2 Concrete Actions Workplaces Can Take To Make Trans Employees Feel Safer

Trans rights need a huge overhaul from the legal perspective, and while we wait for the constitutional rights to be truly inclusive, the change to becoming a more inclusive society begins with us.

As a trans woman, since I joined a new organization during COVID, all the interactions were virtual and the instances of misgendering were fewer. It still took a toll on my mental health.

When I joined the office in person, since I haven’t transitioned socially, I was misgendered in almost every interaction. When we went from voluntary to mandatory return to office, I had to make an uncomfortable choice of transitioning at the workplace in the hope of reducing the instances of misgendering. It did work to an extent in terms of misgendering, but led to a whole bunch of other problems like limiting or restricting my movement, social interactions, etc.

As someone who has this lived experience, here are a few concrete actions workplaces can take to avoid the trauma this causes trans persons.

Promote inclusive language to avoid misgendering

Here are some tips for creating an inclusive culture through language.

Promote the use of pronouns of employees’ choice

Check with the employee what pronoun they prefer. Encourage the use of these pronouns in email signatures, meetings, display names, introductions, etc.

This creates a conversation and normalizes the use of pronouns. This can be followed up by training on the importance and usage of pronouns towards the inclusion of non-binary identities.

Promote the use of gender-neutral language

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Discourage the use of clearly gendered words like “Guys” and slang like “Man”, “Bro”, “Dude” etc. in both formal and informal settings. Promote the use of words like “All”, “Everyone”, “Folks” etc.

As I said in the beginning, this sounds simple in theory but putting it into practice is difficult, because you must consciously ignore your conditioning. Hence it is important to explain the effects of misgendering and exclusion on mental health to promote this practice.

Also, there will be a lot of mistakes made when you start practicing the above. Be kind to yourself and others when such mistakes happen to allow yourself and others to grow.

How managers can drive the language of inclusion

I feel that managers are always the first point of contact for an employee. So, the manager must be mindful of their behaviour because that dictates the behaviour of other team members. If a manager starts using gender neutral language, introduces themselves with their pronouns, the team also mimics some of these behavioural aspects.

In my case, when the misgendering started taking a toll on me, I reached out to my manager and they helped me with new perspectives and why it was rather more essential for me to be in office at least once or twice a week. Your immediate colleagues and manager need to be there to support you.

When I started transitioning at work, I was fortunate to have some good co-workers who accompanied me to public areas and helped me work through the discomfort. This discomfort comes from the stares, the awkward silences when I enter public spaces. Eventually I did start going to office alone and going to some of the public spaces within the office by myself but I still prefer going with someone or a group to feel a bit safer. However, the allies that walk with me always have to walk through this discomfort.

Becoming more inclusive in terms of language sounds simple in theory but is equally tough in real life. We are conditioned to think about everything in binary terms and there is an additional emphasis on gender in Indian languages, especially in an informal tone. To make it further difficult, we depend a lot on visual cues which leads to a lot of auto-trigger responses.

Image source: the author

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