A more diverse idea of diversityTrans.jpg

We talk about the millennial generation quite a bit in the workforce solutions industry. And there’s good reason. They make up the bulk of the U.S. labor force today. They’re also the most eclectic bunch of talent the economy has seen. Immigration and globalization have contributed mightily to this. These new generations of talent aren’t just bringing a more robust mix of races, ethnicities, cultures and beliefs to businesses — they’re exposing them to a more open discussion of diversity categories not often talked about, such as sexual orientation and gender identity. Not only do Millennials embrace and cherish diversity, they don’t understand or tolerate prejudice. They’re attracted to business cultures that echo this sentiment.

Consider the tech industry, a favorite space among Millennials. Prior to the end of 2014, few organizations in that sector were willing to discuss internal demographics. Now, they’re actively making inroads to heightened inclusion efforts by releasing workforce data and using that information to benchmark, strategize, forecast, measure and improve progress toward the realization of a truly representative global employment culture.

One of the hottest topics surrounding diversity today is gender identity. Issues of gender-based discrimination aren’t new, yet they’re taking newer turns. Absurd as it may sound, concerns are cropping up all over the country about who can visit which bathroom or why Disney and Target are no longer labeling children’s Halloween costumes by gender. The more we focus on differences, the more we consume ourselves with those differences — not the 99-percent of our being that connects us all as humans. And the transgender community, in the view of too many people, remains on the periphery. In following the best practices laid out by longstanding LGBT advocacy groups, MSPs can help their clients abandon fears of differences and start preoccupying themselves with mutual wins.

Transgender persons aren’t confused about their identities — too many others are

A few months back, a female gym member at Planet Fitness lodged a complaint about a transgender person who was using the ladies’ room. The “violator” in question was born male and now identifies as female. So how did Planet Fitness react? The response was inspiring, refreshing and enlightened:

“Planet Fitness is committed to creating a non-intimidating, welcoming environment for our members. Our gender identity non-discrimination policy states that members and guests may use all gym facilities based on their sincere self-reported gender identity.”

The fitness chain further ruled the complaining member’s behavior to be disruptive and inappropriate. So Planet Fitness revoked her gym privileges and canceled her membership.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender talent are still fighting for recognition — the right to be open about their identities, without the threat of retaliation, and equal protection under the law. While 91 percent of Fortune 500 corporations prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, analysts, and business leaders still endorse a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And there endure 29 states where it’s legal to fire LGBT talent.

However, every savvy business leader already knows that exclusion is counterproductive. Discriminatory laws actually kill bottom-line profits. The whites in 1960 Greensboro discovered that the sit-in protests hurt their businesses more than integration could have. Overall sales at the time dropped by 20 percent. Profits got cut in half. Conversely, sales in the South’s desegregated companies soared. Within a year of the first protests, businesses across more than 100 towns and cities pushed to integrate. Also consider merchants in Mississippi last year. Bakeries, caterers, photographers and other shopkeepers displayed messages warning LGBT consumers to take their cash elsewhere. And they did. Competing business owners, who posted signs welcoming all customers unconditionally, saw a hefty spike in sales.

A whole new world of customers

Celebrities and public figures coming out is becoming a more familiar sight. Ellen, Anderson Cooper, Michael Sam, and Apple CEO Tim Cook have broken serious ground in this regard. They also serve as positive examples of courage and strength for others to follow. Cook, in particular, represents a new milestone: he’s the first Fortune 500 CEO to divulge his sexual orientation publicly. And we’re witnessing the same exciting revelations from transgender talent. Bruce Jenner’s very public transformation to Caitlyn is one such example. And we can’t ignore the blossoming careers of Hari Nef and Andreja Pejić in the fashion world.

There’s also Apple Model Management, founded in Thailand and now open in Los Angeles, which became the first modeling agency in history to install a dedicated transgender division. “We see trans individuals as beautiful,” Director Cecilio Asuncion told The Advocate, a powerful media voice for the LGBT community. “Our strong commitment to developing them as successful models is never about quantifying or qualifying their gender. It’s never a question of if they are women or men, it’s about their passion and commitment to being the best possible models they can be.”

Asuncion’s message rings with humanity and compassion. Beyond the realms of glamor and the arts, her words hold equally true for the business world. Talent are themselves living marketers. By tapping into the backgrounds and experiences of diverse workers, business become better positioned to market their products and services to a broader demographic. If your company promotes its commitment to transgender talent, for example, and if you’re seriously soliciting their insight to help shape your offerings, you’re incredibly more likely to capture the attention of an entirely new consumer base.

Despite the fact that 90 percent of transgender people report experiencing workplace harassment, discrimination and mistreatment, inclusion in the workplace is subtly rising. “In the year 2000, there were three Fortune 500 companies that included gender identity in their employee nondiscrimination policies,” Vanessa Sheridan, author of The Complete Guide to Transgender in the Workplace, noted in 2013. “Today, over half of Fortune 500 have implemented such policies. More major corporations are lining up to join them on an almost daily basis. This marks a significant, relevant, and timely business trend that carries worldwide implications for transgender workers and society as a whole.”

Two years later, those numbers continue to grow. Sheridan also cites compelling reasons to consider transgender inclusion efforts — points that are especially compelling in MSP programs:

  • To attract, recruit, and retain top talent
  • To position a company (especially from a marketing perspective) as a diversity leader within its industry, the larger business community, and society in general
  • To increase the influence of internal branding on the company’s talent, which is often the result of effective, inclusive organizational policies that impact the well-being of all workers

Best practices to transgender workplace inclusion

So how do we get there? For companies that operate with traditional employment arrangements, decisions regarding culture and HR must originate from internal leaders. In a contingent labor program, however, talent have a variety of advocates with the expertise, influence and dedication to drive enhanced diversity initiatives. Following the recommendations of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is a great place to start this journey.

As the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, the Human Rights Campaign represents a force of more than 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide — all committed to making HRC’s vision a reality. HRC envisions a world where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

Institute and champion “Gender Identity or Expression” as a protected category

  • Help curb and prohibit potential discrimination against transgender talent by developing “gender identity or expression” among the list of protected categories in the program’s non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies across the enterprise.

Establish gender transition guidelines

  • In collaboration with MSPs, staffing suppliers can develop protocols for talent who are transitioning or preparing to transition, which clearly define the responsibilities and expectations of the workers, their supervisors, clients, staffing partners, MSP teams, colleagues and other staff. MSPs can capitalize on their access to and influence with senior management to visibly sponsor support for the talent.

Provide information and training to foster empathy, education, and compliance

  • The onboarding experience provides an excellent opportunity to incorporate diversity and gender identity education. Include sections specific to gender expression in Equal Employment Opportunity compliance training programs.

Update personnel records

  • It’s important for compliance, good housekeeping, and the worker’s self-esteem to update personnel records that reflect the change. Be prompt about amending the transitioning employee’s name and gender in all personnel and administrative records, including directories, email servers, org charts, time and attendance systems, business cards, and others.

Coordinate restroom and locker room access according to the worker’s gender identity

  • MSPs, their staffing partners, client hiring managers and HR should work together to permit transgender talent to use sex-segregated facilities that correspond to their full-time gender presentation, regardless of that individual’s overall stage in the transition process.

Attempt to enforce gender-neutral dress codes

  • Modifying dress codes to provide greater levels of neutrality helps avoid stereotyping. Transgender talent should be allowed to dress in alignment with their full-time gender presentation. Applying these standards consistently is key to success.

Attempt to overcome exclusionary health insurance restrictions

  • Where possible or applicable, medically necessary treatments and procedures, such as those defined by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders, should be included in any sponsored benefits coverage (e.g., healthcare and short-term disability).

Transcending biases and transitioning to success

In the workplace, as in society, all people should be safe and treated with the dignity they deserve. This doesn’t always happen, we know. Change is uncomfortable for many and acceptance can be a glacial process. Slow as it may be, we have seen the ongoing evolution of civil rights and inclusion in the history of the United States. In many ways, the workplace, as a microcosm of our communities, tends to make significant and positive impacts on the rest of society. By championing and supporting transgender talent, MSPs, and their staffing partners can enhance our businesses, our workforces, and our worldview.