Creating a Trans-Inclusive Work Environment

Building inclusion for transgender professionals in the workplace is a topic of increasing focus for business and diversity leaders. In celebration of Pride Month, Goldman Sachs and Out Leadership hosted The Landscape for Trans Talent, which featured a panel discussion on trans inclusion. Chief diversity officers, heads of human resources and interested leaders gathered to learn from a panel of experts on how to create a trans-inclusive working environment for their coworkers and clients. Goldman Sachs flew the Trans Pride flag in front of its headquarters in New York.

Dr. Michael Rendel, Goldman Sachs’ Global Head of Wellness and Benefits, moderated the panel, which featured speakers who drew on a range of experiences – as healthcare educators, doctors, and business leaders.Dr. David Reich, President and COO of Mount Sinai Hospital, discussed lessons learned in building a world-class facility for transgender medicine. Rachel Lynn Golden, a psychologist and a specialist in counseling trans youth, focused on strategies coworkers and family members can employ to create supportive environments. Ryan Sallans, a transgender author, speaker, and activist, shared with the audience his personal narrative and learnings from facilitating gender diversity trainings.  (Speakers are pictured above in this order, left to right).

1.  What can colleagues, family, and friends do to support someone during their transition?

“The moment when people start using a trans person’s pronouns, and when they start to use their name, and start calling them by who they are and who they know themselves to be, in their head, in their heart – the impact and the mental health impact of that is incredible.” – Rachel Golden

Takeaway: Using correct pronouns has a profound impact; beyond demonstrating understanding and acceptance, it is an essential validation of identity. In addition to expressing support from family and friends, it also is essential to an inclusive workplace.

2. How should allies learn about the transgender experience – and what questions are appropriate to ask a trans friend, family member, or colleague?

“I’m here to help people understand, I’m okay with that. But having said that, that doesn’t mean you can ask any trans person you meet any question you want at any given time. [You’d be] amazed at how many people do that, because your curiosity kicks in and your adult filters go away. And so you just have to take a step back from that.” – Ryan Sallans

Takeaway: Allies should take care to be sensitive and appropriate when asking trans people about their experiences. Invasive or overly personal questions are inappropriate, as they would be for anyone. Allow your colleagues to take the lead in what they feel comfortable sharing.

3. What should I do if I make a mistake and use the wrong name or pronoun when I’m talking to a trans colleague?

“You will make mistakes. And the most important thing to do when that happens is to then say, ‘I’m sorry. I will try to do better,’ and then move on.” – Rachel Golden

Takeaway: Use the correct pronouns and names when addressing people who are trans. And take a moment to acknowledge any good-faith errors you make. Underline your intent to do the right thing moving forward.

4. The bathroom debate is a particularly noisy and distracting element of the conversation around trans people. How can companies best shape policies to continue to create workplaces where everyone feels comfortable using the facilities?

“There’s just this fixation, “Oh, the bathroom,” that we have to move past. It’s a facility. We all have needs. We all wash our hands. I’m trying to work to push companies to really look at ways to break down these barriers altogether. Moving more towards gender neutral facilities.” – Ryan Sallans

Takeaway: Debates around bathroom usage tend to be based on faulty assumptions about bathroom safety, and often demean trans people. Everyone deserves to be able to use the facilities in peace and safety. Gender-neutral and single use facilities offer a safe space for people who often face harassment in sex-segregated facilities.

5. What can businesses learn from the best practices being implemented at Mount Sinai’s Center for Transgender medicine, particularly around creating welcoming environments?

“The person who greets you when you register in the physician’s office is just as important as the physician. Anyone can make you feel unwelcome, anyone can ruin the experience and getting people focused on sexual orientation and gender identity is an area where Mount Sinai has excelled. We will be working on this for decades and it’s a mission that we accept. I think the imperative to create inclusive spaces is something that goes well beyond medicine. It’s something which all entities must deal with, whether in an educational institution or financial institutions. Creating environments that work for all of our people is something that we believe in very strongly.” – Dr. David Reich

Takeaway: Creating an environment where trans people can be themselves, fully, is a team effort – it requires high-level institutional support and investment, as well as day-to-day care on the part of every person within your organization. It’s just as important to foster a trans inclusive culture, through training, dialogue, and visibility, as it is to implement trans inclusive policies.