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Firms should lead in creating inclusive workplaces for transgender workers


Employers should work to create an inclusive environment for transgender employees and develop policies that can ensure that such workers are protected from discrimination, experts said during a Business Insurance webinar.

The presentation, titled “Transgender Issues in the Workplace,” explored what employers can do to enable transgender inclusion and create supportive workplaces.

“We need to move from policy to practice. We need now to take these policies and engender them into the culture of your company so that when someone comes out … you know how to handle that with grace and humanity,” said Stephanie Battaglino, founder of Management Consulting firm Follow Your Heart L.L.C. in Cliffside Park, New Jersey.

The topic is timely due to legal and social advancements made by LGBT Americans in the last few years, said Lisa A. Linsky, a partner with McDermott Will & Emery L.L.C. in New York. She said in Wednesday’s webinar that there are at least 700,000 transgender people in the United States, and that population could be even larger.

“Reporting of transgender identity is significantly underreported,” she said. “The numbers that we know are conservative, and this is in part because of the limited number of studies that have been performed to date in trying to measure the size of the U.S. transgender community. … So many transgender people are closeted for fear of losing their jobs, their families, or becoming victims of violence.”

The U.S. does not currently have a federal employment nondiscrimination act, and there are 32 states that provide no workplace protections for transgender workers, Ms. Linsky said.

Ms. Battaglino discussed her experience with coming out as a transgender woman while working for a financial services firm in 2005. There were no guidelines in place at that time to accommodate transgender people at Ms. Battaglino’s firm, she said.

“It was a much different playing field back in those days” said Ms. Battaglino said. Equal employment opportunity and nondiscrimination “policies did not include protections for individuals like myself, protections across the dimensions of gender identity and gender expression. So I was really kind of going without a net.”

Ms. Battaglino, who said she was the first person to come out as transgender at that company, led the firm’s efforts to create policies that accommodate transgender employees.

“The good news is the company was open to being led,” she said. “They did not know what to do, so I basically shared with them, ‘these are the things that you need to account for when you have an employee who has transitioned.’ Now we have things like gender/transition guidelines.”

Ms. Battaglino noted that transgender people are often in danger of losing their jobs when they come out. “For many trans people it’s about just about having a job, just having a roof over their head, it’s about survival for many trans people.”

Regulations not set

Sam Schwartz-Fenwick, a Chicago-based partner with the labor & employment practice at law firm Seyfarth Shaw L.L.P., said employers should go above and beyond federal nondiscrimination law when aiming to creating inclusive environments.

“The state of the law is very much in flux right now,” he said. “The Obama administration has taken very aggressive interpretation of the law in an attempt to extend discrimination protection to the LGBT community.”

Workplace policies alone are not enough to protect transgender workers, Mr. Schwartz-Fenwick said. For instance, he said employers should include training that discusses gender identity and how to handle hypothetical scenarios, such as allowing employees to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

Posting guidelines from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration near bathrooms can help workers understand that federal law protects transgender employees when using their preferred bathroom, he said.

“When people want to use a bathroom that matches their gender identity, they just want to be able to go to the bathroom in peace,” he said. “And seeing the way OSHA framed it as a matter of workplace safety and health really helps deescalate what could be a contentious issue.”

Mr. Schwartz-Fenwick said companies also need benefit plans with trans-inclusive health care options, and should create individualized transition plans for transgender employees to chart out milestones that can aid their transition. Those milestones can include informal name changes, official name changes, pronoun changes, restroom use, medical intervention, or surgical intervention.

Ms. Battaglino said “words matter” when it comes to fostering a safe environment for trans workers. Companies should work to use the name and pronouns that correlate with a worker’s gender identity, she said.

“Pronouns when used incorrectly can be quite hurtful to a trans indentifying individual,” she said. “When used incorrectly, they can misgender someone.”

“If you know someone who has transitioned and you knew them prior to their transition, one thing that you would never want to do is refer to them by their former name,” Ms. Battaglino added. “That’s something that’s called… ‘deadnaming’.”

Companies like Prudential Financial Inc. have incorporated many of the policies and practices discussed by the panel, said Michele C. Meyer-Shipp, Newark, New Jersey-based vice president and chief diversity officer for Prudential.

“We many years ago put into place the required and also not required policies around trans workers,” she said. “We provide benefits coverage for trans workers around all their needs. In addition to the policies, Prudential has made awareness, education and support a part of the company culture.

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