Transgender rights and gender equality in the workplace

Workplace discrimination is a serious global issue that affects many people, especially minorities and LGBTQIA+ professionals, who are being forced to deal with micro aggressions due to their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and other vectors of identity.

Ceylin Güven
Ceylin Güven

Trans rights and women’s rights are being violated in the workplace every day. This gender identity-based discrimination “not only harms LGBTQIA+ citizens, but it is also bad for employers and negatively impacts [the] economy”. As a result, the importance of achieving true inclusion in the workplace is steadily rising.

In this article, we aim to shed light on workplace discrimination based on gender identity and expression, how it’s currently being fought, and what can be done in the future to improve and truly achieve gender equality in the workplace.

Discrimination in employment and the workplace

Workplace discrimination is a serious global issue that affects many people, especially minorities and LGBTQIA+ professionals, who are being forced to deal with micro aggressions due to their gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and other vectors of identity. The extent of this can go from the absence of certain workplace rights to outright harassment, or being denied employment opportunities altogether. Establishing gender equality in the workplace is thus essential to make sure employees of all identities and backgrounds can coexist and feel safe.

Discrimination towards workers with transgender experience is especially prominent and requires to be addressed separately. According to a 2015 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality in the US in which 1,000 trans Americans were interviewed, a staggering 77% of participants reported that they had to take additional measures to avoid mistreatment at work. 15% also admitted to dealing with workplace abuse (verbal, sexual, and physical), and 16% said they lost at least one job due to their identity.

Why gender equality in the workplace is important

Looking at things at a large scale, women in the workplace is still a relatively new concept. Around the year 1930 in the US, for example, only 12 percent of married women were part of the national labor force (consider as well that women were given the right to vote only 10 years prior). This number has been steadily rising since then, however, it’s still far from equal. Many women still face sexism-related workplace discrimination.

The world is vastly changing, and the importance of protecting diversity in the workplace is rising in parallel. Both for people working in an office or working remotely, workplace discrimination can be a huge issue.

In general, you’re probably aware of how the absence of equality in the workplace can negatively affect employees. Discrimination and harassment can lead to many psychological issues such as anxiety, PTSD, depression and more. It also has the potential to impact workplace performance and cause lack of motivation. One of the most common results of harboring discriminatory actions and language in offices or work communities is absenteeism, where employees that are harmed by these actions gradually distance themselves from their responsibilities.  

Certain measures must be taken to ensure gender equality in the workplace. This will help create a safer and more effective work environment for everyone.

Here are some of the reasons why working towards establishing gender equality in the workplace is important for employers as well:

  • Creating a diverse work environment which values and respects different views can benefit your business by encouraging employees to willingly participate in a productive work culture
  • Increasing feelings of safety, trust, and happiness within the workplace
  • Improving company reputation amongst employees and customers

If employers want to improve their business and create a better work environment for all individuals, they should also focus on creating an equality of opportunity within their workplace for all individuals regardless of their gender and sexual identities.

Equality of opportunity

Leading a team of workers requires employers to respect the rights of all workers. Working with this purpose, the difficulties women, trans people, and gender non-conforming individuals have to face in the job market cannot be ignored.

Achieving true gender equality in the workplace, in its simplest terms, depends on creating an equality of opportunity for people from different backgrounds. This means that everyone, regardless of their identity, will be able to be hired and/or promoted within the company without bias. Unfortunately, many employers are still biased towards certain groups and treat them differently, whether consciously or not.

Today, creating gender equality in the workplace is essential. Removing these biases and creating a safe, inclusive, and diverse workplace for everyone should be the priority of all workplace owners, team leaders and any other decision makers in a company.

Non-discrimination laws

There are non-discrimination laws and regulations put in place to achieve gender equality in the workplace. These laws exist in several countries around the world, but only a few explicitly include the rights of trans professionals within them.

Even though non-discrimination laws exist, they’re not always descriptive enough to be effective. In one research that looked into non-discrimination laws in 16 different countries, only three (Kosovo, Costa Rica, and South Africa) were found to have an explicit ban on firing employees based on their sex and gender identity. In the same research, it was found that only Canada and Uruguay had “laws/regulations explicitly granting victims of sexual and gender minority employment discrimination the right to free or reduced-cost legal assistance”. Canada is also one of the two countries which have laws “that prohibit employers from discussing sexual Orientation, gender identity, or marital status during the recruitment process”.

Transgender rights in the workplace

Protecting transgender and gender equality in the workplace is one of the main purposes of non-discrimination laws. In the EU, for example, it is illegal to discriminate against someone for their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, where legal rights are not provided by the government, it is up to employers and workers themselves to create awareness and work towards a more inclusive workplace.

At workplaces where employees need to be physically present, one of the most important actions that can help trans and gender non-conforming employees feel included, for example, is installing unisex bathrooms. Gender neutral bathrooms can be crucial in creating a welcoming and safe workplace.

If you believe you’re being mistreated as an employee due to your identity, the first step would be to file a complaint to the Human Resources department at your organization. Otherwise, you can also reach out to certain trans rights organizations to help protect your rights.

Women’s equality in the workplace

Inclusion in the workforce requires women, in addition to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, to be provided with equal rights. In terms of women’s rights in the workplace, there are some different biases involved.

According to a research conducted at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, women are:

  • around 30% less likely to be considered for new positions compared to men
  • facing more difficulties in getting promotions
  • generally believed to be ‘less competent’

The gender pay gap between women and men is also still very much apparent. Discrimination stemming from systematic misogyny affects women all around the world, and as we mentioned before, it also affects workplaces negatively.

Here are some of the ways that women’s rights in the workplace can be protected:

  • Addressing issues of gender equality in the workplace openly and educating all employees,
  • Promoting non-discriminatory language use,
  • Establishing a secure workplace environment through strict policies against harassment and discrimination,
  • Eliminating the pay gap and providing equal payment opportunities,
  • Making sure hiring and promotion are not based on employees’ gender, marital status, family conditions and so on.

If you believe you’re being discriminated against on the basis of your gender identity or expression, you are within your rights to make complaints and take legal action. You can contact women’s organizations and nonprofits in your area and consult them on the legalities of your situation. As an option, if you’re in the US, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) can be a great resource for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights alike.

How to support transgender employees in the workplace

Ensuring the protection of transgender rights in the workplace and creating a work culture that welcomes diverse identities and experiences should be one of the core values of any company. This can be achieved in two stages: During the hiring process, and afterwards.

Protecting trans rights during the hiring process

Supportive and inclusive hiring practices are crucial when employers are trying to achieve gender equality in the workplace. The most important point, of course, is to encourage people of all identities to apply for open positions, and to disregard gender identities and expressions as a factor when making decisions.

Some helpful practices employers can implement for a more trans-inclusive workplace include:

  • Educating all employees on the importance of inclusive language use (for example, on the matter of respecting others’ pronouns),
  • Establishing a ‘diversity quota’ to promote more hiring opportunities for the overlooked LGBTQ+ professionals,
  • Supporting gender affirmation related health needs by providing inclusive healthcare insurance options, etc.

Supporting transgender employees in the workplace

To ensure the safety of transgender employees, it’s also essential to educate other employees on non-discriminatory workplace practices. There are many nonprofit and professional organizations (International Labor Organization, US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, etc.) that can help employers develop an inclusive nondiscrimination policy, provide educational seminars, and access further resources. If you are an employer who needs help creating a safe space and improving inclusion in the workplace, you can try partnering with them and work together to implement the right mechanisms.

It is everyone’s fundamental right to be hired and treated with respect at work, regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. To ensure this, along with individual workers knowing their rights and responsibilities towards others, it’s up to the employers to create equal opportunities and promote diversity in the workplace.

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Ceylin Güven

Ceylin Güven likes reading anything she can get her hands on, writing poetry that’s way too personal, and watching Studio Ghibli movies.