Eleanor Roosevelt’s words speak volumes for members of our very diverse LGBTQ community:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
No one had to tell me that coming out as a trans-identified woman and transitioning at my former company would put my job at risk. The company’s basic non-discrimination policies included sexual orientation, but did not include gender identity and/or expression. In fact, I knew of other employees who were fired for gender expression. In a conversation at the company holiday party with an executive and a regional leader, the regional leader shared that he had fired someone earlier that day. He explained, “The employee was just too effeminate looking, and our clients would not want that. Besides, ‘he’ wanted to come in wearing women’s clothes, and our clients would totally disapprove.”
Frustrated, I lightly pressed the question: Was there really no place for this person at the company? Being very “closeted” at the time, I felt powerless to do anything more. I felt that if I advocated too strongly, I, too, would be implicated and most likely be fired. Sadly, this is what the power of fear and shame can do in a non-inclusive LGBTQ workplace environment and culture.
Deciding not to be courageous stand up for what I believe in was one of the most painful and agonizing consequences of “living a lie” and being in the closet. It is unconscionable for someone to be fired for something that has nothing to do with the individual’s job performance – for simply being their “authentic self” in the workplace. I knew I could no longer work in a company environment where I could not feel safe coming out and living and working as my authentic self. I realized that I could no longer hide who I was. I could no longer live and work in a culture of shame and repression where some employees were deemed acceptable and others were not.
Eventually, I made the difficult but courageous decision to leave my job, and start my own consulting firm as a diversity consultant. Today, I coach people to embrace and accept their authentic selves, while guiding employers in creating supportive and inclusive workplaces for transgender and gender diverse individuals. It’s important that transgender and gender-diverse people do not face the same painful reality that I did: having to end my 20-year-long career in business and human resources because the company could not accept me for my authentic self.
Since my own experience with my former employer, we have come so far! Today, I consult with a wide spectrum of companies and nonprofit organizations as they create and implement “cultures of inclusion” within the workplace to ensure all employees, especially transgender and gender diverse individuals, are truly valued and treated with dignity and respect. Creating cultures where employers don’t lose valuable and talented employees, like myself, merely because we live our lives authentically.
Employers have made so much progress. HRC’s Corporate Equality Index (CEI), a national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees, helps measure the change. The 2016 CEI highlights the progress businesses have made towards inclusion of transgender and gender diverse employees including:
- 75% of Fortune 500 companies include Gender Identity protections in their nondiscrimination statement.
- 511 companies specifically affirm transgender inclusive healthcare coverage in at least one firm wide plan.
- 330 major employers have gender transition guidelines.
It’s important that company executives, HR, and D&I leaders are committed to understanding, developing and implementing inclusive policies, practices, and trans-specific benefits, combined with transition strategies to successfully assist someone who is coming out and transitioning. These strategies include targeted and confidential communication plans, realistic timelines, and specific training built into the overall plans. These strategies ultimately help prepare everyone – leadership, management, HR, colleagues and even the transgender/gender diverse employee – for a successful workplace transition. But how and where does a committed employer start?
Thanks to HRC’s newly released “Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace: A Toolkit for Employers,” the good news is that the resources are available to help support and guide committed employers. HRC’s toolkit provides best practice guidance, resources such as sample policies and even scenario based training to assist employers committed to a more inclusive workplace.
It takes ongoing commitment for companies to be inclusive – and it takes courage and commitment for each of us to live our lives authentically – but, together, we move forward to create inclusive climates where everyone can be themselves and contribute to the fullest extent.
I conclude with a favorite quote, by Mary Morrissey: “Courage manifests itself only in the presence of fear. Taking a step in a new direction where we’ve never been before can be uncomfortable, sometimes frightening. Our other option is to stand still and never move at all!”
Enviroshop is maintained by dedicated NetSys Interactive Inc. owners & employees who generously contribute their time to maintenance & editing, web design, custom programming, & website hosting for Enviroshop.