How Can HR Support Transgender Individuals By Professor Sophie Hennekam, Audencia
Over the past decade, organisations worldwide have adopted policies and practices to enhance the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ population, and this of course includes transgender employees. In recent years, in many Western countries, transgender people have started to enjoy augmented public recognition and legal protection, including in the workplace.
The LGBTQ+ population is often seen as a homogeneous group. However, transgender individuals can experience different issues compared to their lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer counterparts. Organisations should therefore avoid conflating trans individuals with the other members of the LGBTQ+ community and be aware of the unique challenges they face at work.
So, as HR professionals often find it difficult to properly support transgender individuals, especially while they are transitioning. So here are a few pointers which may help.
Most HR departments seem to know very little about the issues that trans people encounter at work, the impact of a gender identity transition, and many other issues specific to the trans community. This sometimes leads to negative experiences for transgender employees such as feeling embarrassed, excluded, or misunderstood. Therefore, it is important for organisations to prepare and train line managers, colleagues and HR departments to understand and support transgender individuals, whether they are currently transitioning or not. A good starting point is to identify high quality information packages that have been developed in collaboration with the transgender community, distribute them widely within the organisation and encourage all employees to act on the information, to inspire deeper understanding of the issues.
Gender norms awareness
The concept of there being just two genders is still strongly engrained in society, and not least in the hierarchical model of the traditional workplace. This means that transgender individuals whose gender expression runs counter to prevailing norms tend to be perceived more negatively and encounter more challenges than transgender individuals who express themselves in gender-conforming ways. A high awareness of the way that gender expression unconsciously influences many facets of organisational life is needed in order to provide a more inclusive workplace for all. This in turn would help organisations to create better organisational policies on gender equality, which, for many of them, constitute the most elaborate facet of their diversity and inclusion policies.
Gender transitions are often imagined to be a straightforward change from one gender to the other. However, a gender identity transition can be an ongoing, ever-evolving process without a clear endpoint. Consequently, longitudinal support from HR is important. Clear expectations about the uncertain duration and direction of transition would help to avoid frustration and impatience on all sides.
Setting up support groups
Gender identity transition is a process that is psychologically straining. Transgender individuals who have access to a network of other transgender persons tend to experience fewer psychological problems and cope better with negative treatment from others. Organisations can take a proactive role by encouraging and facilitating networks and support groups within the company to benefit transgender individuals.
Getting advice from specialist organisations
Existing HR policies and practices should be evaluated to see to what extent they include the needs of transgender employees. Organisations can best undertake this by seeking expertise from trans-specific organisations and carefully listening to advice and ideas for improvement from transgender employees themselves.