hand holding a transgender pride flag

The State of Transgender Employee Experience

December 15, 2021 Employee Experience
Lance Haun
By Lance Haun

There’s an increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in organizations around the country. But the treatment of these issues, particularly in the workplace, is not equal.

While challenging racial issues likely come top of mind for many leaders, efforts to reduce discrimination and harassment against members of the LGBTQ+ community are often secondary. Even more so, some organizations will identify LGBTQ+ issues as one of primarily dealing with sexual orientation instead of also including gender identity or non-conformity. Training for managers and leaders is critically lacking. 

For transgender and gender-nonconforming employees, none of this is news. For everyone else, management consulting and research firm McKinsey & Company has put together one of the most complete research pieces on what the workplace looks like for these individuals. 

Underrepresentation, Exclusion and Safety Concerns Common

McKinsey’s first look at the transgender employee base starts with whether they are actually employed. Their analysis found that transgender respondents were two times more likely to be unemployed than cisgender people.

Transgender respondents also reported they were 1.5 times less likely to be their full selves during the application process and it was less likely for them to understand options like employee benefits and company culture.

Cisgender respondents were two times more likely to say gender identity didn’t affect their decision on what industries to explore. Trans employees said that key areas like safety, seeing people like them and not being able to bring their full selves to work were key challenges with picking certain industries. 

For trans employees that deal with clients or customers, safety and cultural concerns limited their openness about gender identity. While half of transgender respondents were actively open or mostly open about their gender identity with coworkers, just a quarter felt comfortable doing so in client or customer situations. 

In addition to specific industries and exposure to clients, transgender employees also lacked safety in dealing with everyday work interactions. More than one-fifth say they were either outed or physically unable to hide their identity. Transgender employees frequently cited getting deadnamed or misgendered, even after correction. The feeling that they can’t bring their whole self to work means many transgender individuals feel disengaged. 

Disengagement isn’t just about full participation in a way they are comfortable with. It’s also about upward mobility, something McKinsey also covered. Trans employees saw sex, gender, sexuality and/or race bias as their primary barrier to promotion. Cis employees identified that at nearly half that rate. Trans employees were nearly twice as likely to disagree that they see leaders above them that look or seem like them. 

Related Article: Can Your Organization Cross the Employee Belonging Threshold? 

Better Employee Experiences for Everyone

The results of the survey show there is significant room for improvement inside of organizations. While mentioned briefly in the report, life outside of work in 2021 isn’t making things easier for transgender individuals. Between an unprecedented wave of anti-transgender legislation and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on trans and gender nonconforming people, having these challenges at work affects their well-being in significant ways. Talent leaders can lead the charge to help but it won’t be easy. 

For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission forces employers to choose binary genders on official reports to the agency. Their FAQs suggest reporting nonbinary and other gender nonconforming people in the comment section of the report, but it still requires employers to misgender employees as part and parcel for compliance purposes.

Cassie Whitlock, director of HR for BambooHR, published a post on some of the work her company is doing to solve this challenge but it’s really in the agency’s court to update these rules. More work technology companies are offering fields where a person can specify their pronouns or their preferred name, even if their legal name is different, for instance. 

Of course, it doesn’t stop with technology. In addition to the report, McKinsey offered additional resources like the HRC’s Trans Toolkit for Employers, which covers everything from the strategic business case to navigating specific issues like restroom access, dress codes and pronouns. Organizations are offering transgender-specific benefits the same way they would offer benefits for those wanting to start a family or take care of a partner’s health. 

Organizations alone can’t change the world, but they can change the experience at work. At a time of profound introspection about the state of work and investment, a better employee experience must extend to all. Recognizing the gaps we have today should spur action for every organization to create an inclusive organization where people can feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work every single day.

About the Author

Lance Haun lives life at the intersection of people, work and technology. He's currently a practice director of strategy and insights for The Starr Conspiracy and a contributor for Reworked and ERE.net.

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