It's trans awareness week

So how can organisations increase genuine inclusion of trans people?


  • Thought Leadership
November 18, 2021 Angela Barnett

First, off, don’t just think about it for one week of the year during trans awareness week. Think about it all year. Think about it from the top down. Think about how important it is to have a gender affirming policy in place. Think about inclusion as part of the organisation's strategy. And think about it from the perspective of the people you are trying to include.

Also, don’t just create social media posts with the colours of the trans flag and your logo. Be an ally. And build up institutional knowledge.

We, at the Y, are big fans of Mary Haddock-Staniland, Senior Vice-President of Culture and Inclusion at Timely and trans advocate, and we asked Mary what organisations can do. "For businesses, there are things that everyone can do to achieve awareness and the message has to be one of lowering defences, practising acceptance and realising there are no threats. It's simple things like not staring at a transgender person and treating others like you would want to be treated.” 

Transgender and non-binary people have much to offer both employers and communities. Yet, despite awareness of the struggles people in the trans community often have to deal with⁠—hostility and discrimination increase absenteeism, undermine commitment and motivation, and decrease productivity—a lot of organisations are not equipped to create a culture that supports all their employees. 

Adopt policy that protects the rights of people of all gender identities, but this has to run alongside work that increases all employees' acceptance of their trans colleagues.

Policy and education have to go hand in hand. 

Organisations working towards getting the GenderTick, have to have trans-inclusive policy including supporting gender-affirming transitions as part of the criteria but this has to work in partnership with education and training.

It’s a big subject and this article is by no means going to cover everything. Here are three things organisations can think about:

  1. On Advocates
    Don’t ask people from the trans and non binary community in your organisation to front gender affirming policy, unless this is part of their role. It’s unfair and not right. Nor is it their responsibility to educate others. Develop proper trans inclusive diversity training from an educator—who is paid for their time properly—then host it on an intranet for all staff. This training should include means and ways to help cis-gendered folk call out transphobic behaivour - research from Harvard Business Review shows many people don’t feel confident to do so (but also don’t encourage ‘saviours’; people should first ask whether a trans colleague would prefer to speak up for themselves). Consulting before taking action gives a trans person agency in situations, and trans employees who are openly out should be included in training only if they choose to be. Moira Clunie (Te Rarawa) from Te Ngakau Kahukura says in this insightful webinar “Often there is just one person in an organisation helping raise awareness and doing the challenging work to explain to people there are not just two genders - that is too much for one person. It’s exhausting for them.” Advocates are important but their mental health is more important. **

  2. On Buy In.
    Training and policy are essential but support needs to come from the top to properly address structural issues and discrimination. Transforming a system is not just policy, it’s strategy. That means it requires a plan and budget to create change. If you do get a trans educator into your organisation to kōrero, make sure they understand this is part of a wider strategy, it’s not just a one off talk or ticking a box. Organisations need to know how trans inclusion fits into the kaupapa and strategy of their business. Joey Macdonald from Te Ngakau Kahukura says, in the same webinar , “Trans educators get asked to do a lot and it’s frustrating and disheartening to do this mahi and find it’s not making big changes - but it’s important they know it’s not them, often it’s the structural issues within an organisation that’s blocking change.”

  3. On Pronouns
    As Mary says, "Pronouns are a ‘minefield’ but it is very important to get them right." Most gender affirming policies include a clause about the proper use of titles, names and pronouns of choice of transgender and intersex people. And allyship is important. Using the wrong pronouns can make someone from the trans or non binary community feel invalidated so when cisgender folk take the lead sharing pronouns, it reduces the stigma associated with talking about them. If the company adopts a policy for all staff to include pronouns in email signatures, or share in meetings, make sure managers and staff are trained in how to respond—with kindness—if a person chooses pronouns that surprises them. They need to know what’s an appropriate response and what’s not. The same goes with recruitment. Including more gender options on new staff forms is important but you can’t do this unless the recruitment staff are trained properly to understand the needs of someone who ticks ‘genderqueer’ for instance. Plus managers working with the new staff need to know what to do to make new members feel welcome, included, and safe to be themselves. 

Finally, organisations need to not just think about inclusion but liberation. The bare minimum is to just have all folk feel included, but the goal should be to make sure all staff feel liberated to be their best and truest sleeves every day at work. Because everyone deserves that.


** this might be obvious but if some people from the trans and non binary community in your organisation do put their hands up to advocate, when it isn’t part of their role, then it’s important they can comfortably state what safety mechanisms they need, and that they feel able to say no or change their mind at any time in the advocating process. Ensure their story and narrative is protected; their story belongs to them and staff need to know boundaries and not ask intrusive questions. 


Photo by Katie Rainbow 🏳️‍🌈 on Unsplash

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