Supporting trans and non-binary people in the workplace - there’s still work to do - TEDxLondon

Supporting trans and non-binary people in the workplace – there’s still work to do

With the International Trans Day of Visibility coming up on Wednesday 31st March, we wanted to check in with one of our past speakers, Leng Montgomery, on what this day means to him.

In particular, as a Diversity and Inclusion specialist, we wanted to ask Leng how decision makers in the workplace can better support Trans and Non Binary people. Make sure you watch Leng’s important TEDxLondon talk, “Why we need to listen to trans people tell their own stories”, here.

Header image credit: Liliya Rodnikova/Stocksy

Leng Montgomery on the TEDxLondon Stage in 2018. Photo © Jason Wen

Trans Day of Visibility and the workplace

Trans Day of Visibility is celebrated and acknowledged globally every year on 31st March and has become a day that businesses are recognising more and more. It is fast becoming a feature on Diversity and Inclusion calendars; employee network groups are getting behind it and in wider society there is a more conversation around people who are trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary.

The day celebrates and amplifies the voices of people who are trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming, but is also a stark reminder of work that is still needed in order to create more inclusive, accepting and safe spaces for trans and non-binary people.

For instance, trans people’s rights and access to healthcare and employment are still lagging behind. Trans and non-binary people experience a disproportionate level of violence – both at work and in wider society on a global scale. The UK media, in particular, continues to share unbalanced reporting and coverage of trans and non-binary people. Since 2018 when I delivered my TEDxLondon Talk there hasn’t been much of a change. I said it then and I say it now, but there needs to be more stories about trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people by trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.

Leng Montgomery on the TEDxLondon Stage in 2018. Photo © Jason Wen

In the face of all this, work has become a place I’ve really found comforting and an escape. It’s also provided me with an opportunity to positively influence people and get on with the task in hand. That said, it’s not the same for many trans people in the workplace. 

Bring your whole self to work… unless you’re trans

A trans person shouldn’t be considered a ‘risky hire’ or face extra hurdles because of how other people may react to them, how someone looks, and/or how other people may perceive them.

At work, I’ve been called ‘brave’ many times for being trans – when I don’t think I am. I just transitioned to live my life so I didn’t have regrets or feel miserable living a life that wasn’t mine or for me. I wasn’t meant to die in a female identity. I’ve also been told that I ‘look normal’ or I’m lucky that I don’t ‘look trans’ and I was expected to accept that as a compliment. I don’t care what I look like to others (except I am not enjoying my lockdown hair right now!), but being seen as ‘trans’ isn’t something shameful. 

We always encourage people to be themselves or bring their whole selves to work. Yet this doesn’t seem to be the case for trans and non-binary people. I don’t quite understand the disconnect between recruitment sites for companies stating they want people to bring their whole selves to work, or they welcome everyone and then they seem to not hire anyone who is not cisgender, straight and white. 

Lack of Representation

The lack of trans representation in the workplace becomes even more of an issue the more senior you go. Trans folk make up a small percentage of the population and are yet to be visible in terms of C-Suite leadership, senior and management positions. There’s also a lot of political decisions made around trans and non-binary people, which doesn’t involve anyone from those communities as part of a decision-making process or consultation. 

The main barriers I’ve faced by being trans have always been down to other people’s prejudices, bias or lack of understanding or awareness. 

Many organisations have started to make some positive strides in this space. They are amplifying and profiling trans and non-binary role models internally and sometimes on platforms, such as LinkedIn. I have noticed that there’s an increase in representation – not just for trans, gender non-conforming or non-binary people, but for their allies too. 

Some companies have Transitioning at Work policies, paid leave for medical appointments, expanded categories for Gender Identity for people to self-select in internal HR systems, gender neutral facilities and some include Gender Reassignment options with private medical insurance. 

My Pronouns Are…

There has been an increase in pronoun markers in email signatures and people adding it to their LinkedIn and social media profiles too. This not only creates space for a conversation around pronouns, but also helps normalise checking on how to address someone accurately, which, if anything, is good etiquette. 

“The main barriers I’ve faced by being trans have always been down to other people’s prejudices, bias or lack of understanding or awareness.”

Leng Montgomery

It’s positive to see that there is recognition, inclusion and knowing what to do in terms of offering choice and support if someone happens to transition at work. I’ve been fortunate to work in companies where they have been inclusive and made sure we had inclusive policies, guides and procedures to support people being trans in the workplace. 

I happen to have two birthdays a year and even had cards and a cake for my trans birthday which was really appreciated and everyone got more cake – so we all liked that! 

The importance of allies

More and more of my clients over the last 10 years have been keen to know “what to say?” and “what to do?”. These questions have created some good conversations and opened up the space to create solutions and ways of working that fit in well with the values and culture of the company. 

Despite these strides in some workplaces, I still see much work is to be done. In recruitment, we need more education about hiring external trans people into an organisation and making sure these recruitment processes are non-discriminatory.  We also need to offer better development opportunities for trans and non-binary people so we can take up leadership and decision making roles. 

I never underestimate the importance of allies. Having benefited from people who have really stood up and supported me and members of my community, I’ve made sure I’ve stepped up as an ally to others too. I’ve learned we need to  stand up against all  types of discrimination or oppression. It’s not enough to say that you support Black Lives Matter or trans people and then do nothing to challenge any racism or transphobia in your day to day life.

It doesn’t always make you the most popular person in a room, but I feel if we are to keep spaces safe and free of racism, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia then we need to ensure we are all playing our part.

‘Acceptable’ violence

I cannot write this piece about supporting trans and non-binary people in the workplace without acknowledging the violence we disproportionately face. The ‘acceptable’ element of this violence is partly what unsettles me – people shouldn’t have to live in fear for being who they are or face high levels of violence and discrimination for being who they are.

This violence happens everywhere, including work. In 2018, a Stonewall report showed that 12% of trans people in the UK had experienced physical assault by colleagues and customers in the last year. No one ever deserves to be threatened, assaulted or discriminated against for being themselves. Yet it seems that trans and non-binary people continue to bear the brunt of a lot of abuse and ‘accepted’ forms of discrimination.

Leaders and decision makers in work need to move on from just raising awareness. They need to offer support that actively thinks about how representative our workplaces are and what we want them to be. If we say everyone is welcome, then we need to include everyone in our decision making

In practice, that means having trans people in visible roles, allowing them to be part of decision-making processes, ensuring the robust safety of trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming folk and actively dismantling people’s fears or lack of understanding about the community that has created so many of these barriers. 

Below are resources you can use now to support trans and non-binary people in your workplace.

By Leng Montgomery

To find out more about Leng’s work or to get in touch, follow Leng on Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Resources to support trans and non-binary people in your workplace:

Resources for HR and workplaces: 

  • The Arena Network – Forum for HR, D&I, Network Leads  and L&D Professionals to connect and share ideas

Books, Talks and Podcasts: