International Transgender Day of Visibility is an annual recognition and awareness day that occurs each year on 31 March. The aim of Trans Day of Visibility is to celebrate transgender people’s many contributions to society across the world, while also raising awareness of discrimination faced by transgender people. This is just as important now as ever, as 2020 was the deadliest year on record for the trans community – though you wouldn’t necessarily learn that information from watching the news. American news networks discussed anti-trans violence for 54 minutes in 2020.

Yes, just 54 minutes in the entire year.

The day was founded by a US-based transgender activist named Rachel Crandall, from Michigan, in 2009 to increase the worldwide recognition of trans people. During Transgender Day of Visibility, it is encouraged to have discussions, create direct actions, and spread knowledge about the trans community no matter where you are! As a decision-maker at your business, you have the opportunity to help support transgender workers on your team.

Organizations should not wait for the courts to determine that trans individuals are fully protected under the law. Instead they should proactively incorporate gender-identity-specific nondiscrimination policies and practices throughout their businesses. That involves two key issues: protecting and promoting the rights of people of all gender identities and expressions, and increasing employees’ understanding and acceptance of their trans colleagues.

Here are three practices that we recommend employers adopt. Further resources can be found through nonprofit organizations such as Out & Equal, the Transgender Law Center, and Basic Rights Oregon.

1. Adopt Basic Trans-Inclusive Policies

To one degree or another, we all have a basic need to belong and a prewired, unconscious monitoring system that tracks the quality of our relationships. When we detect signs of social devaluation (apathy, disapproval, or rejection), we experience negative emotions and a loss of self-esteem. When we detect signs of social valuation (praise, affection, or admission to a desired group), just the opposite occurs. Thus inclusive policies and practices—such as those related to bathroom access, dress codes, and pronoun and name usage—send vital messages to trans employees about their value as organizational members.

Bathroom Access

Instituting gender-neutral bathrooms or encouraging trans employees to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity is one important way to signal to those employees that they are valued. Diversity trainings should educate other employees on the importance of being accepting and welcoming when they find themselves in a company bathroom with a trans coworker.

Some have suggested that allowing employees to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity will increase the risk of sexual harassment and assault against women. But a 2018 report published in Sexuality Research and Social Policy suggests that such incidents in bathrooms are rare, regardless of any gender-identity policy on bathroom usage. In fact, harassment and assault generally are most often perpetrated by straight, cisgender males against straight, cisgender females.

Dress Codes

Some organizations, including Accenture, have begun to regionally implement gender-neutral dress codes. By making explicit that all employees may select from a range of options, such as dress shirts, pantsuits, and skirt suits, companies can help destigmatize varying expressions of gender. Such policies may also aid in recruitment and retention by signaling that normativity is not expected.

Pronoun and Name Usage

Employers can address this issue in several ways. First, they can keep records of employees’ chosen names and correct pronouns; this helps ensure that whenever possible, appropriate terms will be used for personnel and administrative purposes, such as directories, email addresses, and business cards. Second, encourage all employees to use name badges and email signatures that include their desired names and correct pronouns; this enables people to learn those names and pronouns and cultivates awareness of the varying gender identities that colleagues may possess. Third, take advantage of training programs, onboarding initiatives, and employee handbook content to make clear that proper pronoun usage is part of creating an environment in which all employees feel valued and respected.

2. Support Gender Transition

Transitioning is not a single event but, rather, a process, which begins with a deeply personal decision that usually results from years of soul-searching. The decision to come out, or disclose, at work is also complicated. People weigh the positive consequences of doing so (freedom from living a “double life” and expression of one’s true self) against the negative ones (potential rejection and career ramifications). 

Someone deciding to transition chooses what that process will look like and how long it will take. A transition may involve gender-confirmation surgery (not all trans people undergo medical procedures). Some gender-fluid individuals spend their lives transitioning between and within various gender expressions, as they continually reinterpret and redefine themselves. Employers must develop a comprehensive approach to managing gender transitions—one that focuses on the employee but also on cultivating a work environment conducive to the transition process.

First, helping transitioning employees who elect medical procedures to cover costs—and making sure they have access to health care benefits that are gender-identity-specific—can reduce the stress and anxiety of coming out at work. Such commitment sends a highly affirming message to trans employees about their value.

Second, it is paramount that employees be asked what they need during their transitions and how they would like the process handled. Only by listening to and collaborating with them can employers ensure that people are not inadvertently “outed” without permission or before they’re ready.

Third, if approached by an employee, an HR manager can provide information concerning where to learn more about treatment options, organizational support groups, and other available resources and can develop strategies to help the employee manage work/life issues that may arise during the process. Including direct supervisors in such meetings, if the employee feels comfortable with this, can promote empathy and aid in crafting flexible and informed plans adapted to each individual’s unique needs.

Fourth, and equally important, our research suggests that leaders and managers must proactively cultivate a supportive work environment. The period of transitioning is particularly sensitive; indeed, individuals may be ostracized or pressured by peers to suppress their identities during this time, increasing their susceptibility to depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thinking. Moreover, any trans person seeking surgery will be questioned by the surgical team about the existence of support networks, which are often required for someone who is seeking gender-confirming procedures. Thus having supportive policies and plans in place will remove one or more barriers to care for trans employees.

3. Hold Trans-Specific Diversity Training

Include contact with those who identify along the trans identity spectrum which will not only provide an opportunity to build relationships with specific groups—to hear their stories, appreciate their challenges, and gain empathy—but is also critical for shifting attitudes and behavior toward transgendered individuals.

Research suggests that many people lack the knowledge and confidence to challenge prejudice. That’s why some companies have sought to equip their employees, especially leaders, with concrete strategies for stepping out of their comfort zones and engaging in “courageous conversations” regarding difficult diversity-related topics. Despite the good intentions of many cisgender employees, however, trans people may not always want others to represent their interests, especially when those others lack in-depth knowledge of the various issues, challenges, and nuances surrounding their work and life experiences. And research suggests that employees who possess a “savior mentality” (that is, are motivated by a desire to be perceived as good people) may end up doing more harm than good. Read through Basic Rights Oregon’s Awkward Trans Ally Moves to understand how good intentions can appear to those you’re hoping to help.

Only when people feel totally authentic and connected with their organizations can they achieve their full potential at work. Trans employees are no exception. Yet few companies have succeeded in creating an inclusive work environment for people who don’t identify with societal gender norms. Our organization hopes that the research and the proactive steps we’ve outlined will help change that.