By Thomas Parer and Alex Millman, NRA Legal
Seven years ago, on 1 August 2013, it became unlawful across all of Australia to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and intersex status under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. This change was the result of decades of work from activists in the LGBTIQ+ community and their allies to positively shift society’s attitudes towards the LGBTIQ+ community. In particular, it was a major step for the transgender (trans) community, who have long been stigmatised, oppressed, and ostracised from mainstream society.
As societal views and attitudes continue to change for the better, more trans people are choosing to come out and live as their authentic selves: in line with their gender, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth. As a result, it is more likely than ever for employers to be hiring and managing trans employees.
Why is it important to create a trans inclusive workplace?
As this group of employees grows, increasingly employers are needing to consider how to make their workplaces more inclusive to trans employees. While some of this pressure comes from a need to avoid unlawful discrimination and risks to health and safety, for many businesses these efforts are driven by the desire to be more competitive and attractive to consumers and employees.
There is a clear link between increased productivity, and the happiness and comfort of employees in the workplace. This is not just because a happy employee is more likely to be more efficient, but they are more likely to want to attend work and remain in that workplace. Creating such an environment and reputation can also lead to your business attracting a higher calibre of staff who prefer an inclusive work environment. This reputation can even make you more attractive to consumers, particularly younger consumers who care about diversity and inclusion.
But employers wanting to gain the benefits of a trans inclusive workplace can’t just slap an inclusion statement on their website and call it a day. To truly foster a safer and more welcoming workplace for trans employees, employers need to look holistically at their businesses, and tailor a strategy to fill the gaps and make changes.
Where should I look to make improvements?
Unsurprisingly, one of the first places an employer should look in terms of making a more inclusive workplace is the recruitment process: starting with advertising and all the way through to someone starting their first day.
Importantly, these changes that can be made are not just limited to avoiding anything that would actively exclude or make a trans person feel uncomfortable, but also include taking steps that actively make trans candidates more welcomed.
Interrogate and consider what parts of your process may cause discomfort for someone who is trans, as a result of their unique experiences. Some possible areas of tension include:
- Providing references: trans employees may have faced discrimination in prior roles, and so may face a greater struggle in securing references from previous workplaces or those workplaces may only know that person by a previous name;
- Choosing which name to use: there can be difficulties in securing a legal name change, so requiring candidates to provide their legal name straight away or only using their legal name may make a trans person uncomfortable;
- Using the right pronouns: some trans people prefer to use gender neutral pronouns, or may identify as neither a man or woman (often referred to as non-binary) and so they may feel excluded when required to complete paperwork where they have to choose to identify as a man or woman.
Rigid dress codes have the potential to cause discomfort for all employees, not just trans employees, but there are some specific ways that trans employee can be affected.
Some workplaces will require or expect strict adherence to a particular uniform or dress code, with different items of clothing required to be worn depending on whether an employee is a man or a woman. This strict approach can make it harder for trans employees to dress in line with their gender, as it will be more prominent or noticeable if this does not align with the gender that others view them to be.
As a result, the process of transitioning or affirming gender in the workplace becomes more noticeable to others in the workplace, which may act as a deterrent or delay to an employee dressing as they feel most comfortable.
Workplace culture can be a bit of a buzzword, but in essence, when we refer to it we’re talking about the values, beliefs, norms, and attitudes that underpin and influence the behaviour of people in the workplace, and the business as a whole.
Arguably this is the most important aspect of creating an inclusive workplace, as addressing gaps elsewhere in your workplace will make no difference if the underlying culture makes trans employees unwelcome.
A workplace with a culture where there is a very clear division of gender and fixed ideas of what men and women do in the workplace is likely to make a trans person more uncomfortable, as the workplace and colleagues may be more resistant to the idea of employees transitioning or affirming their gender, or being non-binary.
Unfortunately, changing a workplace culture is not easy and requires active and concerted effort, but it is crucial if you are to see a positive change towards welcoming trans employees and creating a happier and healthier workplace.
What should I do now?
There is unfortunately no “one size fits all” solution for every business, as there will be a number of factors that will need to be considered and adapted to each business to help make it more trans inclusive.
Often the obstacles to inclusion are not a result of a concerted effort on the part of employers to make trans employees feel uncomfortable. More commonly, the major hurdles result from an employer’s lack of awareness or understanding of trans people and the unique issues and pressures they face.
Fortunately, employers wanting to learn more can attend the NRA’s upcoming live-streamed panel discussion to launch our guide ‘Creating Trans Inclusive Workplaces’. Moderated by NRA CEO, Dominique Lamb, the panel of distinguished trans employees and employers will be discussing their experiences in the workplace and how employers can support their employees to bring their whole selves to work.
The event is free to attend and each registered attendee will receive a free copy of our ‘Guide to Creating Trans Inclusive Workplaces’ post-event.
Register now to secure your spot and start taking the first steps towards a more supportive workplace for all employees.
If you want to make your workplace more inclusive or need help with understanding your obligations as an employer under anti-discrimination legislation, contact NRA Legal on 1800 RETAIL (738 245) for further guidance.