First, a confession: I frequently deliver training on diversity and equality in the workplace and I am therefore a huge supporter of employers doing all that they can to improve inclusiveness. I make no apologies for this – it's a good idea on all levels, increases workplace harmony, increases financial performance and, as a happy coincidence, keeps employers out of court.
Part of the training involves, as you might expect, a discussion about the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. At this point in a session, I like to see if delegates are surprised that any particular characteristics are included in or excluded from the Act.
In most sessions, this will lead to a discussion about why social background is not a protected characteristic (a good question), and also to questions about why we need to have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. A fair question, but I think one which is based on a failure to recognise the difficulties faced by those who are protected by the rules on gender reassignment discrimination.
I think it is likely that the issue here arises from the simple fact that the majority of people have never had cause to question their own gender, and have never had this questioned by others. The impact of this on everyday life is, therefore, not at the forefront of most people's thoughts.
From a practitioner's perspective, it is clear to me that the problems faced by the trans community (both at work and in wider society) are both obvious and avoidable. It would be easy for employers simply to write a policy to cover trans issues, or to amend their existing equal opportunities policy. However, the risk of policy ennui is a very real one, especially if any document is not backed up by attitudes on the ground.
Culture, values and ethos are not easy to crack, but from small acorns mighty oaks grow. When taken back to its most simple level, what we are talking about here is a matter of respect and empathy. While the law protects those in the trans community, whether or not they have undergone a medical procedure as part of their journey, such protection is hardly necessary if employers foster a respectful and supportive workplace. Rather than falling back on a policy, employers would be well advised to consider some of the following:
- What steps have you taken to create a culture that is accepting of diversity and inclusive of all?
- Do you make clear your expectations on respect in the workplace?
- What training do you provide to your staff on diversity and equality?
- What action do you take when discrimination arises?
- Do your managers have sufficient knowledge of trans issues?
- Does your recruitment process do enough to encourage/facilitate trans applicants?
- What support do you have available for trans staff?
- Do you make use of the external resources available?
By paying attention to the above, employers can ensure that their workplaces are accepting and considerate of all. At a difficult time for workers, steps to ensure psychological safety are of prime importance and the rewards for employer and employee alike are plentiful. So – think about what you do to foster respect for differences and how this impacts your people. And remember: trans rights are human rights.
Simon Mayberry is a senior associate with LexLeyton, Glasgow