For members of the LGBTQIA community discrimination and stigma in the workplace are still very real experiences, despite efforts to break stigma and improve workplace inclusivity. For a community already at greater risk of developing mental health problems, the statistics for transgender workers indicate a need to improve further and it’s an effort that needs to be made company-wide. Many of us may not even recognise where discrimination is happening, so keep reading to understand the experience of trans workers and how we can improve inclusivity at work.
Transgender Awareness week is in full swing. The term transgender refers to a person with a gender identity or expression that differs from conventional or cultural expectations based on the sex defined at birth by doctors. It’s an umbrella term that can describe people who identify as non-binary, gender fluid, and genderqueer, as well as those who don’t identify with a gender, multiple genders or other gender identities.
People who identify as transgender have higher risk of mental health issues rising than those in the general population due to stigma and discrimination. In addition, transgender people typically experience more barriers to healthcare, such as refusal of care, discrimination and a lack of provider knowledge. It goes without saying, these experiences increase the risk of facing a mental health issue.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), transgender people experience disproportionately high levels of mental health conditions compared to the general population. They note that cissexism (a form of oppression and discrimination by those who fear, disbelieve, or severely dislike people who are gender non-conforming), discrimination, violence, and barriers to healthcare all contribute to the increased chance of mental health concerns.
Research suggests that transgender individuals are almost four times as likely as cisgender people to experience a mental health condition. There was a significant increase in mental health diagnoses, including mood and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), personality disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and substance use disorders, and closely linked to high rates of discrimination and violence.
A research report exploring LGBTQ+ experiences of work found that LGBTQ+ employees are more likely to experience workplace conflict and harassment than their hetrosexual, cisgender counterparts. 55% of transgender workers have experienced such conflict, compared to only 29% of heterosexual, cisgender workers. Furthermore, 18% of transgender workers feel psychologically unsafe in the workplace, higher than both LGBTQ+ (16%) and heterosexual workers (10%).
Trans experiences at work
For many transgender people, working experiences can be impacted by stigma too, and this also contributes to an increased risk of facing a mental health issue - as it would for anyone experiencing difficulty in the workplace.
Conflict at work is common for transgender people, from being undermined to enduring more heated arguments. And often the cases are left unresolved. Many transgender people still feel they have good working relationships although some feel there is not a high level of psychological safety in place. This often leads to many transgender people feeling unsafe, vulnerable and even unable to fully express themselves and be accepted a work. A heavy weight to carry on top of regular working demands.
Around half of transgender workers report feeling satisfied with their job, and even more are willing to provide extra support to the organisation, which might indicate that many transgender people will go the extra mile, pick up additional tasks, or offer their support in order to avoid discrimination or prove their worthiness - a slippery slope to burnout. In addition, the report indicates that 30% of trans workers report their job to have a negative impact on their wellbeing.
This report sparks the need to improve and ensure our workplaces are inclusive, have inclusion and diversity policies and adequate training in place, and to tackle the language and assumptions around trans people.
So what can we do at work?
As employers, CEOs, directors we can ensure our workplace has up to date and successful policies in places for dealing with discrimination, ensuring inclusivity and diversity, offering support where needed, and ensuring all staff are aware and complying with these policies. We can also ensure that any training and support needed is adequate and sufficiently offered for line managers, and employees.
As for roles like line managers or HR employees, we can ensure that language around the office spaces, gender and identity assumptions are reduced, and put effort into taking on adequate training to keep up to date with policies.
And what about us employees, the people on the ground in the workplace? Well, there’s a few things we can do ourselves to reduce discrimination and exclusion in the workplace and improve working experiences for trans people.
Use inclusive language (and call out exclusive language)
We can educate ourselves, do research or even ask people questions to understand more and learn the right terminology, to ensure we’re using inclusive language that doesn’t discriminate or alienate people in minority groups. If we hear others using exclusive language, making derogatory jokes, or assumptions about a person’s gender or identity call it out. Put a stop to it or report it, we might not feel comfortable opposing someone else in the office but talking to someone who can take action will prevent this kind of language being used and reused.
Take assumptions away
There is a whole spectrum of gender identity and sexual orientation, and so keeping these outdated assumptions of heterosexuality will only continue the discrimination. When we let go of these assumptions, inclusivity naturally increases. So when we see something that might indicate a given identity, pause and shut it down. We really don’t know everything about everyone we work with, nor do we need to to get our work done, but we do need to allow people to feel comfortable in who they are at work.
Regardless of our background, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, everyone deserves a positive working experience. Discrimination in the workplace can be as clear as harassment or violence towards a group or individual, or as covert as denying a lead role in a project based someone’s beliefs, or even have a lack of training for inclusion and diversity. It might even come across as humour, but actually be a derogatory comment or joke amongst colleagues. As with using inclusive language we must work together to report discrimination, call out those colleagues making jokes or being discriminatory. Work together to become allies for the LGBTQ+ community.
Educate yourself and others
Whether it’s reading up on workplace inclusion policies, or understanding more about LGBTQ+ experiences, or even learning terms and phrases that show allyship. Pass it on, share it on social media, send links to colleagues. Always check source credibility, we know there’s plenty of great information online, but there’s also inaccurate information available too.
Have empathy for others
No matter your role in the workplace, or who you’re working, talking, collaborating with, hold empathy for their experiences. This means take a moment to walk in their shoes, recognise what others might experience or be feeling and consider how you might feel, but always remember, the issues, concerns and feelings of others are not our own. Empathy in the workplace reduces conflict, improves working relationships, and builds trust that allows people to feel more able to fully express themselves.
Inclusive working cultures: many workplaces have been making efforts to improve inclusivity and diversity, but the efforts need to be made by the whole team. Whatever our role, we must make an active effort to keep the workplace inclusive and act quickly to amend areas that are lacking. While the increased risk of mental health conditions for transgender people, and the LGBTQ+ community, aren’t directly related to the workplace itself, it’s a place many of us spend a lot of time in, with and working for so it’s important to make improvements where needed.