Transgender Individuals in the Workplace - A Story (Part 1)

Transgender Individuals in the Workplace - A Story (Part 1)

Recent news stories have raised awareness about the topic of transgender individuals. Not much research has been conducted on transgender individuals in the workplace, and since many corporate entities haven’t yet compiled specific policies and procedures for coming out, it’s important to gain a better understanding of how these individuals are helping to shape corporate policies and encouraging a broader definition of inclusivity.  While the story I’m about to share has been fictionalized, it conveys the essence of some possible outcomes in the spirit of creating a respectful discussion around this topic.

The Story: Part 1

Chris had worked in his supervisory position for more than ten years.  One day at a department meeting, he let his co-workers know that he and his wife were getting divorced.  No one thought much about it because he had previously hinted that there were some difficulties in his marriage.

A few months later, he confided to his supervisor that the divorce was precipitated by his decision to transition from male to female, and that his former wife didn’t want to be married to a woman.  The Human Resources department had no specific policies or procedures pertaining to transitioning individuals, so Chris enlisted the assistance of a local LGBTQIA group in compiling policies from other sources and presenting them to HR with a transition plan. The coming out announcements were respectful and professional, and Chris compiled a brief statement about her decision to transition.

On the surface, it seemed that all was well.  However, within a few weeks of Chris’s transition, co-workers and colleagues were voicing their concerns about being uncomfortable with her and not wanting to have to interact with her directly.  Others made derogatory comments about her in private even though they publicly adhered to the company’s non-discrimination policies.

At some level, Chris knew that she wasn’t being accepted as sincerely as she had originally thought, and much of the joy she felt about being able to be her true self at work began to evaporate.

Possible Endings: Part 1

I believe that each of us has the opportunity to create a workplace environment where we can embrace diversity and encourage inclusivity.  What can we do to foster this type of environment?  My personal experience has been that making the effort to see someone else as a fellow human being is a good place to start.  So with that in mind, one of my first actions would be to create a standing invitation to have lunch with Chris once a week at noon in the company cafeteria.  This is usually one of the busiest times and we’d probably have to share a table with others.   Having the opportunity to share informal interactions with others is one step in precipitating changes in perceptions.

What would you do?  I invite you to join in the conversation and share your thoughts below!


Kimberly Underwood's picture Kimberly Underwood | November 14, 2017 10:32 am MST

Great post, Donna!  Thanks for focusing on this timely issue.  Although we (society) often distinguish ourselves from others by focusing on our differences, there is also value in seeking similarities with others.  Your possible ending is a clear example of this.  As the transgender community faces high levels of unemployment, it is important to create all-inclusive organizational cultures for all.  I would love to hear what others have to contribute to possible outcomes!

Thanks again! Kimberly

Thomas Johnson's picture Thomas Johnson | March 24, 2018 7:23 am MST

Hello all, 


My name is Thomas Johnson-Richardson.  I am a doctorate student, in year 1residency and had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Kimberly Underwood who informed me of this particular research hub.  I was happy to learn, that an area of reserch for this group, is in the transgeder community.  I have selected my dissertation topic which is  "transgender health disparities".  As some of you may know, there is an abundance of information on the topic but I am seeking more.  Can this group assist me in any way?





Sharon Shakespeare's picture Sharon Shakespeare | June 13, 2018 7:12 pm MST

The transgender community has been the focus of much debate, especially when it comes to workplace issues. While Title VII does not offer any protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, the concept of gender identity/expression has kept the EEOC and courts busy.

Without any directives from the federal legislature, companies are still allowed to discriminate against transgender candidates or employees. During my research, I found this was especially true among Black transmen in the South. Some companies, however, have become more inclusive. But, I still believe we have a long way to go.

Donna Smith's picture Donna Smith | June 14, 2018 4:52 pm MST

Thank you for adding your insights.  I'd be interested in hearing a bit more about your research on the transgender community!

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