People like Laverne Cox who plays Sophia Burset in the Netflix prison drama Orange is the New Black have become global symbols and pushed transgender awareness into the mainstream but it is not surprising if office culture lags behind popular culture. Contributor Blair McPherson former Director of Community services and author of An Elephant in the Room.
An employee informs their line manager that in future they wish to come to work dressed as a woman. They are married with two children and for the time being will continue to live as a man at home but at work they now wish to dress and be referred to as a female member of staff. The line manager is shocked and asks HR for advice on how to respond to the request.
The individual has already had a discussion with HR in which they shared their intension to change their ascribed gender which would involve living as a woman for two years, starting at work, in order to meet the requirements for gender reassignment treatment and surgery. HR have provided reassurance that the organisation will respect their right to determine their gender and help with any work place issues that arise as a result. The individual is confident their immediate colleagues who they share an office with will be supportive but are concerned about the reaction of their line manager.
The first question the line manager asks HR is, “what toilet will he/ she use?” “I don’t think the women working on the same floor will be happy about a man using the Ladies.” It is at this point that HR need to challenge the manager. The line managers response reflects an ignorance and insensitivity that may well be wide spread within the organisation. The individuals immediate colleagues are likely to accept them for who they are but the wider group may struggle to understand and be less accepting. HR need to get managers to set the right tone.
Ideally the organisations Equal Opportunity policy will be supported by a strategy which includes awareness raising, challenging myths and stereotypes with specific reference to transgender. However many organisation may have to widen their approach from a narrow focus on race, faith and sexual orientation. The principles are of course the same whether we are talking about racism, sexism, homophobia or Islamophobia yet managers and staff often struggle to transfer best practice. This is were HR can challenge and support.
Blair McPherson former Director of Community services and author of An Elephant in the Room – about equality and diversity published by www.russellhouse.co.uk