Transgender inclusion at work: 3 key issues for HR to tackle

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Transgender is one of the most misunderstood identity aspects in the social realm, especially the workplace.

Transgender individuals present a gender identity that is different from their gender assigned at birth. Yet, there is a multitude of articulations in which transgender identity can take shape. As such transgender is often referred to as an umbrella term, which encompasses a vast spectrum of minority gender identity expressions.

For example, a transgender individual may be someone who undertakes hormonal and/or surgical interventions to achieve a destination gender identity. Equally, some transgender people adopt a new gender identity by means of non-medical steps, such as changes in everyday dress, speech or manners.

As well, there are transgender individuals who express a non-binary gender identity by altogether eschewing the conventional categories of male and female. What is more, transgender status does not connote a particular sexual orientation, so transgender people can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight or pansexual.

Why we need to pay more attention to transgender issues

The complexity of transgender is often glossed over by the uncritical use of the label LGBT in both HR practice and academic research, which sometimes conflates not only sexual orientation and gender identity, but the distinct needs of different groups.

While it is true that transgender people may have overlapping concerns with LGB cis-individuals, they also have unique needs that must be addressed in their own right. For example, many transgender people undergo transition – the complex process of re-configuring an existing gender identity in ways that more closely match a desired gender identity.

In addition, transgender individuals are much more profoundly stigmatised than LGB cismen and ciswomen. Transgender is viewed in society as a threat to gender, which operates as the most fundamental organising principle of social and organisation life.

Two recent transphobic policies from the US immediately come to mind when highlighting the comparatively heightened fear and anxiety that threaten transgender individuals.

Within months of assuming office, the current US president reversed two of President Obama’s key equality policies, which were specifically developed to safeguard gender identity minorities.

There is now an official ban that prohibits transgender individuals from serving in the military, and the rights of transgender students in US public schools to use toilets that accord with their gender identity have been revoked.

Not only are transgender people victims of far more extreme marginalisation in public and private life, but the very depth of the existing stigma means that the hard-won rights of transgender people can be much more easily taken away.

Through conducting research on gender identity inclusion in the workplace, in collaboration with Professor Ahu Tatli from Queen Mary University of London, three key challenges faced by transgender employees came to light.

Research finding 1: transgender people are discriminated against during the recruitment process

Our qualitative research based on in-depth interviews with transgender employees in the UK shows disturbing trends that must be addressed swiftly and decisively (Ozturk and Tatli, 2016).

HR professionals can play a central role in tackling the plethora of existing inequalities suffered by gender identity minorities at work, as HR shares direct responsibility over the workplace issues raised by our research.

First, transgender employees have a severe under-representation problem in UK workplaces. Many organisations view gender identity diversity as too far a goal to advance. Transgender workers are implicitly understood as incongruent with professional work contexts as well as stereotypically gendered lines of work.

As a result, transgender workers are severely discriminated against at the recruitment and selection stage. The continuing lack of organisational awareness or expertise regarding transgender people exacerbates the under-representation problem.

Research finding 2: Transgender people face difficulties with disclosing their transgender journey to their employers

Disclosure was another key issue highlighted by our research (Ozturk and Tatli, 2016). The ability of a transgender worker to be upfront about their gender identity is often severely compromised due to gender-typical industry norms, as well as unsupportive organisational contexts.

Transgender employees are often having to remain silent about their gender identity journeys as well as their pressing needs and requirements as transgender workers, because they fear reprisals from employers, peers and customers. As many organisations are not furnished with adequate know-how to create a trans-supportive environment, disclosure concerns continue to loom large in transgender work lives.     

Research finding 3: Transgender people do not receive the right support through transition

Another significant issue highlighted by our research is transition (Ozturk and Tatli, 2016). Transgender workers, who undertake gender identity transition while employed in the same organisation, are often subjected to invasive personal questions, treated as objects of curiosity and represent a ‘problem’ that must be managed.

Organisations often worry too much about coordinating potential absences during transition, or how schedules can be managed so as to minimise any performance shortfalls.

Conversely, they worry too little about providing transgender employees with genuine support during this challenging period. As a result, transition often involves forced career breaks and the necessity of job change for transgender employees.

Company-wide training on transgender inclusion is essential

A proactive HR approach to inclusion is critical to surmount the serious barriers that stifle transgender equality at work. There is a deep and broad knowledge gap regarding transgender issues even within the HR ranks. As such, HR workers and equality and diversity officials need training on how to develop a sensitive and precise understanding of transgender issues.

Without this, HR workers are not fully armed with the requisite knowledge to tackle deep-seated prejudices. In addition, the training to HR workers must be followed by broader transgender training provided across the organisation, from the management ranks to entry-level employees.

This encompassing roll out of training across different levels and functions is a pre-requisite for securing in-depth organisational awareness and appreciation of transgender issues.

Yet training is truly effective only when it is deployed to engage people meaningfully by enlisting their active participation and imagination. Therefore, it is important to make training more than a single event, which requires one-time participation in a limited manner.

Transgender inclusion training needs to be a series of developmental activities that align the organisational community with a strong appreciation of differences.

Training that cuts ice requires serious resource investment, which involves top management support. Top management support is also necessary to make transgender inclusion a strategic aspect of organisational culture and development.

This may come in the form of concrete efforts such as targeted recruitment programmes, positive action at the selection stage, and mentoring and leadership programmes aimed at transgender workers.

Such acts of ongoing support must be complemented by discursive steps such as amendment of strategic plans, policy documents and communications to ensure that transgender identities are a visible component of organisational activities.

Deep and meaningful progress to achieve transgender inclusion in work organisations requires significant action based on a long-term vision of change, which should be pursued by both HR and top management.


Ozturk, M. B., & Tatli, A. (2016). Gender identity inclusion in the workplace: broadening diversity management research and practice through the case of transgender employees in the UK. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 27(8), 781-802.  


About Mustafa Ozturk


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21st Sep 2017 14:06

Perhaps trans people are discriminated against during the recruitment process. Perhaps employers sometimes look at a person's complex background and think:

"This person is going to need a lot of time off. This person is going to require extra support, and bring all sorts of issues to the workplace that we've never dealt with before. I don't fancy all the extra diversity training and assorted hassle; I'll just hire the equally-qualified straight person who also applied.".

Is that discrimination?

Do trans people face difficulties disclosing their journey? Not everyone is comfortable with some of these ideas, and may simply not want to discuss them in the workplace. That doesn't make them bad people.

Do trans people not receive the right support through transition? Where does it say that that is an employer's concern? A lot of employees will have difficult and stressful situations in their personal lives which are nothing to do with work. Caring for an elderly or disabled relative, a messy divorce, dealing with a family member in trouble with the law; any number of non-work things could be putting immense pressure on staff. Where's their support through the difficult period? Do they not deserve it too?

Here's an appropriate response to being told many things in the workplace:

I don't care.

You're gay? Don't care.

You're trans? Don't care.

Your religion, ethnicity, gender and body shape? Don't care.

If someone in the workplace is giving you a hard time for any of these aspects, I care about *that* and I'll make it stop.

Under all other circumstances, in the workplace, all I care about is your actual skills and ability to do the job.

You want equality - that's the purest form. You get treated *exactly* like everybody else.

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By ZaraBM
to Mr_Lizard
22nd Sep 2017 09:19

Actually equality is being given the appropriate level of support that you need have the same opportunities as your colleagues. If someone who is disabled is treated like someone who isn't and they aren't given any tools and support necessary to assist them in carrying out their job role then that is not equality because they are not given the chance to perform and get as much out of their job as other people. I'd suggest actually chatting to some people that are affected by these issues to maybe gain better understanding and to try and be more open to how other people are affected before just making assumptions.

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to ZaraBM
22nd Sep 2017 10:39

Who said trans people were 'disabled'? Disability access is a totally separate argument.

If you need equipment to help compensate for disabilities, you should have everything you need. On the other hand, blind people don't get to be bus drivers.

Once reasonable adjustments have been made where possible, the appropriate level of support anyone should need to have the same opportunities as their colleagues is zero.

As trans people are not disabled, they should need no support to compensate for a disability they do not have.

I have spoken with many LGBT people, and I have frequently heard that they don't want 'special treatment' in the workplace. Being treated like snowflakes can be almost as bad as deliberate rudeness in its own patronising way. One of the easiest ways to avoid this is to make sure *everyone* is equally protected from unfair and unpleasant treatment by dealing with it as strongly as possible as soon as it happens.

There are huge swathes of employment law already available to deal with genuine misconduct and managers should know how to apply them.

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By ZaraBM
to Mr_Lizard
22nd Sep 2017 13:58

I'm not stating they are disabled people. I was using that as an example to explain what equal opportunities are especially when applied to employees that are protected under the equality act for various reasons.

So although they are not disabled, trans people do go through a lot of medical changes and I can say this from experience that the medical treatments and the time needed to go to appointments affect their work life.

There are other matters that HR staff need to be up to date on specifically regarding trans matters such as knowing that a trans person can use the correct toilet facilities and the law regarding disclosure of that persons history etc.

You are right that most people wouldn't want to be treated like snowflakes - I personally wouldn't either - but I still want to make sure that an employer is giving me the support I need to manage the job at the same level as someone who is not going through a vast amount of medical changes.

The points mentioned in this article might seem meaningless to you because maybe you're up to date on things like the equality act or maybe it all seems like common sense to you but many employers and HR staff unfortunately won't have all the knowledge they should have to correctly support trans employees.

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to ZaraBM
22nd Sep 2017 17:12

You brought up the whole subject of supporting disabled people. I am of the view that trans people don't need any extra support in the workplace. They should be subject to the same rules as everyone else. If they need time off for medical procedures, some companies give leave for non-essential medical procedures and some don't.

This is why I made my original point - that an employer thinking about the consequences of hiring a transitioning person might decide not to do so, because they don't want to have to support someone through the transition.

As for washroom facilities - relabel all Disabled facilities as Accessible facilities. Job done. Nobody feels stigmatized by having to use a 'Disabled' bathroom when they're not disabled (a common theme...), and the facilities are usually completely private for one person already.

You say that many employers and HR staff won't have this knowledge? Why not? It's not like it's difficult to obtain. Type 'supporting trans employees' into the search engine of your choice. I got 57 million results and the top three were from Stonewall, ACAS, and Employers Network.

The ACAS one is particularly interesting. it lists the three main practicalities as toilets, dress code and data protection. Make sure they can use the facilities, make sure nothing in the dress code is going to be an issue, and make sure that access to their personal information is kept only to those who may need to know. Everything else is about not allowing other staff to act badly towards your trans staff. Make sure you have policies in place to deal with this sort of behaviour and make sure everybody knows that it *will* be dealt with.

Under all other circumstances, the only question I have for any employee is: can you do the job you've been hired to do?

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By ZaraBM
22nd Sep 2017 17:36

You clearly just want to argue and have likely never needed additional support in the workplace.

I can't explain why many employers don't have the knowledge they need to support employees. Couldn't possibly try to speak for all employees but I'm just trying to speak from what I've witnessed as an employee who is transitioning and has felt how bad the medical side effects can be and how necessary having that support in the workplace is. If you don't want to try to understand trans issues and have a problem with this article which is trying to educate people on certain issues which does affect people's lives even though it might not affect yours in the slightest.

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to ZaraBM
25th Sep 2017 10:55

Hi Zara. I'm sorry you feel that way because I disagree with you on some details. I have needed support in the workplace for a variety of reasons over the years, and it is my job to support people in the workplace.

I'll close with a blog entry I wrote last year.

Today I have been reading a report on the mental health issues that commonly affect people who identify as trans. I've also been trying to see if there's any research that might suggest a correlation between apparently common societal transphobia and the Uncanny Valley as a source of cognitive dissonance that might trigger an (un/sub)conscious phobic reaction.

I love my job...



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