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Transgender Inclusion at Work Reaches Record Numbers

A group of people shaking hands in an office.

​As organizations around the world celebrate the accomplishments of transgender people on International Transgender Day of Visibility, the number of companies incorporating policies to protect transgender workers has surged in recent years.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation's 2022 corporate equality index (CEI), which assesses critical policies and practices indicative of employers' commitment to equality, showed that 97 percent of businesses included in the CEI have protections for nonbinary and transgender workers.

In 2002, just 5 percent of CEI companies had such policies in place for these employees.

"This year's CEI was yet another record year for companies moving toward greater inclusion for their transgender workers," said Jay Brown, the HRC's senior vice president of programs, research and training. "These are positive steps toward fuller inclusion."

The annual report, which surveyed more than 1,200 companies, also revealed:

  • More than 660 major businesses have adopted gender-transition guidelines to establish best practices in transgender inclusion for managers and teams.
  • About 66 percent of Fortune 500 companies have transgender-inclusive health care benefits, such as routine, chronic care and transition-related medical coverage.
  • There are 22 times as many employers offering transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage as there were in 2009.

Tara Taylor, managing director of business consultation firm ADR Vantage Inc. in Washington, D.C., said employers that offer transgender-inclusive policies and practices can boost recruitment and retention.

"[Employees today] want to work for companies that value diversity and work to make inclusion a core part of how they do business," she said. "Gender should never be a barrier to employment or to enjoying all the same rights, benefits and opportunities that an employer has to offer."

Many Transgender Employees Still Feel Unsafe

While progress in transgender inclusion and awareness has improved, the group continues to face discrimination and violence that can influence their psychological safety.

On March 30, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued T.C. Wheelers Inc., a company that runs a New York-based bar and pizzeria, for allegedly harassing and driving out a transgender employee.

According to the EEOC's lawsuit, one of T.C. Wheelers' owners repeatedly harassed a trans man who worked for the company, including telling him that he "wasn't a real man," asking invasive questions about his transition and intentionally misgendering him by using female pronouns.

The employee eventually resigned to "escape the harassment," the EEOC charged.

"This new lawsuit, filed one day before Transgender Day of Visibility, reflects the EEOC's long-standing commitment to protecting transgender persons from employment discrimination, including the type of egregious harassment alleged in this case," EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows said in a statement. "In the current climate, where transgender individuals face increasing attacks on their rights and basic humanity, the EEOC will vigorously enforce the Supreme Court's holding in Bostock that discrimination against transgender workers violates the law."

More than 50 people who identified as transgender or nonbinary experienced violent deaths in 2021, with more than half of those victims being Black or Latinx, the HRC report stated. Researchers noted that "it has become increasingly unsafe to be transgender, especially as a person of color or another minority."

Geri Johnson, chief operating officer for public relations firm Next PR, is an openly queer woman who said this violence and discrimination can influence the workplace.

"Trans and nonbinary employees can feel constant fear of [not being accepted] and anxiety regarding how to best present themselves," she said.

More than half of transgender employees say they are not comfortable being out at work, according to a 2021 report by McKinsey and Co. Two-thirds remain in the closet in professional interactions outside their own companies.

The McKinsey report noted that failing to be their authentic selves at work can result in transgender people having more difficult and inequitable employment experiences and lead to severe mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Ensuring Workplace Inclusion for LGBTQ Employees]

Ways to Enhance Transgender Inclusion at Work

Johnson implored companies to be proactive rather than reactive in creating a safe workplace for transgender people. To foster an inclusive workplace for transgender employees:

  • Publicly communicate the company's transgender employee rights and job protections to the workforce.
  • Provide accessible, educational FAQs and ally education.
  • Facilitate trans-specific diversity, equity and inclusion trainings.
  • Offer employee resource groups for LGBTQ team members.
  • Consider offering a gender-transition leave policy for gender-affirming surgeries rather than having employees rely on their paid time off or short-term disability.

"While companies are being more vocal about LGBTQ acceptance and inclusion in the workplace, transgender and nonbinary people aren't always included or considered in the narrative," Johnson said. "Organizations have a lot more work to do to ensure workplace barriers are broken down and that trans and nonbinary team members feel safe and supported at work."

Brown said that companies must "get loud, get visible and spread awareness" on behalf of transgender and nonbinary workers.

"The more people who show they care, including allies and trans and nonbinary people who speak up for the most marginalized in our community," he explained, "the more hearts and minds we will change."


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