Easing Gender Transitioning Employees, Part I: First Step Tips for Supervisors and Managers

A woman with long red hair and a button up shirt and tie sits at a desk with a pen, notebook and coffee in front of her. With the blog title: How to support gender transitioning employees at work

An introductory guide to ensuring an inclusive workplace for team members in gender transition

So you have a team member whose gender identity is changing, and you want to support them while at work. If you are feeling uncertain about the differences between gender identity and gender expression, and what all this means for your working relationship, start here! 

What is gender transition? 

Most people identify personally with the gender they were assigned at birth according to their physiology. Many other people, however, do not identify this way, and so they may decide to actively change their gender. This is known as gender transition. This means they may also choose to describe themselves as transgender, or trans, or something else altogether.

Transition may look like changes to a person’s gender expression — in other words, their outward appearance — to better accord with their identity.  This can, but does not require, changes to their mode of dress, their use of different personal pronouns, and/or surgery to modify one’s appearance.

Not all people undergoing a change to their gender identity will make major changes to their gender expression. Transition is a deeply personal process, and so it is key to listen to what your transitioning co-worker or employee says when they describe their transition in their own words.

Supporting someone who is transitioning, at work 

Like with any significant change in someone’s life, follow their lead as to how they would like to acknowledge it with you at work. For example, some people may wish to have their gender transition openly celebrated, while others may prefer to keep their transition quiet and more gradual throughout the process. It is always a good idea to respond from a place of curiosity and open-mindedness when you first receive the news from your staff member about their transition. 

Another great place to start for support is your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or Human Resources department to ensure you know what will be required of you to support your employee appropriately, and in accordance with non-discrimination laws. 

Keep in mind that disclosing one’s gender transition can be a very vulnerable experience for a person. In particular, the stakes are quite high when it comes to transitioning at work, because of a higher potential for precarious circumstances experienced by transgender people due to negative biases and discrimination. To maintain an inclusive workplace, superiors need to be mindful of how they handle these circumstances in a compassionate and welcoming way.  

Begin with Boundaries 

There will be a certain amount of educating that the transitioning employee will have to provide themselves; remember, there is no one way that all transgender people transition. With this in mind, there are still plenty of resources available to take some of the educational burden off of the transitioning individual. Consider reaching out to local LGBT organizations such as the Pride Centre of Edmonton, or the Fyrefly Institute for resources on trans allyship to learn more basics about gender transition. 

Because transitioning is so personal, it is paramount to let the person going through this change be the leader in creating the relevant action plans. Some questions to clarify with them at the outset can include:

  • What is the time frame or date by which they would like to start presenting themselves with their new gender (eg. new name, pronouns)? 
  • What are their support needs in terms of an Employee Assistance Program, medical leave, or changes in access to facilities like washrooms or change rooms?
  • Who needs to be informed about their transition, and how? What does confidentiality mean to the transitioning individual, and how do you collectively foresee transition affecting their work, if at all? 

Stay tuned for more posts in this series about supporting your transitioning employees at work. If you need more help, or are interested in creating a stronger human resources plan for your workplace, we are here to help. Contact us for expert guidance and resources today!

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