Trans Workforce, the first Canadian transgender career and networking fair, was held last November in Toronto.
To find out more about the fair, we spoke to Trans Workforce founder Biko Beauttah.
Workopolis: You were born in Mombasa and came to Canada as a refugee. Is it more difficult living as a trans person in Africa?
BB: That’s a very tricky question. To be trans in Canada is different than being trans in Uganda, where most would say is the worse place to be LGBT in the world. However, to be trans in Uganda and to be trans in Canada is technically the same thing because you still can’t find work. You still face the same transphobia.
The only difference is that in Canada we’re protected by federal laws and policies within institutions. But even though you have this, they are not really applied. If they were, there wouldn’t be discrimination in the workplace. There wouldn’t be high suicide rates among trans people.
So, on paper, it looks like it’s good to be trans in Canada. But you still face transphobia, and that’s the same thing no matter where in the world you are in.
What are some of the challenges facing trans job seekers?
Before transitioning, I tried applying to several jobs, and if I didn’t get a call back, I would think I didn’t answer a question properly in my interview, my resume wasn’t good enough, or there was someone who was better than me. But as a trans woman, you’re never really sure. You can have a PhD, speak ten languages, and chances are you are not going to get the job.
You know, people say to me, nobody can tell you’re transgender – I have what people call passing privilege – but if I am applying for a job, they still have to do background checks. They will still contact my past employer, and if the name that I am using currently is Mary, what happens if my name was John then? That’s a red flag. Other people don’t have to worry about these things, but we do, even though you and I know that it’s illegal to use these things against us. But they use on it on trans people.
My best evidence of this is that we don’t see trans people working. If I ask you for the names of gay and lesbian people you’ve worked with, you can probably name many. But if I ask you to name a trans person you’ve worked with, you wouldn’t be able to.
No, I wouldn’t.
Right. Next question.
What can employers do to be more inclusive?
Honestly, it’s very simple. Like I said, within the borders of most countries in the developed world, you are supposed to abide by equality and justice for all.
And companies have their own rules and mandates for equality, diversity, and inclusion. You already have the systems in place. So what they can do is apply them. Just treat us the same.
Where did the idea for Trans Workforce come about?
The idea for Trans Workforce came from my own inability to find work. I thought I was smart and that I shouldn’t have been having this trouble. I found that even when companies talk about inclusion and diversity, they only want this to be at the bottom – this diversity and inclusivity is not reflected anywhere except in entry level positions.
So, aside from resources for trans people, Trans Workforce also has a program that is specifically geared towards encouraging employers to be more inclusive – throughout their organizations.
Did you always intend to have a job fair?
The idea came about roughly four years ago, and I tried to do it a few times before actually managing it, but it failed every time because of a lack of support, among other things.
At the time, I didn’t see anybody else doing something like this, but since then, a lot of people in other cities and countries have also decided to try, so people are more open to it. I think the time has come to put transgender rights at the forefront.
What was the reaction to the fair?
Well, people wanted to take part in it, but there was some hesitation. They would say, “It’s never been done before. We don’t know if it’s going to come through.” They were discouraging … but then we started to get more attention, and it ended up selling out.
In all, we had about 19 companies and over 300 people attending the job fair. I was not prepared, however, for the gratitude – I had people coming up to me and saying, “Thank you for doing this.” I was not prepared for that. One person came all the way from California to be there, imagine! I nearly fainted when he told me that.
So when people ask, “Was the job fair successful?” I think of him and say yes.
What do you see for the future of the job fair? Will this become an annual event?
Yes. In fact, I’m happy to say that we’ll be hosting our next event in the Spring of 2018. An announcement will be made soon.
So for Trans Workforce, this is just the beginning of something very special.