Australian workplaces have come a long way to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace, however, according to diversity experts, more needs to be done for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. Last year, the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) found 45 percent of LGBTI Australians hid their sexuality or gender identity at work out of fear that it may damage their career.
An area of special focus for advocates is support for individuals undergoing gender transition in the workplace, which presents a range of unique challenges for employers looking to provide a nurturing culture for all employees. Understanding the complexities of gender transition in the workplace can present challenges for human resource professionals who may be approached to help a person navigate changing their gender identity in a public setting. Employers that are unprepared to handle a gender transition are likely to face not only employee relations issues, but also discrimination claims.
Integrating transgender workers into the workplace is good for business. Pride in Diversity, Australia’s national not-for-profit employer support program for all aspects of LGBTI workplace inclusion, believes that supporting transgender people in the workplace and helping them bring their authentic selves to work is a win-win for the employee and the employer.
“In the past few years, Pride in Diversity has witnessed a significant increase in calls for assistance to support gender transitions in the workplace,” explains Ross Wetherbee, the program’s senior manager. “Fortunately, employers are embracing diversity beyond traditional initiatives, and inclusion initiatives embracing LGBTI employees have gained significant momentum.
“In the last three years we have supported more than 50 workplaces and individuals on this journey and believe all organisations should have a gender transition policy available. When unable to be their true selves in their workplace, some transgender people experience higher levels of anxiety and depression and a decrease in job productivity and performance.”
Quality Innovation Performance (QIP) works with organisations to support their commitment to safe and inclusive service delivery for LGBTI people in the community. “The Rainbow Tick represents inclusive practice and there are more than 40 organisations nationally currently registered for accreditation,” explains Dr Stephen Clark, the group chief executive at QIP. “The Rainbow Tick Accreditation says to the LGBTI community, ‘You are safe here, we will recognise you for the person you are.’
“Implementing any change in an organisation is challenging, but ensuring staff training and supporting activities are inclusive is key,” adds Dr Clark.
The transition for a transgender person can be a very challenging and vulnerable time and transgender employees often look to Human Resources to help them navigate the changes. The degree of success of a transition is strongly influenced by a person’s ability to maintain a stable job during the process.
“Workplace managers play a crucial role in breaking down stigma and preventing discrimination in the workplace by modelling acceptance and tolerance for individuals,” says Marcela Slepica, clinical services director at AccessEAP, a leading employee assistance program provider. “Do not ask intrusive personal questions which have no bearing on the person’s role with the workplace and let them choose how much they want to share with you and their co-workers.”
Here, Slepica offers some tips for organisations and employees on how to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace:
- Organisations need to learn the terminology and educate themselves of how to support a person going through gender transition.
- Having a policy in place is not always enough. This is a very personal issue and policies will not always be relevant given the complexity, this is about the individual and how the business can support the individual. Managers should talk to the person going through the transition – understand their challenges, what they need and how they would like to communicate what they are going through to their colleagues.
- Foster open communication – an understanding on both sides and having respect for each other are important.
- The person going through the transition also needs to understand that colleagues will make mistakes and that they may inadvertently say the wrong thing. For example, using ‘he’ rather than ‘she’, particularly if colleagues have known the person for some time. Everyone needs time to process the change.
- Although it can be challenging and confronting for some, what we think and feel cannot impact on our behaviour. Managers and colleagues need to be respectful and inclusive towards the person going through the transition. Diversity and inclusion are important.
- Each individual case is different and managers should respond on a case by case basis. Training and individual coaching can assist managers to support a person going through gender transition.
For more information on supporting transgender individuals in the workplace, please contact AccessEAP on 1800 81 87 28 or visit accesseap.com.au.
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