Post submitted by Deena Fidas and Beck Bailey
Whether you tune in or not, chatter about Diane Sawyer’s exclusive interview Friday with Bruce Jenner will likely make its way into your workplace’s morning coffee talk. Remember these fives things to make the conversation one that’s productive for you, your colleagues and the broader transgender community:
1) This conversation may be a first for your workplace, but that doesn’t mean it should be a spectacle. We know that even at the most LGBT-inclusive workplaces, respectful conversations are typically not happening around transgender visibility. Tempted to make a wisecrack about Jenner? Resist. Instead, take this opportunity to elevate the conversation from spectacle to respect.
2) Disrespectful attitudes and discriminatory jokes harm everyone. HRC’s workplace climate survey and report, The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion, found that 40 percent of LGBT workers heard jokes about transgender people on the job. These comments lead workers to feel compelled to be in the closet and negatively impact their productivity and engagement on the job. Anti-LGBT jokes and comments in the workplace can negatively shape the overall workplace environment too -- they mirror workplace culture and climate, and send strong signals about what is, and what isn’t, acceptable on-the-job behavior.
3) Be aware that your assumptions could be wrong. You may not think you know anyone at work who is transgender or who has a transgender loved one, but you could very well be wrong. Many trans people choose not to reveal their gender identity or history for fear of being fired or harassed -- or even being endangered. Parents, friends and family members may also hesitate to speak up for similar reasons. Think of the difference you could make supporting the mom of a trans teen who feels she can’t talk about her child at work, or a trans colleague who has yet to feel safe enough to bring their full self to work.
4) Know what you don’t know, and remember what you do. If the whole subject of transgender inclusion is new for you and you realize you have a lot to learn, go back to simple core principles we all know: all people want to be treated with respect, understanding and kindness. Then take it upon yourself to do some homework. Check out HRC’s Understanding the Transgender Community. Read this FAQ about terms and issues facing the transgender community. Or learn more about issues facing transgender youth. These are just starting points -- and more information is available at www.hrc.org/transgender.
5) Once you feel comfortable, start a conversation. Designed for HR professionals and employee resource groups, our conversation starters on transgender-inclusion can serve as a jumping off point to take stock of your personal comfort talking about, and your knowledge of, trans issues. If you have a colleague who is transitioning, also be sure to reach out to them individually to show your support. Don’t put them on the spot but do let them know you’re there for them. This kind of outreach can go a long way toward building trust and inclusion.
Coffee talk about pop culture and celebrities is a regular part of our workplace experience. Sadly, sometimes jokes and inappropriate comments can harm your colleagues, your friends and their families. Consider using Jenner’s interview as a catalyst for a new conversation about welcoming transgender employees in your workplace.
At the end of the day, it’s about creating open and inclusive environments where mutual respect is a guiding principle and all workers can be productive and valued.