How to avoid discriminating against transgender candidates

Avoiding discrimination against transgender candidates in the hiring process

Transgender people have more visibility than ever before. And it’s only a matter of time before you welcome a trans employee to your workforce – if you haven’t already.

But that welcoming inclusiveness starts with the hiring process. To learn about the steps a company can take to avoid discriminating against transgender candidates, we spoke with Stan Kimer, president of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer, about boosting inclusiveness to attract top talent.

Send the right message

Inclusiveness begins with the image you present to the world – and your recruitment tools play a key role.

“A lot of companies produce diversity in hiring videos,” says Kimer, citing one from IBM that takes particular care to integrate the T into a discussion of LGBT inclusivity:

“Whether it’s a website, a brochure or flyer, or a video about diversity, include a transgender person, talking about feeling welcomed in your company as a transgender person,” he says.

Your company’s public profile can go even further. “When you publicize information about your employee resource groups, spell out that you have pride for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, and ally employees,” says Kimer.

“Support community organizations; a lot of companies have budgets for supporting community events, with earmarks for diversity constituencies. If there is, for example, a transgender conference in town that’s looking for sponsorship or company ads, spend a little money and put an ad out there.”

Here are a few other things to consider to ensure your recruitment materials are sending the right message:

  • Do your job postings state your equal opportunity/inclusive hiring practices?
  • Does your website include a section on your inclusivity measures?
  • Do your social media posts give people insight into your corporate culture? If yes, do they include events like Pride, which show your support of the LGBTQ+ community?
  • Does your employee resource group or diversity council include transgender people, or well-informed allies?

“You want to have the right corporate policy, and also to be very public about it,” says Kimer.

“That will speak volumes to transgendered people and their allies, and signal that you offer an open and inclusive workplace.”

Check your bias

Recruitment efforts count for nothing if your hiring is biased. Implicit bias is notoriously difficult to weed out, so be proactive in ensuring your hiring managers are equipped to minimize it.

“They need to be trained to look for the very best person with the best qualifications for the job,” says Kimer. “That trumps anything.”

Working to eliminate implicit bias applies not just to discrimination against transgender candidates, but to all candidates, whatever their gender, sexual orientation, race or age.

To address implicit bias, check out our recent post on biased hiring. For more info, Harvard’s research into implicit bias includes tests that are available to the public. Project Implicit also offers online resources, as well as consultation on training staff – including hiring managers – to avoid the pitfalls of implicit bias.

Review your paperwork

Don’t let paperwork be the thing that trips you up. “On the HR side, there might be mismatches between old data and a candidate’s current status,” explains Kimer.

“For example, the name on the college transcript may not match the name on the application, or a person who’s early in their transition process might have their new name on their resume, but have their old name on their social security records.”

Ideally, candidates will alert HR to the discrepancy. But whatever the case, information about a candidate’s or employee’s gender history is strictly confidential. Nobody outside of HR, including the hiring manager, is entitled to this personal information, unless it has some bearing on their ability to do the job.

Here are a few questions to ask about your HR paperwork to reduce the chance of miscommunication, while also demonstrating your inclusivity:

  • If your application or onboarding forms ask for gender, how is the question phrased?
  • Is there a way to enter non-binary gender information that’s not relegated to the alienating use of “Other”?
  • Is there a way to let candidates identify their choice of pronouns, even if they are not the usual ones?
  • Is there space to let candidates distinguish between their legal name and their preferred name?
  • How easily can your employees have their business cards or company profiles updated to reflect a new name or pronoun?
Welcome them – on their terms

How you introduce a new trans employee to their new coworkers will depend, to some extent, on your employees.

If your office is young and urban, they may take it in stride. On the other hand, if your office includes more than a few conservative individuals, you’ll want to take steps to make sure your new employee gets the welcome they deserve.

First and foremost, it’s important to let your new employee determine the parameters they’re comfortable with. Some may appreciate it if HR gives their department a refresher in sensitivity training and professionalism before their arrival, while others may not want to attract attention to their gender non-conformance at all.

The HR contact should make clear that any information disclosed, and the type of introduction they’re given, is entirely up to the trans employee. “Whatever the communications plan, it has to be done sensitively, and developed with the HR support person working directly with the transgender employee,” says Kimer.

In all cases, HR should be prepared to field questions from both the trans employee and their coworkers – perhaps even advertising a “safe space” where people can ask general questions free of judgment.

While the need to respect people’s autonomy and privacy should be obvious, Kimer points out that there’s a business case as well:

“You want your company to succeed. You want to recruit the best employees working together, contributing to their maximum amount, so that you maximize your business success.”

See also:
Gender-inclusive washrooms: what employers need to know
How to avoid discrimination when interviewing


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