March-April 2020 (Repost for Transgender Awareness Week Nov 13-19)
by Christian N. Thoroughgood , Katina B. Sawyer and Jennica R. Webster, Harvard Business Review
For most of us, work is stressful in and of itself. Imagine carrying the added emotional weight of having to deny and suppress one of the most fundamental aspects of who you are—your gender identity—because it doesn’t conform with society’s norms regarding gender expression. And imagine how it would feel if you revealed your authentic self to those you work with and see every day, only to have them reject, ostracize, or ignore you as a result. (Maybe you do not have to imagine at all.)
These issues are pervasive for many trans people, who often experience stigma and discrimination, hostility, and pressure to “manage” their identities in social settings—including the workplace—to suit the expectations of others. Such experiences can set in motion a host of psychological responses that have devastating consequences for trans individuals’ emotional well-being, job satisfaction, and inclination to remain with an employer.
Despite a growing global awareness of the struggles trans people face, many employers remain ill-equipped to create the policies and workplace cultures that would support trans employees. Part of the problem is a lack of knowledge about these challenges. Indeed, even companies that are LGBTQ+-friendly usually focus more on the “LGB” than on the “TQ+.”
The overriding reason to address this issue is that it’s simply the right thing to do. Nobody who works hard and contributes to an organization’s success should ever have to feel stigmatized and fearful of coming to work each day. But that’s not the only reason. A failure to adopt trans-specific policies and practices can cost businesses dearly in the form of higher turnover, decreased engagement and productivity, and possible litigation. Discriminatory behavior in general also hurts the company’s brand.
Fortunately, research on how employers can more effectively attract, retain, and promote the well-being and success of their trans employees is growing. Although we are not members of the trans community, we’ve spent the past seven years learning from a diverse population of trans people in the course of our research as organizational psychologists specializing in gender-related issues. We’ve interviewed and surveyed more than 1,000 trans employees from a range of industries and professions throughout North America. In this article we share their voices and experiences and outline what we’ve learned.