Why it’s never too early to be thinking about how you can support the Trans* agenda

25 June, 2018
Fleur Bothwick

Last year, my colleague and I developed a gender transition toolkit and I was astonished at how complex the topic was for a number of reasons, including the fact that transition can refer to both social and medical transition, but it doesn’t have to be both.  My limited first hand experience was based on my brother Bob transitioning to my sister Sarah some 15 years ago, but unlike Sarah, there are also many people that don’t undergo medically assisted gender reassignment.

My other learning was that Trans is just one part of Trans* (with an asterisk) which is a broad umbrella term for people whose gender identity, expression or behaviour does not conform to that typically associated with their sex at birth.  I would urge any company, regardless of size, to really give this some thought and in particular develop policy and best practice for individuals and their managers to give them a structure to approach this topic, when it does come up, constructively and supportively.  The reason I urge you to start thinking about this now, is that you need the answers when you are approached.  Even the simplest question can be complicated – for example, ‘whilst undergoing transition, or if I am varying how I express my gender, what toilets do I use?’ 

This whole topic can be quite emotive.  I was catching up on old newspapers and read about the reaction to the announcement that the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath, a famous women’s only pool has announced that men transitioning to women will be allowed to bathe there.  One argument is that men not transitioning could take advantage of the new policy, but I think the more compelling argument is that trans women are women, not men.  As Carolyn Fairbairn, the Director General of the CBI said in an interview on the LGBT agenda, we should be proud of progress, but not satisfied.

In our guide we suggest that the individual should develop a transition plan based round Education, Communication and Documentation.  In terms of education, many colleagues may have no understanding of the journey the individual has been on, or what is ahead.  Many will want to support, but will be concerned about doing and saying the right thing.  In terms of communication, who should be told, what should they be told and when.  Then more practically, how will this impact the individual administratively – legal name change, change of e-mail address, security pass picture.  I read recently about the illegal selling of tickets for a pop concert so anyone who didn’t have appropriate ID to match the ticket name was turned away – whatever the reason.

Then as a firm you need to think about external influences – a big one for me is health insurance.  I remember a decade ago joining EY just as a disgruntled male employee was leaving. He was at the early stages of planning a transition and had been told that our health care didn’t cover him for ‘cosmetic surgery’ – this is still a problem in the UK and I would guess many other geographies.

For managers, our six top tips would be to think about

1.Confidentiality & privacy for the individual

2.Sensitivity and respect should always be afforded to the individual

3.Use the correct set of pronouns

4.Take an active interest in the individual’s transition plan

5.Be proactive in addressing the questions of colleagues

6.Be as flexible as possible with leave and other benefits entitlements

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