The AltoPartners Guide to Diversity and Inclusion : A practical guide to creating a trans-inclusive workplace

November 17, 2022 Share this article:

Creating a Trans Inclusive Workplace

“One of the biggest hurdles for co-workers and leaders is a general ignorance of how to interact with a transgender co-worker. This is a significant gap in many companies’ diversity awareness and training. While they may aim to provide needed support to transgender employees, they often fall short.” Julia Kamper, a transgender woman

Employers around the world are still working on improving gender diversity. That’s because women are still heavily underrepresented in management and board positions in many territories. And differences in sexual orientation are also often not recognised or supported in the workplace. For all these marginalised groups of people, getting an equal seat at the boardroom table is still a work in progress.

A 2021 McKinsey report points out that the related issue of gender identity or expression can be even more neglected. “Often, the transgender experience may not even register on the radars of employers when they work on corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts,” McKinsey says.

There are more than two million transgender people in the United States – and yet, despite those numbers, the trans community faces severe discrimination, stigma and systemic inequality. Even worse, there are 13 countries where trans people are explicitly criminalised: Brunei, the Gambia, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malawi, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, South Sudan, Tonga, and the United Arab Emirates.

In the US, advocacy organisation the Human Rights Campaign says challenges facing transgender people include lack of legal protection, poverty, violence and lack of access to healthcare. And there are workplace issues too. The McKinsey report says:

  • Transgender adults are twice as likely as cisgender (the term used to refer to an individual whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth) adults to be unemployed.
  • On average, cisgender employees make 32% more money a year than transgender employees, even when the latter have similar or higher education levels.
  • More than half of transgender employees say they are not comfortable being out at work.
  • People who identify as transgender feel far less supported in the workplace than their cisgender colleagues do.

And yet, as the McKinsey report points out, greater transgender inclusion in the workforce would benefit everyone. A concerted effort to increase employment and wage equity for transgender people could boost annual consumer spending by an estimated $12 billion a year, the report estimates.

So, what does transgender mean?

The word “transgender” – or trans – is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity is different from the sex assigned to them at birth, the Human Rights Campaign says.

Some trans people identify as trans men or trans women, while others may describe themselves as non-binary, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, agender, bigender or other identities that reflect their personal experience. (See the glossary at the end of this article). Some people take hormones or have surgery as part of their transition, while others may change their pronouns or appearance. It’s important to note that this is not about sexual orientation: trans people can be lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, straight, or not interested in sexual relationships at all.

What problems do transgender people face in the workplace?

For a transgender person who is employed, the experience of bringing one’s full self to work can be fraught with difficulty. Beginning with the interview process, getting hired, and working life: in all these phases, transgender respondents to the McKinsey survey reported feeling anxious and alienated. Here are some of the issues:

Interviews: In cultures that view gender in binary terms, transgender or nonbinary job applicants might not want the topic of their gender nonconformity to come up during the interview process. They may also feel pressure to change their appearance or behaviour to fit gender norms.

Benefits: A transgender job applicant may fear outing themselves during the interview process by asking about gender-neutral bathrooms in the office or whether the company’s health insurance would pay for hormone-replacement therapy

At work: Transgender employees are more likely than cisgender ones to report a sense of alienation from their colleagues and managers.

Career advancement: Transgender employees are underrepresented in management and company leadership.

The McKinsey report notes that trans employees’ keen awareness of the obstacles to career growth can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Because so many feel they can’t be themselves, they may hold back from fully participating at work. Because trans people don’t see others like them – either around them or above them on the career ladder – they may believe advancement isn’t possible.”

How can co-workers help?

An excellent guide developed for museum workers has suggestions that apply everywhere:

Use gender-neutral language. As a general rule, start with gender-neutral pronouns when you don’t know someone’s pronouns, but the moment you find out what pronouns a person prefers, use them! When welcoming a group of people, instead of “Ladies and gentlemen,” say “Folks” or “Esteemed guests.” Likewise, “hello everyone” is more inclusive than “hey guys”. The same goes for emails to groups of people: “Hi everyone” is a good way to go.

Share your own pronouns. One way to alleviate the pressure of getting someone’s pronouns right at first guess is to make it a practice to share your own pronouns.

When someone is misgendered by a colleague. A polite way to correct a colleague is to start using a person’s pronouns as much as possible in the interaction. If the co-worker doesn’t get the hint, speak to them privately, or send an email.

When a co-worker comes out. Treat a trans person’s change of name and pronouns like you would any name change (think of when someone gets married or asks to go by a nickname). If you have a close working relationship with your co-worker, they may come out to you before making an announcement. The best response is to thank your co-worker for entrusting you with this information, and then ask them what they would like you to do next.

What can companies do?

First of all, don’t assume there are no trans workers. One large organisation in the UK, with 43,000 employees, regularly conducts anonymous staff surveys. In one of these surveys, staff were asked if they identified as trans and, to the organisation’s surprise, 59 did so.

As always, creating a trans-friendly culture starts at the top. Leaders can attend celebrations of diversity like trans and LGBTQIA+ pride events. They can encourage mentoring and coaching within the organisation to identify talent and they can encourage LGBTQIA+ staff to participate. And a zero tolerance policy on transphobic and homophobic behaviour must have full executive-level support. (Here we share our guide to what your LGBTIQIA+ employees wish you knew and give practical tips to enhance meaningful engagement).

A 2022 Quartz article has the following practical suggestions:

Provide gender identity education. Educate the company’s workforce on gender identification differences. Train people on what discriminatory behaviour looks like and the policies that address this behaviour.

Create a culture that welcomes transparency. Foster an authentic leadership style where employees feel comfortable talking about their personal lives and sharing their authentic selves.

Implement trans-friendly policies. A range of company policies and procedures will need to be re-examined to see if they protect transgender people. These include policies on anti-discrimination, dress code, benefits, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and recruitment and selection processes. And make sure these policies are available to people in the recruitment process. As one person told the McKinsey survey: “Being clear about benefits up front would be super helpful for someone like me who isn’t quite out at work or is still figuring it out.”

Create and promote ERGs. Companies can sponsor voluntary ERGs (employee resource groups) explicitly designated for trans employees, led by employees. ERGs can give these employees – even those with private gender identities – a psychologically safe space to gather, support one another and help organisations fill their inclusivity gaps.

How can executive search consultants help?

Just as transgender people would like to be treated with respect in the workplace, they’d like to be treated with respect in the hiring process. Recruitment specialists can help by:

Going by the name the candidate gives: A trans candidate might have one name on their resume and another on official documents. Always use the name they offer themselves.

Asking about pronouns: If a candidate says they’re trans, but it’s unclear if their gender identity is male or female (especially if they have a gender-neutral name), it’s okay to ask what pronouns they prefer.

Understanding the client company’s policies and how they relate to transgender people: Some trans applicants may ask if a workplace is LGBTQIA+ friendly. Be ready to answer this question if they ask it.

Don’t try to make the person disclose whether they’re transgender: If a candidate might be transgender but they don’t bring it up, don’t press them. It doesn’t affect their ability to do the job.

Don’t ask questions that wouldn’t apply to any other candidate: Don’t ask why a candidate is wearing a dress, for instance. Before asking a trans candidate a question that deviates from the standard list, think about if that question would be put to any other candidate. If the answer is “no,” don’t ask (with the exception of pronouns).

Examples of companies getting it right

  • Biotech company Genentech provides transition-care benefits for transgender employees, including hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgery. In 2017, Genentech started covering every procedure in the World Professional Association for Transgender Health guidelines. Hair removal and surgeries once considered elective, such as breast augmentation and facial feminisation or masculinisation surgeries, are also covered.
  • Employees at human resource software company Ultimate Software are encouraged to join company-wide Communities of Interest (COI), the first of which was PRIDEUS (People Respecting Individual Differences Empowering Ultimate Software) for LGBTQIA team members. In 2020, for Interoffice Pride Week, PRIDEUS streamed a course to help foster a better overall understanding of LGBTQIA people.


Transgender Europe has the following guide:

Trans women are people who were assigned male at birth (their birth gender was registered as male) who identify as female.

Trans men are people who were assigned female at birth (their birth gender was registered as female) who identify as male.

Non-binary or genderqueer describes a person who does not identify with the male/female binary but is somewhere outside or between.

Gender-fluid: People who move between male and female and vice versa to express the male and female sides of themselves may identify as gender-fluid.

Gender non-conforming (GNC): An umbrella term for those who do not follow gender stereotypes, or who expand ideas of gender expression or gender identity.

A full and excellent glossary can be found here.