Many banks such as Goldman Sachs and Barclays have put a lot of effort into developing a culture that supports gay and lesbian employees. But one section of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community which is often ignored are transgender employees. What are the barriers facing transgender employees in the workplace and what are financial services firms doing to support transgender employees in the workplace? Karen Higginbottom investigates….
A transgender or trans employee is an employee whose gender identity or gender expression differs from the gender assumptions made about them when they were born, according to a Stonewall Scotland guide “Changing for the Better: How to include trans people in your workplace”.
Some transgender employees will have just started to undergo gender re-assignment (transition) to change the gender role in which they live to better reflect their gender identity; others will already have completed their gender re-assignment (transition) and are simply men or women who have trans histories.
Trans employees are still reluctant to come ‘out’ in the workplace, according to findings from a report ‘LGBT Diversity: Show me the business case’ to be published in full in September 2014 by Out Now, an LGBT marketing and research agency. The report found that 53 % of trans individuals are not ‘out’ to anyone at work while 35 % of trans individuals were ‘out’ to everyone at work. There are many challenges facing transgender employees in the workplace, commented Ian Johnson, founder and chief executive of Out Now. “The first and perhaps most obvious is whether to reveal one’s trans status at work.”
The 2012 sample for the Out Now Global LGBT 2020 study revealed that trans people feared that coming ‘out’ would hurt their career prospects, reported Johnson. “Almost one in two (46 %) trans respondents feel that coming out will definitely or probably hurt their career prospects. Our data also shows that trans people are preferring where they can, to look for employers that have a well-promoted and implemented LGBT policy. There is often a disconnect between policies and practice on the shopfloor and only the latter can truly improve working conditions for LGBT people.” Indeed, the 2012 study revealed that 51 % of trans people wouldn’t work for an employer without a LGBT staff policy in place
Unlike many transgender employees, Leslie’s* experience of coming out as transgender female in the workplace has been a positive experience. She is a senior partner at an accountancy firm in London and started living as a full-time female in May 2013. “I went to the managing partner in August 2012 and I met with each of the equity partners on a one-to-one basis to tell them,” she recalled. “I felt they needed to understand the background and the timetable and it also gave me an opportunity to re-locate if they felt uncomfortable.” The firm have been incredibly supportive and open-minded, added Leslie. “I told senior management less than two years ago that I was ‘trans’ and they have accepted me in a non-judgmental way. ”
Belonging to a networking group like Outstanding in Business has also been very helpful, remarked Leslie. “It’s allowed me to meet like-minded people in similar positions.”
So what can employers and specifically the financial services sector do to support transgender employees in the workplace? One of the most important things that can be done is to make LGBT policies visible and visibly supported to all staff, advised Johnson. “The financial services sector has in many ways traditionally had a laddish culture which can be a tough environment for LGBT and especially trans people to do well in.”
Management sponsorship is one very effective way of showing staff that a bank genuinely values the important of LGBT staff feeling properly supported at work, commented Johnson. “The higher the manager that is engaged on championing the issue, the more effective can be the results of instigating real corporate change within the firms in the financial services industry,” he said. (See Bank of America BAC +1.88% case study)
Regular corporate benchmark audits are also important to effect change in the organizational’s culture, added Johnson. “We’re working with a number of clients to compare their internal corporate results on the LGBT 2020 metrics with the national averages for the broad range of areas tested. It’s important to measure, benchmark and then to set improvement as a stated corporate objective if real progress is to be achieved on these issues.”
Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofAML) case study:
For the financial services giant, management sponsorship of transgender issues is critical, explained Lauren Saunders, head of diversity and inclusion, EMEA for BofAML. “Management’s role in supporting transgender employees through their transition is critical, as is senior leaders’ engagement in ensuring an organization has an open and inclusive environment where employees feel able to be themselves at work. Without the sponsorship of our employee networks and engagement on initiatives that support our LGBT colleagues such as our Global Ally program, we face a huge risk of losing or not obtaining our industry’s top LGBT talent.”
Supporting and educating managers in transgender issues is done through offering online ‘Trans 101’ training, where managers can hear from some of the bank’s transgender employees about their personal experience of being transgender. This is offered on a quarterly basis, explained Saunders. “They also share first-hand how they would like to discuss their transition and the questions they would be happy to answer and what experience they would like to have.”
When an individual comes ‘out’ as transgender they can go to HR or their line manager, commented Saunders. “Some individuals approach HR to understand the practicalities of their transition, their legal rights and the policies in place. Others choose to use our Employee Assistance Program which offers specific counselling and a forum for confidential discussions. For example, a counsellor can advise them on how to approach their line manager. There is no fixed route –the process is very personal for each employee.”
When an employee is undergoing gender re-assignment surgery, HR and the employee’s manager, together with the employee will discuss the best approach. “The process and surgery can take a lengthy time and HR supports employees through discussions about time needed off for work, time off for surgery and then supports the transgender employee’s return to work and integration back into the workplace in their new gender,” said Saunders. “It’s been our experience that most individuals are transitioning into their new gender prior to gender re-assignment surgery.”
*Names have be changed to protect identities.