It is without doubt that we all grow up in a society which, either consciously through our birth certificate or passport documentation, or subconsciously through the marketing of gender-specific toys and clothes, coerces us into identifying strictly as a female or as a male. Anyone who does not identify in this way, but instead sees their gender as existing somewhere along a spectrum of different gender identities, is cast out as a social pariah. The gender binary of male or female identification continues to be the norm in the vast majority of societies, meaning that for many in the non-transgender population (cisgender), the existence of a transgender population is problematic as it poses a challenge to dominant gender binary understandings. Indeed, research conducted by Whittle et al. in 2007 found that the existence of, and belief in, gender binary norms was directly related to people’s opposition to transgender civil and human rights – transgender people simply don’t fit in with their fixed ideas of gender. This climate has undoubtedly impacted on all aspects of transgender people’s life experiences, including the workplace.
Trans employees endure both explicit and implicit forms of discrimination in the workplace. The implicit forms of discrimination are often seen as minor issues and as such there is little recourse for these actions. Colleagues and senior staff members often refuse to use preferred names or pronouns for trans employees, and in research carried out by Press for Change in 1998, 42% of respondents said that they were made to use the disabled toilets or the toilet facilities corresponding to their former gender. Other research has highlighted pejorative attitudes from colleagues, poor support from management, poor policy guidance, and a gap in implementation between policy and practice among some of the reasons for the frequent occurrence of harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
Diversity within the transgender population is vast, meaning that different individuals within the trans population will experience their workplace differently, according to their specific gender identity and expression. Research into the workplace experiences of Female-to-Male transgender people (FTM) has suggested that they are less accepted than others in the trans population as they are seen as challenging patriarchal norms and gaining unearned male privilege. On the other hand, research has shown that Male-to-Female transgender people (MTF) suffer more transphobia due to the limitations of medical treatment and surgery, making them less likely to ‘pass’. For many trans people, the ‘trigger point’ for discrimination is transitioning, causing individuals to leave their place of work before transitioning or to employ gender identity management techniques, for example conforming to normative gender presentations at work. In research carried out by Press for Change in 1998, 42% of respondents felt that identifying as their preferred gender in the workplace would jeopardise their employment.
While existing research paints part of the picture of the experiences of transgender employees in the workplace, specifically focusing on the discrimination and harassment faced by trans employees, it is vital to take a broader approach in order to break down gender binary norms and improve workplace transgender inclusion. Recent research has paid very little attention to institutionalised transphobia, the effects of legislation and policy on transgender experiences in the workplace, and the relationship between these variables. Additionally, there is little discourse about the factors that enable or promote transgender inclusion within workplaces, as well as about managers’ attitudes and practices around transgender issues, and whilst some research makes a nod towards the importance of intersectionality, very little is actually said about how other protected characteristics, such as race and sexual orientation, have impacted on transgender peoples’ experiences of transphobia.
Our research project aims to fill these gaps in existing research. We will take a two-pronged approach to investigate the inclusion of transgender employees in UK workplaces: we will explore the main barriers that prevent the inclusion of transgender employees as well as identifying the main drivers that enable such inclusion. In doing this, the research will provide a complex understanding of how transgender people negotiate and experience the workplace and to what extent the workplace accommodates the physical, social and emotional inclusion of transgender employees.
The research project involves using a mixed method approach. We are looking for transgender individuals who are currently in employment within the private, public or voluntary sector who would be willing to fill in an online questionnaire about their experiences. The questionnaire can be found here. We are also looking for transgender employees to take part in semi-structured interviews, for those who wish to share more about their experiences.
In addition, online questionnaires will be completed by cisgendered managers, who are currently working in the private, public or voluntary sector. The questionnaire can be found here. The research will be concluded by carrying out an analysis of workplace policy documents, guidance, training and induction materials, equality schemes, and current gender reassignment legislation.
By working closely with the transgender population within this research project, we aim to gain in-depth knowledge of what is working for transgender people in the workplace and why, as well as what is failing and why, in order to provide guidance to help employers provide safe and inclusive environments where transgender rights are fully protected and individuals feel able to express their gender identity without fear of discrimination or harassment.
If you would like to be involved in the research project, or would like find out more information, please contact Kate Hollinshead, Head of Education at EqualiTeach C.I.C on 07812568496 or firstname.lastname@example.org