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Transgender Awareness Week: It’s about support, not just representation

  • Posted on November 12, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Transgender Awareness Week: It’s about support, not just representation

This is an interesting time to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community. After being forced into the closet for so long, it’s shocking how many companies have come out to represent queer folks. During Transgender Awareness Week we’ll see many companies representing the transgender community as they compete for the crown of “Most Woke Company.” Now, make no mistake, this is an amazing change in how trans people are viewed and treated in a professional environment and has started to tip that balance as more and more trans voices are heard. However, all this change has highlighted one major, almost universal, oversight: There is a huge difference between “representation” and “support.”

Support is like what’s under the hood of your car: It isn’t nearly as eye-catching or flashy as the body (representation) and the only people who notice it are the ones who have to work with it, but it’s what actually makes things happen. You can have the flashiest sports car in the world but without anything under the hood all you can do is impress people at a glance. Many companies focus on making sure they represent their trans employees, but few go so far as to really support them.

There are countless stories of trans people reading through blog post after blog post about how much their company “supports” trans people, all while drafting an appeal to their company health insurance for declining medically necessary transition-related procedures or wondering if their new client will respect their identity. This can lead many trans people to become jaded or disheartened with their job or even their career as a whole. There is a lot of great representation out there and that’s never a bad thing, but there is a lack of actual substantial support. Interestingly, one of the causes of a lack of support is a lack of representation – kind of.

There needs to be more internal representation. I believe that the majority of these exclusionary policies are created out of ignorance, not malice. Most of these policies are created by teams deep within their companies with limited perspective. The fact of the matter is that gender and gender-related issues aren't something most cisgender employees (people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth) often think about. Without any kind of advisers or direct team members, it’s easy for highly specialized policies to slip through the cracks.

Like a car without an engine

Better internal representation will naturally bring better support. True support is hard – especially if you don’t have the context of actually being in that community to know what support is needed. But without it you’re like a car without an engine: pretty and attractive on the outside, but stagnant and empty on the inside.

Fixing these issues is complicated and going to take time, but there are many organizations out there that want to help transgender individuals and, by extension, their employers create a better work environment for transgender people. There are a number of steps that companies can take to improve their support for transgender employees:

  1. Adopt basic trans-inclusive policies: bathroom access, dress code, pronoun/name
  2. Support gender transitions: health care, well-being, remote work policies or sick time
  3. Develop trans-specific diversity training: facilitate opportunities for cisgender employees to meet and learn how best to support their transgender co-worker

 

Taking these steps can go a long way toward ensuring transgender people are fully supported in the workplace, not just represented.

 

*LGBTQ+ is an abbreviation that refers to people with diverse sexual orientation, sex or gender identity. They include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and other sexuality, sex and gender-diverse people, regardless of their term of self-identification. The abbreviation can vary and can include additional letters, such as I (intersex), or even appear in a different order (e.g., GLBTI).

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