The process of a gender transition is unique to every person. These tips from a trans perspective offer best practices for employees, allies, and organizations seeking support.
Gender identity - the way in which one understands their gender – everybody has a gender identity!
Gender expression - the way in which one expresses their gender (e.g. clothing, hairstyle, etc), which can influence how they are perceived by others – everybody also has a gender expression!
Transgender - or “trans,” this is an umbrella term that refers to any person who does not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. There are many identities within the transgender community. For example, non-binary describes a trans identity that exists on a spectrum outside of the dichotomy of man and woman.
Cisgender - the word for a person whose gender identity aligns with their sex assigned at birth (e.g. if you were assigned female at birth and identify as a woman, you are cisgender).
Transition - can refer to any number of gender-affirming actions one takes (e.g. changing their name or pronouns, accessing medical services, etc).
Pronouns - the words we use to refer to people in place of their name, such as he, she, they, ze, and more.
Misgendering / Deadnaming - Using the incorrect pronoun or name for someone, unintentionally or deliberately, which can cause significant emotional anguish.
Taking steps toward transitioning can be one of the most exciting and terrifying moments in a transgender person’s journey; it is both deeply personal and incredibly visible. I had just started my first job out of college when I first began thinking about my own transition, and ultimately the logistics of coming out at work with a previous employer delayed my transition by over a year as I worried about how my former colleagues and clients would react.
The process of transitioning is unique to every person and can include any combination of actions from changing your name and/or pronouns, to adjusting the way you dress, or seeking medical services like hormone replacement therapy or gender-affirming surgery. There is no “right” way to transition, and some individuals may not take any of the steps listed above – that does not invalidate their identity or make them any “less trans” than those who do. These are highly personal decisions that don’t require any explanation or justification.
To complicate matters, coming out is never a one-time event. LGBTQ+ people need to disclose their identity often and continuously reiterate it, which can be exhausting, cumbersome, and lonely. That’s why we’ve compiled these best practices for trans employees, allies, and organizations navigating the complexities of transitioning at work.
How to advocate for yourself as a trans employee
Develop a plan for who you will tell and when
Think about the order you'd like to tell your colleagues in, and the methods of communication that feel most comfortable. Take your time – you don't have to tell everyone all at once – and ensure that you have a support system in place, whether at work or in your personal life, as you navigate these early stages of coming out.
You don't have to tell everyone in the same way. For example, you may want to have a one-on-one conversation with your boss and most trusted teammates, but choose to send a general email to other colleagues you aren't as close to but often work with.
Don’t feel pressure to disclose anything more than you're comfortable with. You are in control of what you share, when, and to whom. If you need support navigating this, consider reaching out to a trusted leader or HR support for advice.
Update your name and/or pronouns on workplace systems
This can help increase feelings of gender euphoria as you begin to see your name and pronouns reflected in public, and can also serve as a clear visual reminder for colleagues. Many of these systems can be updated without a legal name change and require little coordination from other teammates, such as your Slack, Zoom, and other profile displays.
Familiarize yourself with the benefits available
Reach out to your HR representative or call your insurance provider directly to make sure you are clear on what services are covered, and how that will impact your journey. Be sure to ask about pre-authorizations, out-of-network exceptions, and potential reimbursement options for services not directly covered.
Beyond health insurance, some employers also offer Employee Assistance Programs, legal services, and more benefits that can be leveraged to support your transition. These are often free and anonymous services that do not require talking to internal colleagues.
Ask for support
It can be exhausting to feel like you are alone in the coming out process – it’s okay to ask for help. For example, you can ask your manager to share your pronouns with new employees when they first join the team to avoid having to share them yourself or ask a trusted peer to help correct folks if they hear instances of misgendering or deadnaming.
How to support trans colleagues as an ally
Follow their lead and be respectful
Never out someone without their permission. Some people may choose not to come out widely or may come out gradually over time. Make sure that you are clear on your colleague’s boundaries, and respect their wishes.
Do not ask invasive questions about a trans person’s journey. Would you feel comfortable with a teammate asking questions about your body and identity? Allow your colleague to share what they feel comfortable with and do not pry.
Be a vocal advocate
Ask your trans colleague what they need and offer tangible ways you can help. For example, you can ask if they'd like for you to help socialize their preferred name and pronouns. When new employees are hired to join the team, it may be helpful for the hiring manager to share the employee’s pronouns with the new hire proactively to avoid misgendering.
Correct people when you hear them misgender or deadname a trans employee, whether they are present or not. You do not have to scold or admonish – correcting someone can be as simple as “I think you meant to say ‘they’ not ‘she,’ go on…”
Apologize when you make mistakes. It is inevitable, we all slip up sometimes. If you do use someone’s incorrect name or pronouns, quickly give a genuine apology, correct yourself, and move on (e.g. “Sam shared a great idea earlier, he said… I’m sorry, they said…”). Do not belabor your guilt – this puts the person who was impacted in a position to comfort you.
Familiarize yourself with the benefits available
Know what is covered within the organization’s insurance policies, and other benefits including Employee Assistance Programs, legal services, and more. Share this information with trans colleagues if they aren't aware of what is available to them.If you find gaps in these benefits, advocate for them to be addressed. You can start these conversations with HR directly, or with your organization's LGBTQ+ employee community.
How organizations can support trans employees
Implement intuitive systems for sharing preferred name and pronouns
While it is required to collect legal names for benefits, payroll, and other administrative needs, that information should only be shared on a need-to-know basis. If you have access to legal names due to the nature of your role (e.g. HR, recruiting, etc) be discreet. Whenever possible, collect preferred names and use these for employee email addresses, access badges, directories, and other highly visible needs.
Make it simple and accessible for employees to update their names and pronouns in email signatures, internal messaging or communications systems, Zoom profiles, and more.
Design your processes, policies, and offices with trans people in mind
Ensure that gender identity and gender expression are explicitly named in your non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, and audit policies like dress code to check that they aren't rooted in gender norms (e.g. hair length, requiring skirts/dresses, etc).
When possible, provide at least one gender-neutral restroom in your space. When not possible, ensure that employees are able to use the bathroom that most aligns with their identity or makes them most comfortable. Consider keeping menstrual products accessible in every restroom or a communal space.
Avoid gendered language. For example, instead of saying “ladies and gentlemen,” say “distinguished guests” or “team.” Update documents or forms that may have the language of “he/she” to say “they."
Create spaces for support, such as an LGBTQ+ employee community
Ensure that there are safe spaces and trusted leaders that employees can turn to for guidance or support. LGBTQ+ employee communities can be incredibly impactful for building connections, sharing information, and creating change.
Remember, it is not the trans employee's job to educate. The burden to make workplaces inclusive for marginalized groups often disproportionately falls on employees from those very communities. Do not rely on trans employees to provide consultation, training, or other services outside of their job function. If more support is required, engage external experts.
Find more resources on building belonging at work here, and check out the first enterprise SaaS ecosystem for building belonging at work, Mindr Connect.