by Dionne Kettl,
Transformation Journeys Worldwide
To honor Black History Month, let’s look at tangible ways you can show that Black trans lives matter in your workplace. Support for Black trans and gender nonconforming (TGNC) employees begins with understanding; with hearing the intersectional challenges we experience when seeking employment and promotions. We’ll start there, and end with best practices you can implement to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace culture.
Show Black Trans Lives Matter in the Workplace: Hear My Story
As a Black, biracial, Millennial trans woman who transitioned in her youth, I have known the workplace joys and challenges experienced by many TGNC employees.
My first full-time job, which I landed in 2013, was with a large international bank. Through hard work and being bilingual in English and Spanish, I soon ranked #1 in sales for the district, and #3 and #6 in sales for the region and East Coast operations respectively. People with similar rankings were quickly promoted, but I was not, despite interviewing over 40 times within the span of three months. Soon after, I was terminated on a technicality because, as I later learned, I had “brought too much attention to myself” and there was concern that I would “turn into an HR legal issue.”
My next position was in the office of a national insurance company. When several of my agent’s clients took their business elsewhere, stating they “did not agree with who she decided to hire,” my contract was ended for “poor work performance” less than two months after I was hired. With no job and no familial or financial safety net to fall back on, I was soon evicted, homeless and had a car loan in default.
I quickly applied to five large financial institutions for teller and banker positions. In this industry, an applicant typically interviews with the recruiter and branch manager. However, I had up to eight consecutive interviews for one position, meeting with numerous middle and upper-level managers and even regional VPs, just to be offered a position that paid $33K a year—which I ended up not being eligible for after a credit check. To these companies, I was the perfect candidate on paper, but in person, my authentic self just didn’t work for them.
After being homeless for several months, I got a job packaging frozen chicken at a Hispanic majority plant. Having had finance experience, and being bilingual, mathematically inclined, and constantly mistaken for Puerto Rican, I was quickly promoted to Inventory Clerk. A few months later I was promoted to Budgeting Manager. While I encountered obstacles concerning my gender identity, all were mitigated. What resulted in greater challenges was my colleagues finding out my race—which illustrates the unique, intersectional layers of discrimination experienced by Black TGNC employees.
In 2018, I landed an HR Manager position with the leading sanitation company in the US where I have had several promotions and advancement opportunities.
My experiences with recruiters and HR personnel—ranging from highly positive to extremely negative—are what motivated me to put myself through college to become an HR professional. They are also why I am thrilled to be part of the Transformation Journeys Worldwide team, because I know, firsthand, the absolute necessity of the inclusion trainings we offer.
Support Black Trans Lives in the Workplace : Hear our Stories thru Stats
In order to support Black trans and non-binary employees, you must understand that my personal experiences are not unique. The largest national survey on the lives of TGNC Americans reflects my workplace challenges and demonstrates the impact of intersectionality. Of the almost 28,000 respondents to the 2015 US Trans Survey, 27% of those who applied for or had a job in the previous year reported being not hired, fired, or denied a promotion based on their gender identity or expression. But 37% of the Black TGNC respondents experienced these types of discrimination, which shows the challenges of employees who embody the intersections of minority race and marginalized gender identities. The impact of intersectionality is reinforced by this survey’s revelation that while white TGNC respondents experienced a 12% unemployment rate (which was already three times higher than the national US average of 4%), the unemployment rate for Black TGNC respondents was 20%. (See page 10 of the report’s Executive Summary for unemployment rates for TGNC people of other races/ethnicities.)
While you and I can both hope that things will get better as a result of last year’s Supreme Court ruling that included gender identity and sexual orientation under the workplace protections of Title VII, I think we must also be realistic. While Title VII has protected employees on the basis of race for over 50 years, we all know that disparities still exist when it comes to the hiring and promotion of Black people and other persons of color. So, what can you do to mitigate disparities in your workplace?
7 Best Practices to Support Black Trans Lives in the Workplace
1. Create a Culture of Equity and Inclusion
Creating an inclusive workplace culture for all employees is the best place to start. Core values like respect, understanding and/or inclusion provide a strong foundation for supporting Black TGNC employees. But companies must be committed to creating an equitable culture as well. Because Black TGNC people experience systemic barriers that disproportionately impact our access to viable employment, organizations must be intentional about creating equitable, and not just equal opportunities for hiring and promotion.
2. Establish TGNC Inclusive Policies and Benefits
Policies help create inclusive, equitable cultures. Black trans and non-binary employees feel supported by gender-neutral dress code policies, pronoun policies, gender transition guidelines and gender-neutral language policies, to name just a few. We also know a company values us when its benefits cover our unique healthcare needs.
3. Provide TGNC Cultural Competency Training for All Employees
Companies which have created highly inclusive cultures, even those who consistently score 100+ on the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, acknowledge that their employees still need help knowing how to interact respectfully with TGNC co-workers and customers. Because clients consistently reach out to us asking for training on navigating pronouns and avoiding microaggressions, we’ve included all these things, and much more, in our Trans 101 Training—which can be delivered virtually, in-person, or now as an LMS-based learning experience.
4. Have Courageous Conversations Around Race
In the same way that employees still need education concerning TGNC individuals, many leaders also need to develop a greater understanding of systemic racism and learn how to mitigate its workplace impact. Our strategic alliance partner, the Kaleidoscope Group, can help you in this endeavor.
5. Adjust Hiring Practices to Mitigate Unconscious Bias
From my own experiences I know that training for talent acquisition teams is especially needed. Recruiters need to be completely competent and comfortable with Black TGNC job applicants. They must know how to navigate challenges that may arise if our legal documents and student records do not match our current gender identity and expression, and be able to consider an applicant’s qualifications first and address a conviction or arrest record later, as recommended by the Ban the Box Campaign. In addition, I recommend that an anonymous (nameless, faceless, voiceless, genderless) interview process be tried, tested, and perfected with the goal of bypassing recruiter unconscious bias.
6. Include Black TGNC Panelists and Speakers
We know from the theory of intersectionality that embodying a marginalized ethnicity along with a minority gender creates challenges unique to that particular demographic. This means that the obstacles encountered by a Black trans woman like me may be quite different than those experienced by a white trans man or a Black cisgender woman. To address the unique challenges of Black TGNC people, you must first listen to understand. This requires being very intentional about including intersectional voices on speaker slates. When putting together a panel or booking keynote speakers for Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Disability Employment Awareness Month, Pride celebrations and Veterans Day observances, be sure to include Black TGNC people among your presenters. (Contact us for speaker recommendations and for info about the intersectional TGNC panels we offer.)
7. Offer Mentoring and Sponsorship to Black TGNC Employees
Another way you can demonstrate that Black trans lives matter is to mentor and sponsor us. Encouraging us to take advantage of such company programs and individual relationships goes a long way towards creating greater workplace equity for Black TGNC employees. As you heard from my story, while Black trans and non-binary employees experience many challenges, we also bring much talent and ability to the workplace. With your support, we can be even higher performing, more engaged, and more loyal members of your workforce.
These are just 7 of many best practices. Contact us to discuss these and other ways you can support your Black TGNC employees.