Canada’s most recent census found there are 59,460 Canadians aged 15 or older who identify as transgender and 41,355 who identified as non-binary. However, these individuals disproportionately experience egregious discrimination and are most at risk of violence — sexual assault, in particular — than their cisgender counterparts.
A lack of support and action by employers to create a space for transgender and gender non-conforming employees to feel like their authentic selves in the workplace could mean a loss of value and has reputational implications. People who feel they have to be closeted at work can be quantified in lost work time and higher turnover, due to depression, lack of motivation, burnout and increased sick time.
Jurisprudence is evolving and regulatory frameworks are increasing the expectations of employers. For example, under the Ontario Human Rights Code, employers have a duty to protect employees from discrimination and harassment because of gender identity and gender expression. This includes protection from overt and systemic discrimination and harassment such as sexually explicit jokes, bullying and microaggressions. Employers are also liable for not accommodating a worker’s needs unless it would cause undue hardship.
While human rights protections are in place for transgender and gender non-conforming employees, many organizations haven’t updated their policies to be inclusive of gender identity and gender expression, which can leave these employees unsure if they’ll be protected in their place of employment.
Employers also need to consider how to support transitioning employees. “One of the most common questions we receive from organizations is what they can do to demonstrate openness and inclusiveness for [transgender and gender non-conforming] employees needing to navigate gender transition in professional spaces,” says Kiersten Mohr, founder of Terra Firma Transition Consulting, who has publicly shared her transition journey as a former senior leader in oil and gas.
“Over the years and as we observe more and more transition experiences and meet the strong and amazing humans at the centre of those experiences, we have come to see that the answer is actually relatively straightforward.”
The first component to consider in creating that hopeful path is establishing an environment where transgender and gender non-conforming employees believe their authentic selves are safe and can succeed in the organization. Employers can achieve this goal by making space for conversation, investing in education and storytelling experiences and creating opportunities for employees to ask questions about the challenges their colleagues face in professional and social spaces.
Additionally, when organizational leaders demonstrate vulnerability, openness and intentionality to discuss and learn about the experiences and challenges of the transgender and gender non-conforming community, employees begin to trust the organization will support them. As this trusted space is created for diverse gender identities, employees start to step forward, creating increased representation and ultimately increasing agency for others.
The second element to consider is the establishment of a transparent and safe roadmap for how an employee can navigate gender transition within the organization. Among the key aspects of this process are a transparent, informed consent approach to guarantee confidentiality for the transitioning employee; ensuring the transitioning employee has agency in how they want things to progress and who they want to be involved in their journey; and transparency of organizational supports that are available to the transitioning employee.
Employers can consider several policies or interventions, including gender-neutral and inclusive facilities, micro-affirmations (such as the use of pronouns and gender-neutral language), benefits (such as gender affirmation coverage), employee resource groups and spotlighting diversity, equity and inclusion champions within the organization.
It’s commonly observed that once the space is created for conversation and education, employers can quickly identify inclusion inhibitors for transgender and gender non-conforming employees and build plans to remove these barriers.
“As more transgender and gender non-conforming individuals come forward . . . the professional world starts to display the diversity of gender identities we know exists in our world and employees are happier, healthier and more productive,” says Mohr.