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Five ways communications professionals can support their transgender colleagues when they come out in the workplace

By Aby Hawker, TransMission PR

As trans and non-binary people become increasingly visible and the language surrounding them enters the mainstream, more and more people are feeling comfortable enough to transition. With one percent of the population identifying as trans, there is a good chance that one of your colleagues may embark on the process at work.

Unfortunately, most places of business lack the understanding and experience to create a suitably welcoming and inclusive environment for newly-out trans and non-binary employees.

According to a study by Stonewall:

• 1 in 3 UK employers say they would be less likely to hire a trans person
• 1 in 8 British trans people have been physically attacked at work
• Half of trans people hide the fact that they are trans at work

Being aware of how best to support your co-worker can lead to a much smoother and stress-free experience for the individual embarking on their journey so that everyone feels comfortable and safe being themselves at work.

Here are five ways to support your trans and non-binary colleagues when they come out in the workplace.

1. Use inclusive language
The first step towards helping your trans and non-binary colleagues feel accepted is to identify and use the correct pronouns. It’s not hard! With a little conscious effort, it will become second nature. Using the correct pronouns will show them that you’re thinking about how they’re feeling, and that you respect them for who they are.

It’s a good idea to ask your trans and non-binary colleagues whether they would like you to correct other people who use the wrong pronouns. Once you know their preference, make sure you handle the situation in a non-confrontational way, and lead by example.

It also helps to scrap cis-normative terms from company communications. Before you send something out, take a moment to think about how it might feel to read if you were trans or non-binary. For example, starting an email with “ladies and gentlemen” clearly excludes non-binary people. Try gender-neutral terms like “colleagues” or “friends” instead.

Avoid slurs and derogatory language at all costs. In instances like this, it is also important to challenge their use by anyone being less than supportive – even in supposed ‘jest’. Address any language that you feel may be offensive head-on and if necessary, report it to your superiors if your intervention does not meet with a respectful response.

If you’re in a position to, implement and reinforce zero-tolerance policies for abuse. If you’re not, ask your line manager how you might go about implementing one.

2. Don’t draw attention to your colleague or ask invasive questions
It can be tempting to ask probing questions of your newly-out trans or non-binary colleague, particularly if you don’t know many – or any – other trans or non-binary people.

These questions often come from a place of innocence, and a genuine desire to understand. But the truth is, your colleague’s gender, sexuality, body and manner of dress are their business and no one else’s. Again if you hear colleagues asking inappropriate questions, take them to one side and highlight that such matters are deeply personal and should be treated as such.

If you’re curious, do your own research – there are countless resources available online.

3. Learn and understand
The first step towards acceptance is understanding, and understanding requires education. The best way to do this is with company-mandated diversity training initiatives. If you’re in a position to create an initiative like this, it is a great way to get everyone on the same page. Hire trans or non-binary people to provide training, where possible; no one has a better understanding of the issues they are facing, and you’d be supporting the community as well as demonstrating a tangible commitment to diversity.

If budgets won’t allow for third-party specialist training, ask your HR department to look into creating them. Then, take the initiative! There are plenty of ways to educate yourself, from books and TV programmes to the internet.

Just make sure you’re not putting the burden of that education on the same trans employees you are working to accommodate – unless they are keen to be actively involved, in which case involve them!

4. Be proactive in making the workspace itself trans-friendly
Most workplaces are, unfortunately, not created with trans and non-binary people in mind. If you want your trans and non-binary colleagues to feel welcome and safe to express themselves, it’s important to change that. Good first steps include creating gender-neutral bathrooms and abolishing strict dress codes that enforce the gender binary (man/woman).

Workplace policy should support trans and non-binary people too. Things like mentoring programmes, financial assistance for medication and surgery, and paid leave for mental health and recovery are all helpful. As with the suggestions above, if you’re not in a position to establish these yourself, try asking your line manager.

5. Remember, mistakes happen
We’ve all made mistakes. Unless you’re a superhuman, you’re likely to make them too. What’s important is how we handle those slip-ups. Don’t make a big deal out of it – briefly apologise, correct your mistake and move on. Moving on is particularly important; don’t place the burden on your colleague to manage your feelings by pushing them to forgive you.

Trans and non-binary people can usually tell the difference between genuine mistakes and deliberate slights. As long as you are making an effort to change, you’ll do fine.

Armed with these dos and don’ts, you’ll be able to transform your workplace into an inclusive, kind and welcoming space, where your trans and non-binary colleagues feel comfortable being themselves.


Adapted from a blog originally published on www.transmissionpr.com.

TransMission PR is communications consultancy specialising in Transgender Awareness and Inclusion for communications professionals, brands and organisations. Contact hello@transmissionpr.com for more information.

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