4 Steps to Foster Transgender Allyship & Equity in Your Workplace

While November is largely associated with Thanksgiving, it’s not the only important date during the month. We recently recognized some key dates for the transgender community. Transgender Awareness Week took place November 13 through 19 and was followed by Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, honoring the memory of transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of hate and violence. 

Transgender awareness is increasingly important as the community grows across the globe. The number of Americans ages 13 and up who identify as transgender is estimated to be 1.6 million, according to a study from UCLA. It's becoming more common for all of us to work alongside and encounter individuals with varying gender identities and expressions in the workplace, and each of us has a role to play as an ally to the diverse communities within our workforce. Transgender allyship in the workplace not only creates a welcoming and equitable environment, it also helps to drive advocacy where it matters most. 

There are countless ways to support the transgender community in the workplace and beyond. The best place to get started is to understand the gender identities and expressions that you might encounter. Many transgender people identify on a binary scale, as either male or female, but others may refer to themselves as "genderqueer," "gender fluid," or "non-binary." These gender expressions are often included in the transgender community. 

Now that you have the background, you can apply these four steps to become a transgender ally in your workplace.

1. Familiarize Yourself with Pronouns and Pronoun Usage

Understanding and familiarizing yourself with pronouns and their usage is a simple and highly impactful first step to practicing allyship. Using the correct pronouns demonstrates respect for an individual's personhood and supports their gender affirmation.

Pronoun combinations (think “She/Her/Hers,” “He/Him/His,” “They/Their/Theirs” etc.) are vast and vary from person to person. If you are unsure, it’s accepted and common to ask someone for their pronouns. While in a meeting or group setting, it's best to ask everyone in the group to share their names and pronouns. This helps create a welcoming environment while not singling any one person out and minimizing harm.

It's important to always use a person's correct pronouns when interacting with them and referring to them. But mistakes do happen, and allyship takes practice. If you use the wrong pronouns, acknowledge the mistake, offer an apology, and use it as a point of learning. Over time, using a person's correct pronouns will come naturally.

2. Engage in Meaningful Conversation

The workplace might feel like a tough place to learn how to be an ally, however, asking questions and having a healthy conversation is often welcome and a great way to show your support. It's essential to approach these conversations with an open mind and consideration for those involved. Try to frame your questions in a way that shows support, interest and desire to learn.

You should also consider the intention behind any questions and their appropriateness for the setting. If it’s work appropriate, make sure your tone comes across as sincere and open-minded. If it’s not work-appropriate, you shouldn't ask. It's best to avoid intrusive or inappropriate questions pertaining to physical transitioning, level of "passing" (how closely a person's appearance matches their identity or pronouns), former or birth-assigned name, and biological gender. It's natural to be curious about subjects you don't understand, doing your own research is another great way to learn.

Remember that in general, it's best to ask personal questions in one-on-one conversations and to be forthcoming in your level of transgender knowledge. By going about conversations with respect, care and positive intent, you're helping foster a welcoming environment and practicing allyship in a way conducive to learning, growth and support.

3. Help Create Change in Your Workplace

Being an ally is the best way to help create change in your workplace and make it more trans-inclusive and equitable for all. All change starts with reflection. What are you and your organization currently doing for transgender colleagues? Are you creating a welcoming and accepting environment? Are there areas for improvement? This could include changes to benefits or workplace policies. Maybe your organization should provide more transgender-inclusive training and education or contribute to organizations and groups promoting transgender inclusion through fundraising and volunteerism. 

Look at other organizations and see if they offer specific benefits geared toward the transgender community, if their language is trans-inclusive, and if people throughout the company are listing their pronouns where possible, like email signatures and LinkedIn profiles. This could signal some practices to introduce at your company to enhance the experience of transgender employees.

Above all else, if you want to change your workplace, it's essential to speak up and join the conversation. Many organizations have LGBTQ+ employee resource groups (ERGs) that anyone can be involved in to help move the needle on diversity, equity and inclusion. At Day & Zimmermann, our True Colors ERG is continually working to make our workplace an environment where the LGBTQ+ community can thrive.

4. Continue to Listen, Learn, Accept and Advocate

Allyship takes practice and is a journey. There's always room to grow by listening, learning, accepting and advocating both in and outside the workplace. As you engage with openly LGBTQ+ and transgender colleagues, friends and family, listen to their experiences and look out for mentions of issues, concerns or thoughts about what it's like to be out at work or within their communities. Are people generally accepting of them or are there hurdles they're encountering? Their responses can help inform how you practice your allyship in those settings and what you can do to better support them, like researching common solutions and engaging in healthy conversation. 

The more you listen and learn, the more you can use your knowledge to educate others and bring inclusivity and acceptance into all aspects of your life. The greatest show of support you can give to your LGBTQ+ and transgender colleagues, family and friends is to advocate for them and lend your voice to their cause, raising where improvements can be made and helping make change a reality.

For more information on how to be an ally, take a look at the following resources or visit organizations like Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Trevor Project.


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