Trans-Affirming Workplaces: What Does It Take?

I have a hard time believing those statements about equity and belonging when I see your company in action. No policy for name changes. No benefits for transition. Telling someone who keeps getting misgendered to introduce themselves again. The list goes on. 

The truth is, while most of these companies talk a big game? They’re not creating actions that align with the outcomes they say they want. And when there’s no action? You might as well keep that statement to yourself. 

Recently, I was interviewed by HR Dive on what companies are doing to build trans-affirming cultures. To be clear – efforts like heightened awareness of pronoun selection is just the beginning, and it’s needed as initiatives like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law advance and employers are increasingly put in the spotlight for their advocacy — or lack thereof — on critical social issues.

HRE: What kind of trends have you seen in recent years in terms of corporations embracing genuine trans inclusion?

Kibben: More than ever, companies are actually taking the time to understand what inclusion means during every part of the candidate and employee experience. It’s more than adding pronouns to your email signature. It’s actually integrating it into your application process, then training the team to use pronouns and ask for them at the interview. It’s training your executives on how to have these conversations. It’s actually considering that your benefits program may not be inclusive to trans people and understanding what it takes and how it works for people to transition safely, medically and still have the support of the company via their healthcare benefits.

HRE: Do you think those movements are encouraging? Where is there the most room for improvement?

Kibben: I think it is encouraging as a trans person, but I know that there’s still a lot of frustration for people in companies where there is no motion, just the gesturing of adding a pronoun to an email signature. That’s a great start — don’t get me wrong — but it’s not actually a move toward belonging because it doesn’t change how trans people are able to interact safely at your company.

HRE: Given that Trans Day of Visibility is approaching on March 31, what role do you think the visibility of trans people and issues can play in building company culture where LGBTQIA employees feel welcomed? Can you speak to your own experiences?

Kibben: Absolutely. I have stayed in the closet in every corporate environment.

I know what it feels like to hide in plain daylight. I also understand how that impacts the work that we do every day. You’ll never do your best work if you are hiding something very important about your life and someone you love. And so, when I think about Trans Day of Visibility, it’s about making safe places for everyone and considering how we make each other feel safe at work. It’s not necessarily parades or creating, you know, a bunch of flags to print out and put on your doors for a day.

HRE: For HR professionals looking to make real, sustainable progress on trans inclusion, what is the most important thing they need to keep in mind as they press for change?

Kibben: That they will come up against resistance and that they must be brave — on behalf of other people.

Recently, I was talking to my mentor and she shared a scenario where years ago she helped a trans person transition at work. She went back to that person almost 10 years later and asked how she could have been better. And I think it’s absolutely brave that she even asked the question, but the person told her a lot of things that she did wrong. And so even with all of that good intent, considering this was 10 years ago, she’s coming back asking, hands open, “Tell me what I did wrong,” knowing that her intent was to create this incredible scenario for this person. You have to understand that it won’t be perfect, but progress is better than perfection.

HRE: What should corporations be doing to combat legislative measures that seek to restrict the visibility of LGBTQIA individuals, such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law? Do you think corporate communities there have been doing enough?

Kibben: I think we often try to pretend that we can be two different people — that there’s one version of us that exists at work and one version that exists in life. We call it work/life balance, and we pretend that there’s a partition, but there’s not. Legislation impacts us whether we are at work or at home, and work impacts us in both of these contexts, too. I think it is more important than ever for every company to consider what they’re doing. At an absolute baseline, companies should be providing the very basic education around pronouns and belonging that includes some examples of how your team can be better active allies in your community. What I mean by an active ally is that this is someone who does something when they see something going wrong in the world.

Unfortunately, I have not heard about a lot of companies standing up and doing something. Personally, I don’t know exactly what they would do, but I do know that those companies especially need to invest in this baseline education so that we have some accurate communication, mutual understanding and knowledge regarding pronouns so that the binary language of legislation is not assumed to be true or real.

LGBT and Diversity

Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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