Building Better Workplaces for Trans and Non-binary People

This is a topic that has come up in a number of our portfolio companies of late. And, as the parent of a child who identifies as trans and non-binary, I’m also probably more attuned than most to the inequities as well as personally passionate about creating change.

So, in honor of Trans Awareness Week, and with that in mind, I asked my child Sabel (now an adult in the workforce) to share what they consider to be some best practices and resources for building better workplaces for trans and non-binary people. I also asked Michael Kyle (head of talent and belonging at Planet), Stephanie Lampkin (founder and CEO of Blendoor) and Titi Naomi Tukes (my mentee in the NVCA VC University program) to review and add to Sabel’s advice as they saw fit.

Here’s what they came up with.

  1. Create space for pronouns & self-identification.
  2. Examine your policies regularly.
  3. Make learning a habit.
  4. Evaluate biases in the hiring process.
  5. Be explicit and commit to action.

With those as the high-order guidelines, the rest of this post details what can be done to put these into action. There is a LOT here: Remember, this is a complex topic with a lot of need for change. So let’s dive in.

  1. Create space for pronouns & self-identification.
  • Create the space to share pronouns (do not require it). Not everyone is out in all environments.
  • Build space for pronouns in email signatures, business cards, collaboration platforms, internal & external directories — if there’s a place for a name, let’s see if we can get pronouns in there, too!
  • Sharing pronouns can help facilitate respectful communication for everyone, including people with gender-neutral names or names that have differing gender associations in different cultures.
  • Create systems that support both selecting multiple pronouns and opting for no pronouns. Some folks are comfortable being referred to by more than one pronoun (e.g. ‘I go by she or they’), and some folks want to only be referred to by name, no pronouns used.
  • Some non-binary people will go by binary pronouns, and that’s all cool, too!
  • Normalize hearing and using people’s pronouns, honorifics, and chosen names.
  • Emails, directories, applications and forms, badges, desk/door labels, and business cards should use a person’s chosen name wherever the legal name is not absolutely required.
  • Make the processes for name and pronoun changes transparent and easy to find. People are learning and growing all the time.

2. Examine your policies and systems regularly.

  • If you have a dress code, read this article on professionalism and oppression because it is fantastic.
  • Think external and internal. Remember that you will interact with trans and non-binary clients, consultants, and community members, too! I often show up at airport gates with a full beard and a ticket that starts with “Ms.” It’s awkward. Take the awesome work you’re doing to make your systems better and extend the benefits to all people you interact with.
  • Update data collection and reporting to include non-binary respondents — internally and externally.
  • Check in on benefits, coverage, and policies from your chosen healthcare provider and make changes if needed to ensure equity and ease of access.
  • Label your toilets in a rad, consistent way. Single-occupant bathrooms should not be segregated by gender (or anything else, really). Toilet icons on placards are a great wayfinding choice; they sure make more sense than icons representing people, unless your bathroom is also a club, maybe.
  • Robust stalls with tall doors and working locks instill feelings of privacy and security in all types of bathrooms.
  • Add specific non-discrimination language around transgender status, gender identity, gender expression, and presentation, and ideally have this visible to both internal, remote, and prospective employees. Include nondiscrimination policies directly in job postings and employee handbooks if you have the space.
  • Have a clear path forward for reporting instances of discrimination. Consider restorative justice practises as an option.
  • Make sure your marketing materials and internal documents — including the photos, videos, drawings, stories — show many different types of narratives.
  • Officially support the singular they in any brand/voice/style guidelines. Many major style guides and news sources have officially adopted the singular they, which I shouldn’t even have to use as a reason — respecting identities should come above linguistic purity.

3. Make learning a habit.

4. Evaluate biases in the hiring process.

  • Evaluate bias in the hiring and job posting procedures to make sure trans and non-binary people are even getting in the door.
  • Post job opportunities in a variety of avenues (e.g. Craigslist, Facebook, Include, Indeed) and email job opportunities to organizations that work with underserved, marginalized, underemployed groups to share with their network. Bonus points for building relationships with those organizations and hosting webinars or informationals.
  • Review the job posting for biased language. There are paid services that evaluate job postings for biases, or you can look at the job postings from leaders in DEI fields.
  • Review the job posting for biased requirements. Consider dropping formal education requirements and years of experience; these rely on and perpetuate cycles of oppression and particularly disadvantage queer and transgender Black, Indigenous, people of color (QTBIPOC). We’re not going to break cycles if we only hire people for jobs they’ve already had.
  • Have anti-bias training for the hiring and review committees before applications even come in.
  • Remember earlier when we talked about having people tell you what name and pronouns they go by? Use preferred names and pronouns of applicants, too — build these fields into application forms if you use them. Only collect legal name or sex data when necessary. (If we’re going to get that intimate, you should probably at least take me out for a job offer first.)
  • Go beyond these and adopt an intersectional framework to include race, class, gender identity, gender expression, transgender status, and immigration status when assessing existing hiring practices

5. Be explicit and commit to action.

  • Be explicit about what your company means when it says everyone is welcome. Commit to action. Say Black lives matter and post that in a public space to hold your company accountable to real action. Publicly state that you fully believe in gender beyond the binary. Support the rights of trans and non-binary people to come as they are and receive all the support and services as anyone else.
  • Areas for improvement and specific action steps can come from anyone. Create opportunities for anonymous feedback and ask employees how to advocate for and with them. Commit to action based on that feedback.
  • Form intersectionally inclusive task forces or working groups around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Give them resources, particularly actionable budget, additional compensation, and voice/power.
  • Figure out how to adopt changes swiftly, with minimal barriers.
  • Don’t stop here.