When we’re born, a doctor usually declares that we’re male or female based on what our body looks like. Most people who were labeled male at birth turn out to actually identify as men, and most people who were labeled female at birth grow up to identify as women. But some people’s gender identity — their innate knowledge of who they are — is different from what was initially observed when they were born. Most of these people describe themselves as transgender.
A transgender woman lives as a woman today, but was thought to be male when she was born. A transgender man lives as a man today, but was thought to be female when he was born. Some transgender people identify as neither male nor female, or as a combination of male and female. There are a variety of terms that people who aren’t entirely male or entirely female use to describe their gender identity, like nonbinary or genderqueer.
Everyone — transgender or not — has a gender identity. Most people never think about what their gender identity is because it matches their sex at birth.
In the workplace, it’s important that every person feels that they belong, are safe, respected and are able to contribute to the organization’s success.
Here are five best practices regarding how one can begin creating a welcoming and inclusive environment:
1. Recognize and change the norms of society.
Do not ignore, exclude, demean or devalue another person because of their sexual preference. Not only does this not feel good to another person, but when we change our behaviors it begins to break down the barriers of acceptance.
2. Use appropriate and respectful communication.
What you say and how you say it goes a long way. The old adage, “You catch more flies with honey” can take on new meaning and understanding when you are having respectful dialogue with those who you may not necessarily agree with their individual choices as it relates to sexuality.
It’s equally as important to ensure you recognize how labeling and stereotyping others can create a negative impact on the other individual as well as the culture of the organization. Being intentionally respectful about your words — especially referring to people by their preferred names and pronouns — and actions can make a dramatic impact.
Using respectful communication in the workplace not only helps build a bridge for understanding others, but it also helps to create an environment where every person’s voice can be heard, listened to and appreciated.
3. Use preferred pronouns.
Don’t assume by looking at the person you know what pronoun he, she or they may prefer. Politely ask the individual what pronoun they prefer, or refrain from using a pronoun and instead choose to use the person’s name that they use. For example, a transgender woman might prefer to be called Jane instead of Edward. Using the preferred name and pronoun when referring to an individual — even when they are not in sight — can go a long way in showing respect in the workplace.
I believe that we become more connected when we begin to see a person for who they are and not as who we want them to be.
4. Always honor and protect confidentiality.
As an employer, it’s important that your workplace include in its nondiscrimination policy wording around gender identity.
Ensure your leaders, managers, co-workers and employees are trained on this policy. Make sure they know and understand the importance of confidentiality and they have a clear method of reporting incidents if necessary.
“Outing” a person is considered inappropriate and unprofessional conduct, and in some professions, could be illegal. Always remember one should never disclose another’s transgender identity without their consent.
Cultural competency training is another key way to ensure your workplace maintains an inclusive environment.
5. Have access to gender-neutral bathrooms.
It may sound simple, but choosing a bathroom can often be quite stressful for a transgender person. Feelings of judgment can take precedence in these situations and can be very uncomfortable.
Identifying a gender-neutral bathroom as an option can eliminate these barriers for people. Creating this accommodation can help reduce harassment and violence, as well as show your employees that you care about them and their safety.
Finally, remember that everyone can and should contribute to the good of the organization, but we can only do this when we feel we are able to bring our whole selves to the workplace.
Creating an inclusive environment where people feel fearless and free to be who they are can make a significant impact on culture and success of an organization.
Becoming an employer of choice or a great company where people want to work or stay with the company is as much of a business imperative for any organization as creating an inclusive work environment for individuals who identify as transgender or transsexual.
MiShon Landry is a certified diversity professional and owner of Culture Consultants located in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.