Role and responsibilities of HR in situations involving transgender employees

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Introduction

 

Progressing into the 21st century, the world boasts about moving forward into an intellectual and liberal era; an era with greater freedom to speak on various issues and more human rights. At the same time, sensitive taboo topics long scorned by religious fundamentals such as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender are hotly debated and several constituencies move forward with recognizing the right of this category of humans to live normal lives without discrimination.

In this report, specifically, the issue of changing gender is discussed with context to the corporate world. The company this report is addressed to, ‘Chemical Incorporation’ faces an unprecedented event where the sales director ‘Michael’ has chosen to change his gender and this has caused outrage amongst certain quarters of the organization. It is now the onus of Janet Merck, senior vice president for human resources to take necessary steps to ensure a smooth transition for transgender employees’ such as Michael and provide them with a work environment free from discrimination.

This report aims to give ideas and recommendations to the HR of Chemical Incorporation for tackling issues that may arise by an employee’s decision to change gender and how and what kind of support can they provide to transgender employees. The report is structured to first provide brief explanation on who are classified as transgender’ and examples of discriminations they face in workplace today. Then their legal rights to choice and freedom to live the way they want is listed with perspectives from various NGOs. Next, an in depth analysis on various support initiatives in dealing with cases of transgender employees that could be provided by HR is given. Finally, conclusions and cautions on issues discussed are provided to end the report.

Transgender – an explanation

 

Oxford English Dictionary (2008) defines transgender as “a person whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender, but combines or moves between these”. In other words, the basic assumption that therein consists of two genders in species of either being male or female is challenged and often proven inconsistent with reality. As Wester et al (2010) explain that transgender individuals feel more comfort and belonging to a gender which is the opposite of the one they posses biologically. It has to be however made clear that transgender differ from being gay or lesbian as the latter signifies a sexual orientation; however, in case of a transgender, they could fancy any gender but the vital idea is they feel more psychological attachment to a gender opposite to their biological gender at birth. A transgender could also opt for undergoing a sex-change surgery to complete switch over to their preferred gender.

 

Transgender –Rights to be free?

 

While the recognition of transgender people grows in today’s world, there are still several problems for them which could be considered as denial of their basic human rights. Other than general living in a society, most fundamental issue for transgender and other gay, lesbian and bisexual (LGBT – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) people is their right to earn a living in a free and unbiased environment at their workplaces. According to a report by Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC) (2009), more than 51% of LGBT workers hide their identity from most of their co-workers. The report also states that despite more equal opportunities and free from bias policies at major US corporations, only 5% of LGBT workers between the ages of 18-24 were ready to openly acknowledge their identity at work and this figure was 20% for the older cohorts. What worries more is that the report further elaborates that as many as 39% of these workers felt that by disclosing their identities, they will lose friends and family, 28% felt they wouldn’t be considered for promotion, another 17% felt they risked getting fired while nearly 13% considered threat to their personal safety. And in terms of personal safety, transgender people raised this threat to be more likely than the other LGB people.

The above report by HRC confirms the glaring reality that the society has still not completely accepted the existence of LGBT people and thus this discriminatory attitudes and fear of prejudice denies them their basic human rights. The HRC (2010a; b; c) provides real life narration of transgender people who were discriminated and forced at quitting their jobs. To give a few examples, Lauren Jansen worked passionately for 24 years at a constructions equipments dealer and when she decided to change her gender, she informed her manager about her decision. The firm reciprocated by firing her from her job. James Halleman who works as a steel safety expert was lucky that he didn’t lose his job after he announced his intention to undergo sex change; however, he received severe harassment from his co-workers which was turned a blind eye upon by the managers. Diane Schroer had successfully passed through a job application and was finalizing employment contract and pay details with the company; yet she had failed to inform the company that she was going to be changing her gender. When she decided to inform the company about her decision, her job offer was withdrawn the next day and explanation was openly given being her decision to change gender.

Based on above examples, it is apparent that discrimination against transgender people is widespread. Letellier (2003) states a figure that nearly 70% of the transgender people are unemployed or underemployed. Swain (1997) explained that most LGBT workers kept their private and professional lives far apart each other to avoid being harassed, terminated, discriminated in matters of promotions and bonuses, etc. Irwin (2002) added that this prejudice can have serious psychological impacts on LGBT people lives with increasing levels of anxiety/stress; depression; loss of confidence; and, in some cases, alcohol or drug dependency. As a result, several NGOs have taken a step forward and efforts are underway to recognize the right of LGBT people to breathe freely and live a normal life without discrimination.

 

Role and responsibilities of HR in situations involving transgender employees

 

The purpose of this report is to advise human resources of Chemical Incorporation on how to deal with Michael’s decision to change his gender and how to make this transition smooth for all stakeholders in the company. First of all, everyone in the company has to be reminded that it is unfair to discriminate anyone based on their personal traits as long as it doesn’t impact their performance at work. As Lewis (2009) says that diversity in today’s world extends more than just a person’s race or religion; it is also about one’s sexual orientation and corporations need to be careful about how they deal with LGBT employees. Chemical Incorporation has to accept that laws are in place to protect diversity and this diversity has expanded beyond the conventional boundaries. Leonard (2007) cites statistics that while in 2001, only eight companies of the Fortune 500 included gender identity in their nondiscrimination and diversity policies. By the end of 2006, the number of Fortune 500 companies with gender identity policies had increased to 124. Thus, Chemical Incorporation cannot afford to unfairly deal with this situation and encourage negative publicity should media turns public attention towards the case.

Meanwhile, HR is advised to formulate new organizational policies which are considered LGBT friendly. McNaught (1993), a corporate diversity consultant specializing on LGBT issues, had provided useful guidelines on devising equitable to all organizational policies which this report recommends to Chemical Incorporation. To apply a few of the McNaught guidelines, Chemical Incorporation has to draw up an employment policy which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and identity of individuals. Therefore, Michael has the right to remain at work regardless of his gender identity. Furthermore, the company stakeholders should be educated through seminars and/or leaflets raising awareness about transgender being a reality and to accept their existence. Besides, their plight of being forced to go through a life of fear and discrimination should be highlighted and peers should be encouraged to be more supportive. The work environment has to be created where there is mutual respect without bias and phobias about employee sexual characteristics. HR should provide a support group for all people identified in the LGBT group to give them a channel to raises their issues and provide them a comfortable work environment and also at the same time encourage other employees to be fair and just in their attitudes. From a public relations perspective, the company can actively support GLBT issues and also acknowledge openly that it is a fair and diversity promoting employer and where ‘all are welcome’. Overall, everyone should have an equal right to work and perform without being discriminated based on race, religion, sex, gender identity, etc.

There are several benefits from adopting such an attitude. To give an example, IBM has been named as UK’s most gay-friendly company in 2010 (Stevens, 2010) and as well as the best for transgender-friendly policies consistently (Leonard, 2007). The IBM’s European GLBT manager Benton claimed that such policies helped foster trust and honesty between colleagues and this led to increased productivity and better performance as employees worked honestly and did the best job they can (Stevens, 2010). Meanwhile, another diversity manager at IBM Salavich claimed that such policies helped employees feel cared for and it attracted the best possible job applicants to the company (Leonard, 2007).

However, caution must also be taken since LGBT issues are still not widely accepted amongst society and so there might be some loss of business for the company too. For example, Gilder, senior vice president and head of diversity for J.P. Morgan Chase mentioned that the company received some letters and calls from customers who wished to terminate dealings with J.P. Morgan Chase owing to their diversity policies. In return, the CEO politely replied that J.P. Morgan Chase will continue to support its employees regardless of their gender identities. However, Gilder says that while some customers are lost, other customers have been gained and there have been much better productivity gains as well. As Gilder stated, “Feeling safe and comfortable with who you are helps relieve stress and allows these workers to perform and be even more productive in their jobs. And isn’t that what any employer wants to get from their employees?” (pg. 34 Leonard, 2007)

Therefore, in today’s world, many corporations have taken the step forward in working towards recognition and support of LGBT workers and Chemical Corporation needs to follow suit.  McDonald (2004) suggests that companies such as American Airlines have worked on actively assisting transition of transgender employees with medical issues and have developed protective policies in areas of employee harassment, discipline, compensation, benefits, and training. It would be advisable for the HR of Chemical Incorporation to get in touch with these other corporations to seek advice and tips on such practices.

So before moving on to conclusion, just to mention some more recommendations from Kirk and Belovics (2008), Chemical Incorporation may also enhance transgender-friendly environment by encouraging applicants to indicate gender identity in forms and other situations so that they are more confident about themselves; by providing access to appropriate restroom facilities based on their gender identity; co-workers should be trained on the cultural competencies of transgender; and of course support groups for such people are very essential as it may deter feelings of homophobia among employees and this helps positively affecting employee motivation, organizational commitment and employee retention (Swain, 1997).

 

Conclusion

 

Moving towards conclusion, the report concludes that a subset of humans called transgender continue to encounter work related harassment and discrimination which is due to no fault of their own but their biological conditions. Chemical Incorporation HR has to effectively formulate an organizational plan based on advises mentioned earlier which will provide smooth transition to Michael’s gender change; and they have to educate all stakeholders involved about the reality of this change and to allow Michael to operate in a comfortable work environment. Yet, this change will not be easy as it is likely to face criticism from religious and orthodox groups specifically in non-democratic and non-secular countries where such human conditions are not recognized. Similarly, employees deeply affiliated with religious or other beliefs that shun such people would create problems and have to be dealt with appropriately. In the end, practically some major US corporations have taken the step forward and claimed of success with GLBT policies. It is hoped Chemical Incorporation may follow suit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

Human Rights Campaign Foundation (2009), “Degrees of Equality: A national study examining workplace climate for LGBT employees”. Downloaded from: http://www.hrc.org/documents/HRC_Degrees_of_Equality_2009.pdf as at 8th August 2010

Human Rights Campaign Foundation (2009), “Interview with Diane Schroer”, Available [Online]: http://www.hrc.org/issues/transgender/8106.htm as at 7th August 2010

Human Rights Campaign Foundation (2009), “Interview with James Halleman”, Available [Online]: http://www.hrc.org/issues/transgender/8104.htm as at 7th August 2010

Human Rights Campaign Foundation (2009), “Interview with Lauren Jansen”, Available [Online]: http://www.hrc.org/issues/transgender/8105.htm as at 7th August 2010

Irwin, J. (2002), “Discrimination against gay men, lesbians, and transgender people working in education”, Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, Vol. 14, pg.65-77.

Kirk, J. and Belovics, R. (2008), “Understand and Counseling transgender clients”, Journal of Employment Counseling, March 2008 – Vol. 45, pg. 29-43

Leonard, B. (2007), “Transgender issues test diversity limits: Some Companies reach out to workers changing genders”, HR News Magazine – June 2007, pg. 32-34

Letetlier, P. (2003), “Beyond he and she: A transgender news update”, Lesbian News, Vol. 28, pg. 24.

Lewis, J. (2009), “Making the connection: Diversity extends far beyond the issues of black and white”, Driving Diversity – Inside Counsel, Dec. 2009 – pg. 10

McDonald, J. (2004), “The transvestites’ bill of rights”, Employee Relations Law Journal, Vol. 29, pg. 92-101.

McNaught B. (1993), “Gay issues in the workplace”. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Oxford English Dictionary (2008), Definition of Transgender, Available [Online]: http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/00319380 as at 8th August 2010

Stevens, M. (2010), “IBM wins Stonewall equality list top spot”, People Management. January 2010, pg. 6.

Swain, W. (1997), “Gay/Lesbian/bisexual/transgender public policy issues: A citizen’s and administrators guide to the new cultural struggle”. Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press.

Wester, S., McDonough, T., White, M., Vogel, D., and Taylor, L. (2010), “Using Gender Role Conflict Theory in Counseling Male-to-Female Transgender Individuals”, Journal of Counseling and Development, spring 2010, Vol. 88, pg. 214-219