Managing gender transition in the workplace is one of the most challenging human resources issues companies are faced with. It does not matter that the South African constitution is regarded as one of the most progressive in the world, LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, questioning and intersex) employees still face discrimination and harassment. Nicol Myburgh, Head: HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies, believes that everyone at an organisation has a responsibility to create a more enabling environment.
“Even though there is growing awareness of the struggles trans people face, company policies generally lack the appropriate guidelines to effectively support these employees. The bathroom ‘issue’ is a well cited example of this. What must be done if a transitioning male employee wants to use the female bathroom? Many of the female employees might object, leaving the person in a difficult position,” says Myburgh.
Generally, it is often a lack of understanding that might negatively impact a trans employee’s self-confidence or willingness to disclose what they are going through. And then there is always the risk of office gossip or malicious rumours that exacerbate the problem.
“If an organisation wants to build a more inclusive environment, there are certain aspects to be mindful of when it comes to LGBTQI employees. These steps are designed to protect all employees and create a more enabling culture inside the business, which will result in a more productive and effective organisation.”
To help address this, companies should become more proactive in their management of workplace policies to be more inclusive of trans employees. These must explicitly protect and promote the rights of people of all gender identities and expressions. Furthermore, human resources departments should identify meaningful ways to increase employees’ understanding and acceptance of their trans colleagues.
In fact, such an enabling environment can be good for business. Without fear of discrimination or being bullied against, the company can attract and retain people most qualified for specific jobs. By treating all employees fairly, and judging them on their abilities and not their gender identity or expression, enables an organisation to draw from a range of talented people.
“Without clear guidelines in place, employees simply do not know what to do and how to effectively navigate the processes around trans employees. Such guidelines will show trans employees what they can expect from management while detailing management’s expectations for staff, trans employees and existing LGBTQI workers,” adds Myburgh.
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the normalisation of a distributed workforce, the corporate environment was evolving. The lockdown and its knock-on effects merely accelerated all the change happening.
“To build and retain strong teams, management must develop and lead work environments that are more progressive and flexible, while recognising the need to adapt to changing market conditions and people’s expectations. This is not something that will happen overnight, but there must be a concerted effort to start the process before it is too late,” concludes Myburgh.
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