The coming-out for trans people in the workplace is typically successful-provided they are well planned and supported. The support you provide to your trans employees is crucial to the success!
“My experience in HR confirms that teams with different people often come to astonishing results. In doing so, trans people are contributing new perspectives and life experiences.”
Simon Graf, Specialist Recruitment, Die Post
What role do you have as an employer in the coming-out process?
As an employer, you are interested in the perspective that the trans person can function in the workplace effectively. Find out what the trans person needs in the workplace and determine how these needs can be implemented. The coming out in the team should be professionally, unexcited and clearly communicated.
You are a role model in dealing with the trans person! Make decisions together about the next steps.
What does a coming-out or a transition at the workplace mean?
A coming out at the workplace may include the following points:
- Change of name, greeting and pronouns, e-mail address, etc.
- A Change of clothes and styling, use of dressing rooms, toilets and other gender specific facilities
- The wearing of service clothing according to gender identity
The first priority is the trans person to decide which steps the coming-out will include. Trans persons have the right to be treated in the same way as cis persons of the same identified gender. Cisgender designates persons whose gender identity corresponds to the sex assigned at birth.
First coming out conversation: This is really important!
To show acceptance and support:
- Thank them for the confidence they have put in you and ensure your full support.
- Inquire who is already informed.
- Inquire about the needs of the trans person
- What can be changed in concrete terms? What challenges do they see ahead?
- Inquire about the schedule behind the coming-out.
- Offer to address the person immediately according to their correct sex. If the trans person accepts the offer, you will quickly find an opportunity to try out the new name, for example when you say goodbye after the conversation.
- If you want to trust other people to support you, ask for the permission of the trans person first.
- Agree on when to speak again and discuss more questions if necessary.
For any questions about trans in general and for the challenges you see in the company, the first conversation is not the right moment to have them. Questions about (planned) physical interventions are generally not permissible as they are intrusive and inappropriate.
Planning the coming-out: the next steps
- When and by whom will the direct supervisors of the trans person be informed?
- How much time is required for e-mail address, signature, service plans, name and door signs to be reset to the new name?
- What information about trans does the team need and which one would like to give the trans person additionally?
- Should an external specialist be consulted?
- Which communication channels will be used to inform which groups of people?
- What role does the trans person want to play?
- What will change with/after coming-out for the team?
Sharing the communication of the coming-out process with the team.
For the core team a team meeting is appropriate. A person from the team management should at least take over the moderation and on request also manage the coming out process. Sometimes it can also be useful to organize an information event on the subject of trans. Discuss in advance whether or not the trans person wants to be involved in this.
Information for the team:
- When will the changes be made? Ideally, the information and implementation are happening at the same time or within a short time.
- What is the new name and the right greeting?
- Use of gender-specific facilities
- How does the information flow to other employees and customers?
- The person and the work remain the same.
- Who will deal with any questions?
After communicating: Evaluate
For at least three months after coming-out, find out how the trans person is doing, how the new identify is adopted, and how the feedback is from other areas of work or from the clientele.
- Overwhelming – In individual cases, colleagues can be overwhelmed at facing the topic of trans identity. Talk to these people and signal your willingness to talk.
- Personal Greeting – Sometimes colleagues may find it strange initially to use the new name and the new pronoun. Give yourself every opportunity to use the new pronoun and the name when other colleagues are present.
- Bullying – In individual cases, the trans person may be shunned or even bullied. Approach the perpetrators directly. Bullying is never the victim’s fault.
An Example Scenario
Ms Meier, who has worked with you as Mr. Meier, tells you that she is trans. She is in charge of face-to-face contact with customers who will commission software solutions for your company.
Ms Meier has stated that she would like to appear and be addressed according her identity as a woman in the foreseeable future. She has expressed concerns about how she should communicate with the existing customers or whether it would be better to give up existing customers and to take care of new customers after the coming-out.
Ms Meier would like to inform her direct supervisors over the next few days. Then, together with the IT department and the relevant authorities, you will clarify the time horizon for the change of name. Ms Meier wants to write a personal letter to the team in addition to oral communication from the supervisors. With regard to the handling of the customers, both of you are still unsure and consider asking an external specialist for advice.
An Example Communication:
“I have a personal message that is not everyday information. It’s about a team member from the customer service unit. The person we have known as Stefan Meier so far is trans. This means that Ms Meier was identified as a boy at her birth. This has turned out to be inappropriate. Her self-chosen new name is Annika. We strongly support that Annika will remain within our company as Ms Annika Meier, and thus be the person she really is.”
“Annika will leave after today’s team meeting and come back tomorrow in an appearance that fits better to her true identity. We will adopt and use the new and correct terminology immediately and there will also a new mail address from tomorrow. Like any other woman in the company, Annika will use the appropriate toilets. We will inform the remaining employees by e-mail after this meeting. Annika will inform her customers herself by the end of the week. Important: Annika determines who is allowed to know that she is trans. If you have any questions, you can contact me or Annika. This can also be in a few days, maybe the information has to sit for a while. Basically, we will have a ‘new employee’ who we know very well and who knows the company well. We congratulate Annika on the important step and hope that we will continue to have a good relationship.”