Being an ally to transgender employees who are transitioning is more important now than ever. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) estimates that more than 500 bills have been introduced in the US this year seeking to deny rights and protections to LGBTQ+ people, and much of this unprecedented wave of legislation is aimed specifically at the transgender community. 

'The LGBTQ+ community, and especially transgender and non-binary people like me, are facing a relentless wave of political attacks on our existence', says Jay Brown, Senior Vice President of Programs, Research and Training at HRC. 'Businesses must meet this moment. That starts with ensuring that their own workplaces are inclusive, diverse and equitable. For transgender people, that includes things like ensuring workers know how they’ll be supported if they’ll be transitioning on the job, or if a colleague is creating a hostile environment'. 

In a recent survey on the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace, half of respondents who identify as trans say they 'face additional stigmas and/or judgement at my workplace compared to other members of the LGBTQ+ community'. Employers can play a key role in helping transgender people have a positive transition experience by fostering an affirming culture: offering inclusive resources that holistically meet their needs, ensuring that company policies recognise individuals of all gender expressions and allowing transgender workers to determine what their workplace transition will look like.


Here are five suggestions for ways that supervisors and fellow co-workers can provide support to their transgender colleagues on their transition journeys.

1. Create a transition plan to meet a transgender employee’s specific needs

Transgender people take a big risk by coming out on the job: although the US Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in employment settings is illegal, anti-trans bias remains prevalent in the workplace. Unemployment rates are twice as high among transgender people compared to their cisgender counterparts, and nearly half of transgender workers report having been fired from their job, denied employment, refused a promotion or discriminated against because of their identities. About half of transgender respondents to a McKinsey survey said they don’t feel they can bring their full selves to work, so building trust early in their transition is essential for establishing that work is a safe place for them.

If an employee is considering transitioning, it might be helpful to discuss a plan that will help them feel supported and cared for. The plan could involve establishing a timeline of who will know about their identity, when they will be informed and how that news will be conveyed, as well as a possible new name and pronouns. They may wish to personally inform co-workers individually or have management take the lead by holding a team-wide meeting or informing team members in a sensitively worded email, approved by the employee. Employers may wish to provide reassurance to the employee that these decisions are completely up to them – but they aren’t alone and their supervisors will provide as much support and mitigate as much of the burden as they need.

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A transition plan may include a timeline of dates necessary to take off work to pursue gender-affirming medical treatments. Transition care can encompass a wide range of treatments that includes everything from facial feminisation procedures to electrolysis treatments for removing unwanted hair. Pursuing these treatments can be time-consuming: for transgender men who undergo top surgery, the recommended recovery time is four to six weeks, which doesn’t include time spent travelling to appointments and consultations. For example, having a flexible work schedule that may include remote work or making up hours at nights and weekends – in addition to inclusive medical leave policies – will likely help ensure transgender employees are able to easily manage their transition alongside the rest of their responsibilities. 

But no matter what care a transitioning person decides is best for them, those procedures and what they entail are nobody’s business but their own. Employers and fellow co-workers should never ask what surgeries a transgender employee plans to have or what medications they’re taking, just as a cisgender person wouldn’t want to freely share private medical information.

2. Update company records to accurately reflect the worker’s name and pronouns 

Changing their legal name and gender marker can be a multi-step process for individuals who are transitioning: they must obtain a note from a medical professional certifying their gender, publish a notice in a local newspaper notifying the public of a legal name change, and attend court hearings to petition a judge to grant the request. These barriers are why trans people widely lack affirming documentation: just 29% of trans people have a driving licence or ID with an updated gender marker, and only 9% have a fully corrected birth certificate.

To the extent possible, employers may wish to consider how they can allow workers to update their name and gender marker in all company records and databases without providing a gender recognition certificate or other paperwork. This might include updating the employee’s name in Slack and updating their email address and signature. Employees may also wish to retake the photo that appears on their work badges.  

Making sure that transgender employees are referred to by the name and pronoun that matches their sense of self – and that company records reflect this whenever possible – is critically important, according to Mel Ziolkowski, Data Governance Manager at Indeed. 'The best-case scenario would be to have an HR team that really understands trans folks’ needs', he says. 'My former company had no idea what to do. The onus was put on me [as a trans person] to train them, and that’s not the way to do it. I wish they would have said, "Great, let us know what you would like your name to be. Let us know what you would like your pronouns to be. How can we best support you?"' 

3. Ensure internal workplace policies and employee benefits don’t perpetuate a culture of discrimination 

The cost of medical transitioning, for those who desire it, can be one of the biggest burdens transgender people face. For transgender men, testosterone injections can cost up to USD 400 per month if they are forced to pay for their medication out of pocket, and transgender women who choose to undergo a vaginoplasty can expect to pay as much as USD 30,000 if the procedure isn’t covered by their insurer. 

These treatments are not only medically necessary and supported by every leading US health association, but are, in many cases, life-saving: research consistently indicates that access to gender-affirming care lowers rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation among transgender adults. That is among the many reasons the majority of Fortune 500 companies offer inclusive health benefits to transgender employees: 66%, including 88% of participants in HRC’s annual Corporate Equality Index.

A fully inclusive healthcare plan covers hormone replacement therapy (HRT), surgical interventions and other affirmations intended to help transgender workers live the life they want for themselves. While that might sound expensive, the costs of covering gender-affirming care can be extremely small: in the US, when the city and county of San Francisco began extending trans health benefits as part of its employee plan in 2001, the average cost to enrollees in the program ranged from 77 cents to 96 cents annually. 

Additionally, employers may wish to assist employees who transition in the workplace by updating company handbooks and other internal documents to recognise the lived realities of transgender workers, particularly those who live outside the binary. This could include revising family leave policies or dress codes that enforce rigid gender categories. 

4. Allow transitioning employees equal access to all facilities, and be proactive about preventing harassment

Six in 10 transgender Americans regularly avoid going to the bathroom in public due to fear of discrimination or harassment, whether that’s being verbally assaulted, physically harmed or prevented from accessing the facilities altogether. Employers can address fears and apprehensions that transitioning employees may have by instituting a policy of affirmation that allows all staff members to use the bathroom that most closely aligns with their gender, and provide gender-neutral bathrooms if such an option is available.

Should a transitioning employee experience harassment while using the bathroom, employers may wish to reinforce the worker’s right to affirming bathroom access. Twenty-two US states and more than 400 cities and counties have non-discrimination ordinances on the books validating the rights of transgender people to use public accommodations that comport with their gender. However, when a policy of affirmation is not yet in place, it’s open to employers to offer further protections and guidance.

'Malicious and habitual misgendering and deadnaming creates a hostile work environment', says Devon Ojeda, a Senior National Organiser for the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). 'That’s why it’s important for companies to include them in workplace bullying, sexual harassment and HR guidelines. Employers must be on top of this to make sure they’re creating a culture that is safe'.

5. Create internal and external support systems to allow the employee to feel affirmed throughout their transition journey

To ensure company policies on equal treatment are being upheld, employers could create an internal support system that transgender employees can rely on. An employee resource group (ERG) dedicated to the needs and concerns of LGBTQ+ employees can be a helpful resource for transitioning workers in seeking guidance from co-workers who have experienced similar challenges and struggles. These groups can also help advocate for employees during their transition by, for example, organising donations of gender-affirming clothes, connecting them to community organisations that advocate for LGBTQ+ equity and helping them find non-discriminatory medical providers. Around half of transgender people and 68% of transgender people of colour have experienced mistreatment at the hands of a doctor, and they might not have anyone in their lives to tell them where it’s safe to go.

Employers may wish to identify where resources and policies are lacking so supervisors and senior leadership can work to better address those needs. This might involve anti-discrimination training, improving the recruitment process to eliminate unintentional bias or educating the team on correct terminology and inappropriate behaviour (e.g. asking a transitioning worker what their 'old name' was). Even something as small as encouraging employees to put pronouns in their email signature can send a message of inclusion. If employers aren’t prepared to support workers in their transition by, for example, training managers, developing a discussion guide for staff members and/or creating a culture that makes everyone feel seen and heard, inviting in outside groups like HRC and NCTE to offer their own best practices can provide critical assistance in helping companies get up to date.

The support that workplaces provide their transitioning employees shouldn’t just be internal, however. 'Best-in-class companies will be vocal in their opposition to anti-LGBTQ+ attacks and rhetoric', Brown says. 'If a state becomes unsafe for LGBTQ+ people, they’ll work to offer relocation assistance. The truth is, no matter how much opposition we face, LGBTQ+ people are part of the fabric of a company – from customers to workers. Among younger generations, even larger numbers are identifying as LGBTQ+. How companies show up for our community will future-proof their success'.

Disclaimer: the contents of this article do not and are not intended to constitute legal advice. Readers should consult a solicitor to understand the impact of any decisions made in regard to the topics discussed in this article.