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Corporate America: Get Ready for Trans Employees

Get Ready for Trans Employees

Trans sensitivity training is an essential addition to a modern workplace.

With a long history of diversity trainers, corporations have done well addressing the needs of gay and lesbian workers. But in its 2016 report Injustice at Every Turn, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 90 percent of the 6,450 transgender and gender-nonconforming people surveyed reported "experiencing harassment or mistreatment on the job or took actions to avoid it." In fact, 47 percent reported being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion because of their gender identity.

Efforts to address employment discrimination against trans and gender-variant people have been going on for decades. Lucent established one of the earliest workplace nondiscrimination policies in 1997 in response to efforts by employee Mary Ann Horton, who told Fortune magazine in 2015, "Once a Fortune 500 pledged not to discriminate, I thought maybe some other companies might want to do that, too. So I started waving the flag in the trans community, encouraging others to bring it up."

More companies, including Apple and American Airlines, followed suit in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the trend really took off with the Human Rights Campaign's introduction of its Corporate Equality Index in 2002. Within six years, HRC had begun pushing corporations to add trans-supportive policies (including trans-inclusive health insurance) and by 2017, 92 percent of the companies on the index provided protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and 73 percent offered trans-inclusive health coverage. Studies suggest such inclusive policies make sense not only socially, but also fiscally.

Of course, making a company trans-friendly takes more than simply establishing nondiscriminatory policies. "There can be a significant gulf between policy, expectations, and behavior," says Luca Maurer, who coauthored The Teaching Transgender Toolkit: A Facilitator's Guide to Increasing Knowledge, Decreasing Prejudice, and Building Skills, with Dr. Eli R. Green, founder of the Transgender Training Institute. "In order to successfully recruit and retain quality transgender employees, and to assure they are treated with dignity and respect." Maurer says statistics "demonstrate that this is not currently happening for the vast majority of transgender people in the workplace."

"True workplace inclusion," Maurer explains, "is being able to fully participate. And full participation isn't just about policy, it's about who's at the table, who's not at the table, and why, that is, what are the barriers?" He encourages employers to look beyond bathroom access. For example, have "easy, confidential processes to get one's email changed and ID card changed." An audit of workplace "policies, practices, procedures, benefits, and facilities can sometimes be a helpful tool for workplaces to take stock of what they're doing well, as well as areas for improvement."

Some of the best training programs, Maurer says, go beyond establishing trans competency and into building empathy for fellow coworkers. Maurer and Green's first-of-its-kind toolkit offers best practices, foundational lesson plans, and other resources. It was named the 2016 book of the year by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists; and honored by the LGBTQ division of the American Psychological Association with the 2017 Distinguished Contribution to Education and Training award.

The new flock of trans sensitivity trainers also include authors Max Wolf Valerio (The Testosterone Files) and Sunshine Mugrabi (When My Boyfriend Was a Girl) of TransReady, a workplace training company that offers 8-12-week online diversity and trans inclusion trainings that require just 30 to 45 minutes a week commitment. "Online training is the future," Mugrabi says, and with TransReady, "participants can log on and learn at their own pace through videos, exercises, and quizzes to test their understanding." The curriculum addresses Trans 101 basics, but also trains supervisors "to recognize the warning signs so that they can prevent problems," and it does so utilizing a neuroscience-based approach. "What that tells us," Mugrabi explains, "is that people learn through stories. They don't learn through facts and figures. They don't learn through being told that they are transphobic or biased. So, this storytelling approach isn't just fun and easy, it actually taps into the power of the human brain."

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Jacob Anderson-Minshall