It’s crucial that managers and HR professionals are knowledgeable of the rights, representation and language around trans people.

It is estimated there are 200,000 to 500,000 trans people in the UK. And it is likely that as trans people become more visible in popular culture, more people will begin to feel comfortable in living as their true selves and that includes their working lives too.

Here’s what you need to know:

What does it mean to be trans?

Trans (shorthand for transgender) is a general term for people whose gender is different from the gender assigned to them at birth, for example, a trans man is someone that has transitioned from a woman to a man.

Some trans people identify as neither male nor female, or as a combination of male and female, and therefore use a variety of terms to describe their gender identity, such as non-binary or genderqueer. Conversely, you may also come across the term cisgender, used in relation to a person who identifies with the gender they have been born with.

The period of time during which a person begins to live according to their gender identity is known as transitioning. While not all trans people transition, many do at some point in their lives. This looks different for every person and may or may not include a changing appearance, clothes, name or the pronouns they use, such as ‘she’, ‘he’ or ‘they’. Some people will also undergo hormone therapy or surgery to change their physical selves.

History of the trans community

There have always been trans and gender-variant people throughout history, but there are a few dates from the last century that are worth noting.

In 1951, Roberta Cowell became the first British trans woman to undergo gender-reassignment surgery. Following Cowell’s transition, awareness and knowledge of trans people rapidly grew.

As the 20th century progressed, more and more cases were being brought to court by trans people on the grounds of discrimination in the workplace and wider society. In 1996, a milestone case saw a woman, known only as P, win an employment tribunal against unfair dismissal after informing her employer that she was undergoing gender-reassignment surgery.

It became the first piece of case law to prevent discrimination in employment and opened the door to further change – notably, the Gender Recognition Act 2004, which awarded trans people legal gender recognition and allowed them to acquire new birth certificates. This move towards acceptance culminated in the Equality Act 2010, which banned discrimination in the workplace and wider society on the basis of gender-reassignment.

However, there is still a way to go. Currently, UK law still reflects a limited understanding of non-binary individuals with, for example, birth certificates and passports still only allowing for male or female options.

What are the challenges faced by trans people?

While trans people in the UK have opportunities to lead rich and rewarding lives, they can face serious discrimination at work, school, and in their families and communities. Two in five have been victims of a hate crime, one in eight have been physically attacked by colleagues or customers, and tragically two in five young trans people have attempted to take their own lives.

As a result, trans people are more likely to lose their job or be denied employment, suffer homelessness or struggle to access housing.

This comes on top of the deeply personal reflection and journeys trans people are undertaking themselves to follow their true identities. Some people can spend years feeling like they don’t fit in without really understanding why, or may avoid talking about their gender altogether. Trying to repress feelings about your true gender can be very painful and damaging to a person’s mental health.

How can I be a trans ally?

Trans people should be treated with the same dignity and respect as anyone else and be able to live according to their gender identity. Here’s what you can do to help make this happen in your workplace:

Develop a trans-inclusive policy – This will send a positive message to trans employees (and those looking to make a transition) that they are valued within your organisation. The policy could include guidance around the use of bathrooms (such as allowing trans people to use the bathrooms that align with their gender identity), dress codes and opportunities for trans people to decide their pronouns and names. These somewhat small considerations will make a real difference to a trans employee’s working life and their feelings of acceptance.

Support gender transitions – The decision to disclose a wish to transition at work can come after much soul-searching and carry with it concerns over how they will be perceived by their managers and fellow team members. It’s important to be supportive and ask how they would like the process to be handled – for example, how they would like their transition to be communicated to colleagues. Some trans people may elect for medical procedures so, when appropriate, discuss how you can support them by allowing time away from work or providing options for flexible working.

Develop your diversity training – Adding gender-identity into your diversity training will help proactively create supportive workplaces and encourage further allies by giving your teams the tools to call out discrimination when they see it.

Create an LGBTQ network – These networks include representatives and allies, from across a range of roles and levels of seniority, who provide support and someone to talk to – anonymously if required – if trans employees feel worried or unable to speak to their manager. Understanding gender identity and trans issues can be confusing and no-one expects everyone to know everything, so the network also provides an opportunity for cis employees to ask questions.

If you’d like to find out more about how to make your workplace more trans-inclusive, Tell Jane offers a range of training programmes that can be tailored to your organisation and D&I strategy. Contact me by emailing to discover how we can help.

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