Article: Hiring transgenders at work

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Hiring transgenders at work

Although the number of people making a gender transition while remaining in their jobs appears to be increasing, few HR professionals receive training to prepare for the moment when an employee informs them that he or she plans to make such a transition.
Hiring transgenders at work

Recent CAP polling shows that 73% of voters support protecting transgender people from discrimination in employment . Despite this strong public support, no federal law provides explicit legal protections for transgender workers based on gender identity/expression—and only 17 states and the District of Columbia (USA) offer these protections. As a result, transgender workers face higher rates of unemployment and are at greater risk of poverty.

  • Transgender workers report unemployment at twice the rate of the population as a whole (14% vs. 7% at the time the workers were surveyed).
  • More than four in 10 transgender people (44%) who are currently working are underemployed.
  • Transgender workers are nearly four times more likely than the population as a whole to have a household income of under $10,000 (15% vs. 4% at the time the workers were surveyed).


"Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth," according to the APA. The term "transgender" is commonly used to refer to individuals who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth or with standard societal expectations of the male and female gender roles. Transgender persons include people who are transsexual, cross-dressing, androgynous and gender-nonconforming, among others. Transgender individuals often suffer discrimination in various aspects of their lives, including employment.

Statistics on the numbers of transgender individuals are scarce. What is better documented is that perhaps most transgender men and women are targets of discrimination and sometimes violence and hate crimes. Discrimination may be overt, such as denial of access to a workplace restroom, or it may be subtle, such as disapproving glances or privacy-invading questions from co-workers.

A study conducted by the National LBGTQ Task  Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality says that transgender individuals' unemployment rate was twice the rate for the general population, and it reported substantial rates of workplace abuse and discrimination. The findings were drawn from the responses of 6,450 transgender participants.

Among the study's most significant findings is that although employers are increasingly adopting transgender-friendly policies and practices, transgender employees still face significant challenges in the workplace. For example:

  • 50% of respondents reported being harassed at work.
  • 26% said they lost a job because they were transgender or gender-nonconforming.
  • 20% said they were removed from direct contact with an organization's clients because of being transgender 


In some instances, a transgender person will make the change to the other gender while employed. The means of making such a transition may or may not include medical or surgical procedures, but it will result in the person living as a member of the other sex. In such circumstances, the employer should help the person with workplace concerns during and after the transition and should help the rest of the workforce deal with the transition.

Transgender individuals should receive the same respect and equitable treatment accorded to all employees. Transgender employees' integration into the workplace is critical for employers for many reasons.

For example, with transgender employees in its workplace, an organization can do the following:

  • Attract and retain the individuals most qualified for particular jobs.
  • Become productive, innovative and creative by drawing on the breadth of talents fostered by inclusiveness in the workplace.
  • Act ethically and responsibly to ensure all workers are treated equitably and are judged on their abilities, not on their gender identity.
  • Demonstrate commitment to compliance with federal, state, local and global employment laws.
  • Fulfil diversity initiatives, thereby helping the workforce reflect the community at large.


There is a clear trend in both case law and legislation toward greater protection for transgender individuals. In the United States and other countries, transgender employment discrimination is actionable under various laws. Employers need to be fully aware of legal requirements pertaining to workplace discrimination, and they should make sure their anti-discrimination policies include gender identity and gender expression. As leaders of their organizations' anti-discrimination and diversity efforts, HR professionals are responsible for fostering tolerance, inclusiveness and openness to a wide variety of perspectives in the workplace.

Thus, HR must possess a thorough understanding of anti-discrimination protections provided by law and must make sure those protections are incorporated in employer policies and practices. Despite the influence of legal rulings, however, HR professionals will likely encounter hurdles in helping managers and employees accept a transgender co-worker.

HR must have an understanding of transgender employees' issues and concerns in the workplace and be able to help resolve such issues and improve the climate of tolerance within the workforce, especially if employees or managers appear to be resistant. Following are some of the workplace policies that HR professionals should examine:

  • Anti-discrimination policy.
  • Dress code policy
  • Diversity and inclusion initiatives
  • Recruitment and selection processes
  • Benefits policies and offerings


Many co-workers want to be supportive of transgender workers. Some employees, however, may be offended by the idea of a transgender person. Gender transition may run counter to their religious beliefs or moral standards.  Diversity in a workplace means employees are able to work with all people; it does not require that employees believe in or accept transgenderism. Employees are entitled to their beliefs, but they should also be required to treat the transgender person—and every other employee—with respect. Deena Fidas, head of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation's Workplace Equality Program , and co-author of the Corporate Equality Index (CEI), says that the CEI has rated almost 4,500 American companies and organizations on their policies, benefits, and practices pertinent to LGBT employees. Of the more than 300 companies that earned a top CEI score of 100% in 2015, 72 stood out as the best companies for promoting workplace equality for transgender employees.

According to Fidas, some of the earliest adopters of transgender-inclusive health insurance policies or the inclusion of gender identity in non-discrimination policies include Aetna, American Airlines, Apple, JP Morgan Chase, and Nike. More recently, she said, businesses like CIGNA Corp. have created innovative programming like its LGBT diversity organization to foster transgender inclusion in the everyday workplace environment.

Although the number of people making a gender transition while remaining in their jobs appears to be increasing, few HR professionals receive training to prepare for the moment when an employee informs them that he or she plans to make such a transition. This situation produces particular challenges for HR professionals, yet it parallels other discrimination issues familiar to HR. Knowledge of principles and techniques relevant to those areas can be applied to issues that arise when an employee transitions. For a transition to be considered successful, it must work for the person in transition, for the people he or she works with and for the organization. If the organization follows basic guidelines, this process can go smoothly. Like all workers, transgender employers will be happier and more productive in a positive, supportive working environment. Therefore, an employer that can foster and provide a positive, inclusive working environment, based on respect and professionalism, will likely enjoy workers who are happy to be there, engaged in their work and in the organization's success, and respectful of others.

Topics: Hiring, Diversity, Recruitment

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In the next three years, 120 million jobs in the world’s 10 largest economies will need retraining or re-skilling. To adapt to this new environment and help shape it, employees need to embrace continuous learning. Amid these changes, HR needs to not think, act, or be like traditional HR; they need to understand their job is now “human transformation”. In this issue, we will focus on what HR leaders and organizations need to consider today to prepare for tomorrow.

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