Diversity Insight

The role of leadership in creating transgender-inclusive workplaces

by Dr. Jamison Green

Corporate leaders agree that diverse and inclusive workplaces are more productive, versatile, and adaptive in a changing marketplace. But often, when managers think of gender diversity, they think only about gender parity between men and women, or about opening traditionally male occupations to women, or vice versa. Creating a transgender-inclusive workplace is an opportunity to create even more awareness about gender, and to eliminate the prejudices and limitations we impose on people because of our assumptions about gender and sex stereotypes.  PositiveLeadership

Employers may not even be aware that they may already have transgender people in their workforce. Not all transgender people will go through an “on-the-job” transition, nor will they be “obvious” in their appearance. Some employees may have transgender family members or friends, and knowing that there are employers who actively do not discriminate against this segment of the population can be a source of relief and even pride.

Leadership must create an inclusive culture

Leadership is a crucial element necessary to creating a transgender-inclusive workplace. Listing gender identity and expression among the characteristics against which it is your company’s policy not to discriminate is just a start. Being comfortable talking about the subject sets an important example. Leaders should let subordinates know they are not afraid, not judgmental, and not joking or dismissive of transgender people and that employees are expected to follow that lead.

Often when a subject is unfamiliar, or makes us uncomfortable, it’s easy to make fun of it, just as it’s easy to ridicule people who are different in a way we don’t understand. A leader’s role is to demonstrate that harassment or mistreatment based on gender difference will not be tolerated in the workplace. Sex stereotyping can be very harmful and debilitating for anyone to experience.

Steps towards inclusion

Leaders can take these positive steps toward creating a transgender-inclusive workplace:

  1. Review your non-discrimination policy. Even if it doesn’t include gender identity and expression along with sexual orientation, treating people in ways that imply sex stereotyping CAN lead to actionable complaints.
  2. Review your diversity training initiatives. Be sure the words transgender or transsexual are included, and that the training adequately explains the important concepts and models the appropriate behavior for employees, supervisors, and managers.
  3. Assess the robustness of your HR staff and management training with respect to transgender issues. Does every manager and HR staff person:
    1. know how to respond to an employee who comes to them to say they are planning to transition?
    2. know how to respond to concerns about use of restrooms?
    3. know how to respond to coworkers’ questions?
    4. know what is and is not reasonable to ask or discuss with (or about) a transitioning employee?
  4. Review your customer service training. Find out if encounters with transgender people are included in training scenarios. Employees who work with people on the phones as well as in person should know how to be polite, courteous, and friendly in all situations.

Bottom line

Always treat the transgender or transsexual status of any employee, client, or customer as a private, confidential matter. Assert that ALL employees, clients, and customers are valued, and treat them with respect.

Want to learn more?

Dr. Green is copresenting the webinar Gender Identity & Expression: Practical Ways to Meet HR’s Compliance Obligations. He will address how to create and maintain employment policies and practices directed at eliminating discrimination against transgender employees as well as how to handle conversations requesting accommodation and other potentially sensitive issues that transgender employees may be dealing with.


Jamison Green. Ph.D. of Jamison Green & Associates writes and speaks about the various aspects, issues, and challenges of transgender and transsexual experience. In addition to 15 years of corporate management experience that helps him relate to the concerns of business in relation to diversity and transgender inclusion,  Dr. Green worked for the passage of San Francisco’s Transgender Nondiscrimination Ordinance and has since consulted with numerous corporations, governments, educational institutions, professional groups, and policymakers to ensure civil equality for gender-variant people. He currently serves as president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and is the author of Becoming a Visible Man.