripts that reflect their current name and gender, and another 28% could not get letters of reference with their current name and gender. Further, 27% reported that they had, at least once, chosen not to provide letters of reference because they were trans.”
As such, requiring diplomas and references can act as a barrier to the employment of trans people. There are, however, alternatives.
In the software industry, it is common to not care about formal education, and instead focus on what the prospective employee actually knows. Candidates are presented with challenges that reflect the work they will perform, and they are evaluated accordingly. This approach can be brought over to other domains. It won’t work for all candidates, but it’s one approach.
Anonymous Job Applications
When hiring, name, age, and gender should be hidden from staff evaluating resumes and technical challenges. The effects of anonymous job applications on the callback rates of minority applicants were documented in the IZA Journal of European Labor Studies:
First, women benefit from higher callback rates with anonymous job applications—at least if they compete with male applicants for a job. However, for roughly half of the vacancies included in the experiment only female candidates or only male candidates applied. Second, migrants and residents of deprived neighborhoods suffer from anonymous job applications. Their callback rates are lower with anonymous job applications than with standard applications. Third, recruiters who tend to invite candidates with similar characteristics to them are not able to continue to do so. This conscious or unconscious behavior of “homophily” is therefore prevented with anonymous job applications, importantly with persistent effects in later stages of the recruitment process.
Such measures positively affect trans people by mitigating the effect of homophily and by reducing the bias against female names.
Hiring People Like You
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that managers have an unconscious bias towards hiring people like themselves, especially if they’re white and male.
This effect of hiring people like yourself is in full force in corporate Canada, where women only make up 15.9 percent of board seats at Financial Post 500 companies. The men who dominate these upper echelons hire people like themselves: other men. This bias that is so pronounced on these boards exist at all levels and negatively impacts trans people who may be perceived as quite different from largely cisgender hiring personnel. With Angus Reid finding that only 4% of Canadians have “a close relationship” with a transgender person, and given significant borderline salacious portrayal of trans people in popular culture, there is ample room for thinking of trans people as unlike them to take hold.
To address this effect, the CIPD released a guide called A head for hiring: The behavioural science of recruitment and selection. In it, there are 18 recommendations employers can take:
- Take a fresh look at person–organisation fit, considering both current and aspirational organisational culture.
- Test the wording of your job adverts to see how it affects who applies.
- Personalise your outreach efforts to encourage applicants.
- Make it easy for people who show interest to apply directly.
- Vary where and how you do outreach.
- Push for transparency in outreach even when using networks for recruitment and selection.
- Systematise your use of social media in recruitment.
- Group and anonymise CVs when reviewing them.
- Pre-commit to a set of interview questions that are directly related to performance on the job.
- Focus interviews on collecting information, not making the decision.
- Make sure tests are relevant to the job and fit for purpose.
- Include people in hiring decisions who have not been involved in assessing candidates.
- Stick to what the scores tell you for final decisions.
- Spread assessments and decisions across days, but keep all other conditions similar.
- If discussing unconscious bias, emphasise the desired behaviour of assessors, rather than the problem.
- Evaluate your assessment practices.
- Avoid creating stereotype threat in the assessment process.
- Ask for feedback from rejected and accepted candidates.
I would add to the list that if the employee comes in from a referral, that the candidate should not be known to those handling or evaluating their application.
Don’t Bring Up Transition
The CIPD guide A head for hiring: The behavioural science of recruitment and selection also discussed the stereotype threat:
Members of stereotyped groups often perform worse on tests (a naturally stressful situation) when their identity as part of that group is highlighted or they are primed to think about it; a phenomenon that psychologists call stereotype threat.
There is never an appropriate or relevant time to bring up transition, much less during the interview. If the employee needs to discuss something, they will do so. Otherwise, they do not need to provide an explanation for changing their name, gender, dealing with misgendering, etc.
LGBT Work History
A study in the US by the Equal Rights Center and Freedom to Work found that if a resume listed the applicant’s leadership role in an LGBT organization, the applicant was 23% less likely to get an interview than their less-qualified heterosexual counterparts.
One mitigating strategy is to anonymize the names of the organizations worked by the candidate in addition to their name, gender, and age.
Evaluate Bias In Hiring Staff
Staff handling hiring should be evaluated to identify implicit bias. Project Implicit from Harvard University provides a series of tests that can be taken to help detect implicit bias.
The Project Implicit provides tests on the basis of gender & sexuality, which is directly pertinent to trans people, as well as other metrics. Staff with a known bias towards a minority should not be involved in evaluating candidates from that minority.
To Wrap Up
I ended up skipping some common workplace advice for the inclusion of trans people, such as adding gender identity & gender expression as a protected class to a company’s non-discrimination and harassment policies. I didn’t want to create the sense that adopting this to the exclusion of other listed measures would make for an inclusive workplace, because it doesn’t.
The list I provided is a partial one and I encourage people to contribute their own suggestions by commenting below. The take-away however is that there is overlap between the discrimination faced by trans people and the gendered discrimination faced by women as well as the discrimination faced by other minorities. Addressing the barriers for one with meaningful change will invariably benefit other groups on the receiving end of bias.
I end this with a request. Doing something like adding gender identity & gender expression to a company’s non-discrimination policy is easy. It doesn’t necessitate any tangible change. Real change is hard. Real change requires being uncomfortable. So speak up. Push back. Present that unpopular opinion. You won’t be rewarded for it, you won’t get praise, but that’s the only way things will get better.
With that, I present a quote from Elie Wiesel:
We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.