Number of trans people who hide their identity at work increasing, poll finds

Employers urged to develop transitioning policies and be public allies instead of expecting trans employees to ‘improve things themselves’

More transgender people hide their identity at work now than they did five years ago, a new study has suggested, igniting calls for employers to proactively develop policies and practices to ensure trans employees are protected and included at work.

According to a YouGov survey of 410 trans employees across the UK, conducted on behalf of Totaljobs, two-thirds (65 per cent) said they have had to hide their trans status at work, compared to half (52 per cent) five years ago – a 13 percentage point rise since TotalJobs started carrying out this survey in 2016.

The poll also found that a third (32 per cent) had experienced discrimination in the workplace in the last five years, and more than two in five (43 per cent) had quit because their work environment was unwelcoming – an increase of 7 percentage points since 2016.

One in five trans employees (20 per cent) said they had experienced fewer microaggressions since working from home during the pandemic.

Katie Budd, head of indices and resources at LGBT+ charity Stonewall, described the figures as “heartbreaking” and said they were a “stark reminder of how far we still had to go for trans people to feel safe to be themselves at work”.

“It’s 2021 – no one should have to hide who they are or feel afraid that they’ll be harassed for being open about their gender identity at work,” she said.

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Budd urged employers to develop a transitioning at work policy and ensure their organisation was a public ally by celebrating occasions such as Trans Day of Visibility. “It’s crucial employers take a zero-tolerance approach to transphobia. Organisations must establish clear policies that outline ways to safely report transphobic harassment and provide effective trans-inclusive diversity and inclusion training to all employees,” she said.

The Totaljobs poll also found that more than half (54 per cent) of trans employes surveyed said their employer did not support their trans workforce through training, and only a third (36 per cent) said their employer had dedicated anit-trans discrimination policies.

Budd added that creating safe spaces – such as network groups for trans employees to meet, discuss problems and escalate them to senior leaders – was a positive step employers could take. “Networks are also reassuring for staff, who might find comfort knowing there are others who share in some of the difficulties they are facing,” she said. 

But business leaders needed to listen to their trans employees and collaborate with them to create change, “not just expect their trans employees to improve things themselves”, Budd said. “It’s essential all employers show their support for trans equality and take steps to ensure trans people are free to be themselves at work.” 

Lee Clatworthy, a board trustee at trans charity Sparkle, which collaborated with Totaljobs on the research, said it was vital businesses committed to communicating their values externally as well as internally to publicly signal their support for trans workers.

“Many organisations are doing great D&I work internally, which is obviously important in retaining a diverse workforce that feels valued, but many are not promoting this work outside of the organisation to attract candidates with a variety of backgrounds,” he said.

Clatworthy also recommended employers de-gender the language on application forms and throughout their recruitment processes to ensure their first interaction with potential employees is as inclusive as possible.

Employers should also have a single point of contact who is trained to be sensitive to the barriers that trans and gender-diverse candidates may face, he said.