Gender Identity: Where Does Your Workplace Discussion Begin?


By Kai Scott and Drew Dennis

We are currently witnessing the increased cultural awareness of transgender issues in what TIME magazine has dubbed the “next civil rights frontier” (Steinmetz 2014). Many Canadian political leaders, companies, and the public have come out in strong support of transgender people with 84 per cent of Canadians supporting expanded legal protections (Agnus Reid 2016).

In June 2017, Bill C-16 passed into legislation, which adds “gender identity and expression” as protected groups in the Canadian Human Rights Act. As the political, social and legal landscape improves, more transgender people want to share their innermost truth regarding their gender identity at work and to be met in that by their employer and fellow employees.

Begin Where Gender Principles at Play
In this emerging and changing reality, employers across many sectors are experiencing the pressing need for expert advice and trusted resources on transgender issues, interests and needs. Many employers feel at a loss of where to begin to address these issues within the workplace. We’ve heard over and over: “I feel hesitant, overwhelmed, or anxious to talk to or about transgender people and issues.” Most people are willing, but cautious because they do not want to make a mistake.

When people avoid each other, tensions rise and assumptions get made on all sides. Managers stepping in may feel un- or under-prepared to navigate sensitive and new matters, such as transgender issues. We have seen how exclusion sabotages culture, safety, performance, wellbeing and the bottom line. What starts as something as small as employees hesitant to talk to one another, can grow into something unmanageable; most of it is preventable with appropriate planning.

There are an estimated 1 in 200 transgender people1 (Scheim and Bauer et al 2015). This statistic reveals that there is a high likelihood that you have someone transgender in your midst right now—whether you are aware of it or not. Are your systems, spaces, people and practices ready to include and support them?

One of the first steps is to map the areas in your company where gender is at play (e.g., dress codes, washrooms, forms and voice recognition in customer service). Often these are hiding in plain view with organizations blinded by “this is the way we’ve always done it.” This initial exploration allows you to identify where transgender people may experience a lack of options or be unintentionally excluded. Along with this effort, it is also important to familiarize yourself with terms and concepts relevant to gender identity.

Is Your Workplace Trans Competent?
Here are some questions for you to reflect on your company’s readiness:

  1. Do your company’s policies explicitly include “gender identity and expression” as protected groups?
  2. Does your company have guidelines to support gender transition?
  3. Are your staff equipped to interact respectfully with transgender employees or customers?

An increasing number of companies are handling scenarios in which transgender employees are wishing to come out at work. Transition planning entails discussing a complex set of interrelated factors with a sequenced approach to allow an employee to smoothly and comfortably transition their gender on the job.

Supporting Gender Transitions at Work
A facilitated process between the employer and transitioning employee can simplify and clarify the variables of transition. This can be achieved through a transition and engagement plan, which includes several operational areas in a structured yet flexible document for reference and updating by both the employer and employee as the transition process unfolds.

The key areas of consideration may include the following:

  • Human Resources (e.g., policies, practice, and protocols);
  • Data Collection and Management (e.g., records with new name, gender data, and pronoun);
  • Facilities (e.g., washrooms and change rooms);
  • Services (e.g., extended benefits coverage of gender affirming surgeries and hormone therapy); and
  • Communications (e.g., disclosure to co-workers and, if applicable, clients).

The Transgender Talent Pool
Where companies have no known transgender employees, there are opportunities to actively recruit. Transgender people represent a labour pool with higher than average levels of education. In a US study with 27,715 transgender people, 15 per cent reported being unemployed, which is triple the unemployment rate among the general population (James et al 2016).

Furthermore, 53 per cent of transgender respondents have a college degree or higher compared to 31 per cent among the general public. By making several key changes within the company and developing trans-specific recruitment materials, companies can have access to a highly skilled, yet untapped segment of the labour force. This is especially relevant in sectors where there is a current labour shortage.

Support for Cisgender Employees
Moreover, supporting cisgender2 employees with training on gender diversity will help them feel more confident. This is new territory for many. Your employees may be feeling trepidation or hesitation. There are several options for communicating with your employees on this topic (e.g., email, videos, and online modules) with the most effective form being in-person training sessions. These sessions provide an introduction to concepts of gender identity and can situate co-workers in their own experiences of gender identity as a way to dispel “us” and “them” thinking. Sessions can also include the unique challenges and barriers faced by transgender people as a way to foster empathy and understanding among co-workers.

Inclusivity for All
Finally, case studies and scenarios offer your team an opportunity to practice and help to solidify the knowledge about gender identity in a practical and tangible way among cisgender staff. This leaves them feeling relieved, equipped, and ready to collaborate with their transgender counterparts.

Whether it is supporting a transitioning employee, actively recruiting transgender employees or training cisgender co-workers on gender diversity, employers are starting to take bold, new steps towards transgender inclusion. These and other proactive measures ensure success, cohesion, and understanding among cisgender and transgender employees for everyone’s benefit.

Kai Scott, M.A. and Drew Dennis are the principal partners at TransFocus Consulting, a firm that blends both lived trans experience and technical expertise to free human potential from limiting gender assumptions.

1. “Transgender” is an umbrella term that describes a wide range of people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth. Census Canada does not currently collect gender in a way that allows for a full or accurate count of transgender people. As such, there are only estimates at this point.

2. Cisgender is used to describe anyone whose sex assigned at birth aligns with their gender.

Angus Reid Institute. 2017. Transgender in Canada: Canadians say accept, accommodate, and move on. Accessed March 2018:

Ayden I. Scheim & Greta R. Bauer (2015) Sex and Gender Diversity Among Transgender Persons in Ontario, Canada: Results From a Respondent-Driven Sampling Survey, The Journal of Sex Research, 52:1, 1-14.

James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Ana , M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.

Steinmetz, K. 2014. The Transgender Tipping Point. Time Magazine, published in May 2014. Accessed in July 2016:

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