Someone at your workplace has announced that they will be undergoing gender transition. Of course, you have agreed to support them – but how do you do that? What steps should you take to ensure that the process is a success?
The success of a workplace transition cannot be left to the trans employee. Everyone has to play their part.
The first thing to note is that not all transitions are the same. In some cases, all that appears to be involved is someone asking you to call them Mx and use they/them pronouns. Other people will be having lots of medical treatment.
Transition takes time
A key issue with medical treatment is that it is not quick. Hormone treatment is like puberty. Your body doesn’t change overnight. It takes several years for the full effects to show.
As with puberty and menopause, hormone treatment can make a trans person more emotional while their body is adjusting to the new chemical balance.
NHS waiting lists
These days medical treatment for trans people is also impacted by waiting lists. The Gender Recognition Act assumes that the process from starting transition to finishing surgery will take a little over two years.
These days it will be at least two years before you get the first appointment at a gender clinic. The full process can take eight years or more.
You need to be patient. Your trans employee will not change overnight. The good news is that they will change socially more quickly than they change physically. Mostly that’s what matters because that’s what people see.
The toilet issue
The one question that always comes up with transition at work is which toilet a trans person should use. Because of the slow pace of medical treatment, physical changes cannot drive this decision. Many trans women will still have penises for years to come while they wait for surgery.
For trans men, the issue is more complex. Many choose not to have any internal surgery. Testosterone will affect menstruation, but everyone’s body reacts differently. Ideally, sanitary disposal facilities should be available in all men’s toilets in case they are needed. You never know who might be visiting.
Something you can rely on, however, is that your trans employee will not abuse any toilet access they are given. They won’t want to lose their job, and it could be worse. If a trans person cannot successfully navigate single-sex spaces, the gender clinic may delay their treatment, or even stop it.
Going gender neutral
You can help by providing gender-neutral cubicles. We have them on aircraft and on trains. There’s no reason why they can’t exist in offices. Ideally have a mix of male, female and gender-neutral options so everyone has the toilet they want.
Do not re-label a room with urinals as gender-neutral, it isn’t.
Please don’t simply label the disabled toilets ‘gender neutral’. If you do then everyone will use them, and your disabled staff will be upset.
Non-binary people exist
Here we should come back to the employee who only wants to change their title and pronouns. That’s easy, right? Not necessarily. A non-binary person may feel uncomfortable in both male and female toilet spaces.
You can’t just say, ‘use the toilet that matches your birth gender’. Non-binary people may have some medical treatment and may look entirely inappropriate for that space. They need gender-neutral spaces.
Make a plan
Given that issues may arise, it is important that everyone knows where they stand from the start. You should sit down with the trans employee and their manager and agree how to handle the process.
A firm timetable might be difficult to define because of the unpredictability of access to gender clinics.
It is important that everyone be on board with the plan. You need to stick to it, and not change the rules part way through because some other staff members have complained.
A key issue is the question of who needs to know. Some trans people will want to come out to the whole company, others will prefer their transition to be on a need-to-know basis.
Everyone must change
The success of a workplace transition cannot be left to the trans employee. Everyone has to play their part. Sadly much of the coverage of trans issues in the national media highly inaccurate and hostile. You need to help your staff learn to see their trans colleague as a person, with a right to a safe and happy life, not as a ‘danger’ to everyone else. You might bring in an external trainer, but if you do make sure that the trans employee is happy with this.
Naturally there will be difficulties to begin with. How we relate to other people is heavily dependent on what gender we perceive them to be. You may need to mediate conflict in the short term. In the long term, however, you should treat intolerance of trans people the same way you would treat any other intolerance of difference.
Gender transition is something that often shows up flaws in company IT systems. Can they support non-binary genders? If you change an employee’s name and gender in one place, will that flow through to the rest of the systems?
Failure to change employee records across the board may result in outing a trans employee to other parts of your company, or even to other companies. This might constitute an offence under the law.
The Government Equalities Office has a document called The recruitment and retention of transgender staff: guidance for employers. You can download it here.
Interested in this topic? Read Inclusion: why transgender employee experience must not be neglected