Trans Employees Are 3x More Likely to Feel Unsupported at Work. Here’s How Organizations Can Change That.

Trans people’s transformative journeys of self-discovery and advocacy fuel productivity and progress. They exemplify remarkable resilience, courage, and contributions, amplifying acceptance and equality in our communities and workplaces.

Written by
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Kali Love
Co-Founder & Chief Impact Officer, #lovework
Clinically reviewed by
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A trans person stares longing out of an office window

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    While the LGBTQIA++ journey can be tough on mental health, the transgender search for fulfilling and safe work is even more challenging. This is one of many reasons to celebrate this powerful community’s resilience and continue working toward a better future for transgender people everywhere.  

    As a medically-transitioned non-binary person, this piece was emotional for me to write. Thank you for setting aside time to empathize, resonate, and act. Your understanding and support are essential for the inclusive future of work. 

    There are at least 2 million transgender and 1.2 million nonbinary people in the United States, and three out of every ten adults in the U.S. now know someone who is trans. 

    Organizations work to decrease burnout, increase engagement, boost productivity, foster psychological safety, and improve well-being. We have myriad policies, procedures, and programs to address organizational goals, but how many specifically include the distinct needs of transgender team members? 

    Continue reading to take the first important step in supporting trans employees: educating yourself.

    Language matters

    Without a shared vocabulary, it’s difficult to relate to the transgender experience. Here are several terms needed for this piece.

    • Transgender/ Trans: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression differs from cultural expectations based on their sex. This is often abbreviated to trans.
    • Non-Binary: A person who does not identify solely as a man or a woman, but may identify as both, as a combination, and/or as another gender. Many also identify as transgender, but some don’t. Non-binary can also be an umbrella term encompassing identities such as agender, bigender, genderqueer, or gender-fluid.
    • NGC/GNC: (Non-gender conforming) refers to people whose behavior doesn’t conform to traditional or societal expectations of their gender. It also includes people whose gender expression does not fit neatly into any one category or may be fluid.
    • Cisgender/Cis: A person whose gender identity aligns with what is expected of them in their culture based on the sex assigned to them at birth. 

    It’s already harder to be transgender

    Recent studies underscore the importance of acknowledging and addressing the mental health disparities faced by the transgender community. Transgender individuals encounter higher levels of psychological stress due to societal stigma, discrimination, and lack of access to affirming healthcare, which significantly impacts their mental well-being:

    • 58% of transgender adults report having a mental health condition versus 13.6% of cisgender adults
    • 46% of transgender adults report having a mood disorder versus 9% of cisgender adults
    • 31% of transgender adults report having an anxiety disorder versus 6% of cisgender adults
    • 31% of transgender adults report having a major depressive disorder versus 4.8% of cisgender adults

    The last few years made it even worse 

    President Biden signed a landmark 2020 Supreme Court ruling protecting LGBTQ+ people from workplace discrimination, and a few states have begun enacting their own pro-trans laws. But those efforts are not enough. 

    In 2022, 47% of trans people considered moving to another state because their government considered or passed laws that target transgender people for unequal treatment—such as banning access to bathrooms, healthcare, or sports. Additionally, 5% moved out of state.

    Only 15 states and D.C. currently rank as being safe for trans people, with 29 states ranking low or extremely low for transgender safety. In June 2023, the Supreme Court even ruled that a business could refuse to design websites for same-sex couples’ weddings. 

    As of March 2024, there are a record 527 anti-trans bills under consideration that seek to block trans people from receiving basic healthcare, education, legal recognition, and the right to exist publicly. 

    There are still many dangerous and confusing roadblocks to transgender rights and safety, yet we persist with remarkable awareness and strength. Recognizing the unique challenges faced by this community is a critical step toward building a more equitable and supportive workplace.

    Underrepresented, underemployed, underpaid

    Statistics in these sections come from the 2015 and 2022 U.S. Transgender Survey Reports, this BRFSS survey, and this study. Given recent anti-trans legislation, these numbers are likely even higher now.

    • 50% of transgender respondents said they could not be their full selves during the job application process, versus 33% of cisgender 
    • Transgender people are 2x more likely to be unemployed than cisgender adults and 1.7x more likely to be recently unemployed
    • 42% more transgender employees work part-time than cisgender employees, meaning less access to healthcare benefits
    • Cisgender employees make 32% more money annually than transgender employees, even with similar or higher education levels

    Unsafe at work

    • 59% of trans employees fear for their safety at work 
    • Over 50% are not comfortable being out at work
    • 27% were fired, forced to resign, not hired, or denied a promotion due to gender identity
    • 15% were verbally harassed, physically attacked, or sexually assaulted at work in 2015 because of their transgender status
    • 30% were verbally attacked because of their transgender status
    • 47% experienced at least some discriminatory behavior daily at work, such as being the target of transphobic remarks, being ignored, or being pressured to act in “traditionally gendered” ways

    People leaders: you need trans people

    Despite the challenges transgender individuals face at work, they report showing up and being allies of other marginalized groups, such as women and people of color. 

    In the face of adversity, the transgender community displays incredible resilience and strength. Stories of perseverance, community support, and successful advocacy for rights and recognition are a testament to the indomitable work ethic and spirit of transgender individuals.

    The trans journeys of self-discovery and advocacy drive individual and organizational productivity and progress toward greater acceptance and equality. Celebrating this resilience is not just about acknowledging the struggles—it's about recognizing the courage, determination, and contributions of transgender individuals to our communities and workplaces. 

    Transgender and LGBTQ+ individuals bring unique skills to the workplace that can significantly contribute to success. Here are just a few:

    • Resilience and adaptability: Facing and overcoming discrimination or bias requires considerable resilience and adaptability. This equips trans employees with emotional intelligence and problem-solving skills essential for team innovation and creativity.
    • Advanced communication skills: Trans people develop advanced communication skills required for enhanced collaboration, such as the ability to listen actively, express empathy, and convey complex ideas sensitively and inclusively when navigating personal and professional spaces. 
    • Global perspective and cultural competency: Diverse backgrounds, coupled with experience navigating cultural norms and biases, grant trans people a global perspective and cultural competencies. This enables companies to connect with varied consumer bases and international partners.
    • Change management: Trans people often advocate for themselves and others, which can translate into exceptional change management skills. These skills help them contribute to or lead initiatives that require shifts in corporate culture, policy, or strategy.

    In valuing this community’s distinct experiences and perspectives, companies can foster diversity, drive innovation, and enhance competitiveness, ultimately leading to growth and improved team dynamics. But we need support.

    People leaders: trans people need you

    Studies show that trans people feel far less supported at work, especially by their managers. They can find understanding culture and benefits difficult and face obstacles in career advancement. 

    Transgender employees are at least three times more likely than cisgender employees to delay or skip meetings. 55% say they do not speak up in meetings, and 41% avoid talking to their colleagues altogether. 

    Still, the specific struggles faced by transgender employees frequently go unaddressed, even in diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. 

    It’s time to start recognizing and supporting the mental health and well-being of trans team members so we can all benefit. By championing transgender rights and safety in our company policies and programs and our daily work lives, we advocate for a better workplace for all.

    Supporting transgender team members

    Trans people need mental health support. It’s been reported that to feel most resilient, transgender people specifically need to feel connected to community.

    Here are several simple yet powerful practices your organization can implement to be more trans-inclusive:

    • Inclusive meeting practices: Start meetings with quick introductions that include pronouns, normalizing the practice for everyone
    • Visibility efforts: Regularly feature stories or achievements of transgender individuals in internal newsletters or bulletin boards to educate and highlight representative role models
    • Representation in decision-making: Ensure transgender employees are represented in committees or decision-making bodies that affect company culture and policies
    • Policy feedback loop: Establish a regular feedback mechanism where transgender employees can safely express their thoughts on workplace policies and their direct impact

    A better future for transgendered people at work

    It’s essential for leaders to recognize and support the significant transgender population that deals with systemic barriers to employment, work performance, and career advancement. We’re strong enough to keep working individually and progressing collectively, and our contributions are valuable and deserve recognition. 

    Being transgender and/or non-binary must be not just accepted, but celebrated for the diversity of thought, experience, and perspective it brings. Let's commit to continuous learning, open dialogue, and the implementation of policies that recognize and address the specific needs of transgender and non-binary employees.

    Together, we can build workplaces where every individual, regardless of identity, feels valued, supported, and empowered to reach their full potential. 

    Let this be a call to action for all of us to build a more equitable, compassionate workplace. We all have a role in shaping a better, more inclusive future.

    Explore these five powerful ways to uplift trans employees and cultivate a more vibrant workplace. 

    About the Author
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    Kali Love
    Co-Founder & Chief Impact Officer, #lovework

    Queer, trans, and neurospicy, Kali Love (They/Them) has overcome extreme adversity to challenge societal barriers and become a champion of workplace inclusivity and an empowering future of work. Kali is a speaker, coach, facilitator, author, and poet who has worked with some of the biggest brands in the world. As Co-founder and Chief Impact Officer at #lovework, Kali is focussed on human-centric leadership and practicing energy intelligence to enact sustainable change. We are most effective and able to create a lasting impact when we are energized together, and Kali is here to help everyone bring their whole selves to work to do the best work of their lives!

    About the clinical reviewer
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