Creating Inclusive Workplaces for Transgender Workers

Anyone who knows a person who has transitioned from one gender identity to another knows the imperative for that person of getting alignment between their internal and external gender identity or between their internal gender identity and their external biology. Those of us born “cis gender,” or whose internal gender identity is the same as our external physical body, may find it difficult to understand the challenges for transgender people. As a cisgender woman, I feel myself to be a woman and I was born in a woman’s body. Consequently, I am not confused about my gender identity, and neither is anyone who sees or knows me. I try to imagine the tremendous courage necessary for a trans person to take a stand and announce to friends, family, coworkers, and employees that although they may have known you as a man, you have always felt that you are a woman, vice versa, or neither, and you are choosing now to live as your true self. Whether or not a transgender person undergoes surgery or other medical intervention to physically alter their body to align with their internal identity, they still have a lot to deal with to learn to live as a different gender or as a gender-fluid or gender-nonconforming person. A lack of internal and external alignment or an appearance that does not conform to binary stereotypes of gender can cause confusion, depression, and suicidal thoughts for a person who feels they are “living a lie.” Rejection by employers for being transgender also means that many transgender people live in poverty. As of 2016, thirty-two states did not have state laws to protect people from being fired for being transgender. An anonymous online 2015 survey of 28,000 adults, age eighteen and older from all fifty states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and United States military bases overseas, revealed widespread poverty and other difficulties for the transgender community, as reported by the National Women’s Law Center. The survey found that people who are transgender are twice as likely to be living in poverty as the general US population, with 29 percent living in poverty in 2015, compared to the overall rate of 14 percent across the country. For transgender people of color, the statistics are even worse:

  • 43 percent of Latinx transgender respondents live in poverty.
  • 41 percent of American Indian transgender respondents live in poverty.
  • 40 percent of multiracial transgender respondents live in poverty.
  • 38 percent of black transgender respondents live in poverty.
Claire Martin of the New York Times reports that 30 percent of transgender workers have been fired or denied a promotion. Robert Pear of the New York Times reports that recent court rulings have extended protections for transgender people in the workplace in certain states and set a precedent for future cases. The most recent ruling found that transgender people are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says that “gender must be irrelevant to employment decisions.” The ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit further states that employees may not be discriminated against because they fail to conform to “stereotypical gender norms” and that, as Pear explains, “discrimination based on transgender status is a form of sex discrimination.” The ruling also states that an employer’s religious beliefs do not justify discrimination. Pear also notes that with recent court rulings, many employers are moving to create or strengthen policies to prevent bias and discrimination against transgender people. Martin reports that organizations like TransCanWork, based in California, offer training programs and videos for employers. The Human Rights Campaign also offers toolkits for employers. Tash Wilder, senior consultant at Paradigm, recommends the following steps to create an inclusive workplace:
  • Create policies and benefits that protect trans people from discrimination or harassment.
  • Actively foster a culture where trans people feel a sense of belonging by
  • Allowing new employees to input their own demographic data into the human resources systems
  • Using names and pronouns that employees use, even if different than their legal name and pronoun
  • Providing gender inclusive bathrooms and locker rooms
  • Creating gender affinity groups that are welcoming, such as “Women and Gender Minorities”
More often these days, I am asked to introduce myself by my preferred pronouns when I enter new groups or organizations. This practice is helping me create new habits of mind and stop assuming that only two ways to identify one’s gender exist. My pronouns are “she, her, hers.” What are yours?   Photo courtesy of Misha Sokolnikov (CC BY-ND 2.0)]]>

How We All Lose When Women Are Devalued

A coaching client recently shared with me that while still a college student she was sexually assaulted by an important person at her school. When she told her guidance counselor about it, he advised her to say nothing to protect the reputation of the school. She said nothing. Now, many years later, and thanks to the #MeToo movement and some professional development work she’s engaged in, she has become aware that some of her physical and emotional problems are probably related to the buried trauma from her sexual assault. For the first time, she is starting to talk about what happened to her, which is so important for the healing process. Untreated trauma from sexual assault can cost victims their health, marriages, careers, and their lives if it is not addressed. As Sallie Krawcheck of the New York Times writes, it can seem like a seismic shift is taking place in our culture as the avalanche of sexual harassment and assault stories, previously unspoken, silenced, or disbelieved, come pouring out. While this outpouring is important, Krawcheck notes that sexual harassment is part of a larger problem in our culture: women are demeaned and devalued. The cost of demeaning and devaluing women is not only the high incidence of sexual harassment and a general culture of rape on our college campuses and elsewhere but a problem that’s costing all of us in other ways as well:

  • Women’s ideas are discounted and their talents ignored in all kinds of social, academic, and work settings. In a previous article, I wrote about Krawcheck’s direct experience with the ways that homogeneity on Wall Street resulted in the groupthink that crashed our economy in 2008 with the subprime lending debacle. Krawcheck was fired from a senior leadership position at Smith Barney for diverging from the groupthink of the financial industry and daring to be client focused. We all lost when the market crashed.
  • Krawcheck points out that, “despite research showing that companies with more diversity, and particularly with more women in leadership, offer higher returns on capital, lower risk and greater innovation than firms without such leadership, Wall Street has been, and is, predominantly male at the top,” as are most other sectors of our economy. Without diversity of perspectives and a broad range of skills, poor decisions get made that can have widespread impact on the lives of everyday people.
I agree with Krawcheck that the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are important, but that the current focus on sexual harassment is only one step on the change journey. Valuing girls and women means eliminating gender bias in our workplaces and institutions and creating safe, respectful and inclusive workplaces, schools, and social institutions.   Photo by Sam Valadi, CC BY 2.0.]]>

Women in Physics and Medicine: Closing the Gender Pay Gap, Increasing Respect, and Decreasing Burnout

New studies on women in physics and medicine find continuing disparities in pay and promotions. Audrey Williams June, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, reports the results of a new study by the Statistical Research Center at the American Institute of Physics showing a gender pay gap of 6 percent for female faculty members in physics. The study also found that men are overrepresented in senior faculty roles and that women receive fewer grants for research and lab space. For women in medicine, the issues can be severe. Dhruv Khullar of the New York Times reports that female physicians

  • are more than twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population;
  • earn significantly less than male colleagues
  • are less likely to advance to professorships; and
  • account for only one-sixth of medical school deans.
Khullar notes that gender bias begins to impact women physicians during medical residency training and continues throughout their careers. He points out that the structure of medical training and practice has not changed much since the 1960s, when almost all medical residents were men and only 7 percent of medical school graduates were women. Today women account for more than one-third of practicing physicians and one-half of physicians in residency training. Unchanged training structures that assume a stay-at-home spouse to support a trainee’s eighty-hour-work week create work-family conflicts for women. The combination of work-family conflicts and embedded gender discrimination in the profession takes a toll on women’s lives and careers in some of the following ways:
  • In households where both spouses are doctors, women with children work eleven hours less per week, while there is no difference in the hours worked by men with children. This statistic reflects the greater responsibility that women doctors carry for family care that their spouses do not share equitably.
  • Female physicians are more likely to divorce than male physicians.
  • For female physicians, getting patients and other doctors to show them respect by calling them “doctor” is a battle. Women physicians are assumed to be either physician assistants or nurses by both patients and other doctors and are often introduced by their first names in professional settings instead of by their professional title of “doctor.”
  • The gender pay gap for female physicians is significant and was detailed in an earlier article.
  • A recent study at Harvard found that gender bias affects referrals to female surgeons from other physicians.
What can be done to close the gender pay gap, increase respect, and decrease burnout for women in physics and medicine? Both June and Khullar suggest that having more women in leadership and mentorship roles could make a big difference. Khullar also notes that “disparities don’t close on their own. They close because we close them.” Let’s continue to put pressure on our institutions to be more equitable and inclusive. Do these disparities exist in your own profession? Please share with us what efforts your organization is making to close these gaps. Photo by Walt Stoneburner, CC BY 2.0.]]>