Half of transgender employees hide identity at work for fear of discrimination

Encourage employers to implement trans-inclusive workplace policies, charity says

Employers must demonstrate a zero-tolerance policy on transphobic bullying and harassment in the workplace, the UK’s leading LGBT charity has urged, as it released new research on the experiences of transgender and non-binary people in the workplace. 

Half of transgender and non-binary people have hidden or disguised that they are LGBT in the workplace for fear of discrimination, a survey commissioned by Stonewall has revealed. The research, undertaken by YouGov, covered February to April 2017 and was published last week.

One in eight transgender employees who responded also reported being physically attacked at work by customers or colleagues during the previous year. 

“I was pressured to 'come out' as trans to a senior manager of my department and HR, owing to work issues,” one of the 870 trans and non-binary respondents wrote in the survey. “I moved departments as I felt I could not return to a hostile environment following sickness from work because of the stress caused by this issue and the treatment by a senior manager.” 

As a result of the report, the charity called for employers to develop clear zero-tolerance policies on transphobic harassment and discrimination in the workplace, supported by all-staff training.

It further recommended that employers use the charity’s guidance to develop comprehensive policies that support transgender employees who are transitioning, including related guidance for line managers. 

“I spoke at a conference last summer, and asked about 300 organisations to put up their hands if they had an in-house policy that referenced transgender people in any way. Maybe two people raised their hands,” transgender activist Juno Roche told People Management

“A policy doesn’t create safety, but it does create the environment for safety. In terms of employment law, it’s also a legal document. Without this, how will companies ever make a prospective transgender employee feel safe? The policies don’t need to be shoved in your face, but they must be present, and they must be specific – in 2018 you cannot get away with not having an in-house policy on transgender employees.”

Companies have a legal obligation towards trans workers under the 2010 Equality Act, which states that employers must ensure their staff are not discriminated against over their age, race, sexuality, gender or gender identity. There is also the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which enables some trans people to have their gender recognised under the law. 

However, after a recent CIPD poll revealed that 78 per cent of HR professionals did not have a ‘transitioning at work’ policy in place, employers must go further, Dr Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, told People Management

“While considerable advancement has been made in the treatment of LGBT people in the workplace generally, trans awareness and inclusion is still lagging significantly behind where it should be, and the pace of change needs to pick up,” Miller said.

“It’s important that, regardless of a person’s gender identity and how they express their gender or sexual orientation, we are creating those inclusive workplaces.

“There must be clear policies combating transphobic behaviours, and creating a culture where people feel that, if they want to disclose various aspects of their identity, they can do so without fear of recrimination. Employers must also remember it is up to the individual whether or not they choose to disclose, and who they choose to disclose to. 

“There is no universal experience of being transgender: employers must be ready to respond to individual needs and create a culture where people feel supported and ultimately protected by their organisation.” 

Describing the Stonewall findings as “shocking”, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) last week called on the government to act on transgender discrimination. 

“This powerful report by Stonewall reveals the shocking levels of prejudice, violence and hate crime that trans people still encounter. Attitudes are moving in the right direction but this report shows just how prevalent discrimination is across every area of their lives,” said Ben Wilson, executive director at the EHRC. 

“The government has made positive noises but it is vital that they follow through with much-needed changes to support trans people to live free of fear and prejudice. We hope that Amber Rudd, the new women and equalities minister, puts this report at the top of her in-tray. It shines a light on one of our most profound and pressing burning injustices.” 

Roche added that the responsibility of driving this change must not be solely down to transgender people. “It is no longer enough for organisations to support transgender people because it’s ‘the right thing to do’. People need a recourse for being treated badly,” she said. 

“People often say ‘we are cool about this stuff at work’ – if you are cool about it, why not turn it into a policy you are really proud of, and share it? This effort cannot come down solely to transgender people – there must be an allied effort to take practical steps that stand up in law, and pin down the Equality Act, so that as a workforce we are ready to implement equalities that we are currently failing at.”