Joanne Lockwood, diversity, inclusion & belonging specialist and associate facilitator with Serenity in Leadership.
Chloe Shakesby

Transgender Day of Visibility: Diversity specialist Joanne Lockwood on how businesses can create “genuinely safe and supportive" workplaces

For this year’s International Transgender Day of Visibility, Bdaily spoke to diversity awareness specialist Joanne Lockwood.

Joanne is a diversity, inclusion & belonging specialist who also promotes transgender awareness to organisations, and an associate facilitator with Serenity in Leadership.

She chatted with us about the types of discrimination that transgender employees are facing - such as recruitment biases, how workplaces can create a safe environment and her hopes for the future of diversity and inclusion.

What types of discrimination are transgender employees facing?

“Trans employees, including transgender, non-binary and gender queer individuals, often face severe discrimination in the workplace - spanning from speculation and false rumours to severe harassment, including physical or sexual assaults.

“Biases and lack of awareness mean that opportunities for promotions and recruitment of transgender employees is often extremely poor. They can often feel trapped in one place of work in fear of being rejected for future employment.

“When someone transitions, workmates often act as if someone has died, or people disengage as they are not sure what to say and don’t know how to re-engage the friendship, resulting in that colleague being isolated and seen as less than they were.”

When you were transitioning, did your place of work help support you and how are things now?

“I had my own IT business with 20 staff and two co-directors. I found it very hard to transition at work and I was unable to share this part of me. I was struggling with my mental health at home and at work and not performing as well as I should.

“For me it felt easier to allow my co-directors to buy me out rather than face opening up to everyone. When I left, I already had this vision, passion and need to promote trans awareness to organisations. I know what it was (and is) like to be discriminated against, to feel marginalised, to have a sense of imposter syndrome.

“Now I have started my own practice specialising in inclusion and belonging, along with promoting trans awareness, and am able to use my lived experience to have conversations with people about discrimination and the impact of marginalisation.

“I now work all over the world as a global speaker, offering training and consultancy and talking on panels and podcasts and I am also a regular columnist - but I am keen not to be tokenised.

“I am extremely happy and comfortable living my life as a visible trans person and if I can give someone else inspiration to do the same or drive positive awareness, then I am doing something meaningful. I have been married for nearly 34 years, I have two great children, friends and parents and a brother who love me.”

Have things got any better in the workplace for transgender people in the last five years or so?

“In the workplace it is still often easier for an employer to find a reason to let a trans person go rather than have any sort of disruption, conflict or friction.

“Employers by proxy pass on bias such as beliefs that customers will be turned off and feel that they somehow need to protect the brand and reputation from us and stop questions being asked.

“Then of course there is the bare-faced anti-trans movement seen as a result of radical feminism or faith. There is extreme anxiety for the transgender person about being open and it can have a severe impact on their mental health.

“However, the debate has increased, there are many more trans allies and more education and awareness. We still need to break the eggs and it will likely take another generation to bring forth the required change. That is just in the UK though.

“There are still probably 80 countries in the world that don’t recognise or condemn the transgender community, and the UK could still do much better by removing the medicalised pathways to self-determination of gender and recognising non-binary as a legal third option on official documents.”

What is the most common stigma you have come across in your work in inclusion and belonging?

“Often when I give trans awareness talks, it ends up being about toilets and showers. I joke that I have made it to 56 years old and have become a toilet consultant along the way – because that’s what people want to talk to me about.

“The reality is that people are confusing trans people with predatory men and evil perverts. This couldn’t be further from the truth. We just want to get up in the morning, have breakfast, do a great job, come home, kiss our kids goodnight and smile like everybody else.

“This isn’t a lifestyle choice, it’s who we are.”

What needs to be done to protect, support and include transgender employees?

“Just because some people don’t actively disapprove of me doesn’t mean they will give me an opportunity. Employers tend to go for the easy hire even if they think they are forward and open thinking. They just want the corporate and perfect fit.

“The best place to start is to have a clear diversity policy. Employers need to review their values and make openly positive public statements on their website, careers pages, intranet and social media and to act as allies to trans, non-binary and gender diverse people. Importantly use diverse imagery so you aren’t just representing one type of person.

“We need to amplify role models and engage with trans and non-binary people when making change and developing the business; actively listening to them and ensuring they feel safe, that they belong and are thriving.

“Ensure your recruitment process is open and inclusive and regularly review your policies. When recruiting, review job adverts for gendered language and post them to sites for all sorts of diverse communities.

“Take harassment very seriously and have procedures and measures in place that you action without hesitation.”

How can employers create an environment where their staff feel safe to come out?

“It is important for organisations to prepare, to ensure that robust anti-discrimination, anti-bullying and respect policies are in place – not just for trans people, but for everyone. Companies can additionally ensure gender identity and sexuality awareness training is made available, and taken up, by staff at all levels - as well as any service providers used by the organisation.

“Organisations can instigate and support LGBTQ+ allies programmes and ensure that support is ‘sign-posted’ clearly throughout the organisation to ensure that everyone knows who they can talk to and get support from. Importantly, this cannot be a tick-box exercise.

“In order to succeed the workplace needs to have a culture where trans and non-binary individuals will feel genuinely safe and supported and this can be evidenced in areas such as health care provision, time off for gender identity related appointments, low to zero incidents of bullying, transphobic remarks and comments, and ensuring people are correctly gendered amongst many more ways.

“Putting pronouns on signatures, bios and social media is a start – it tells the world that this person/this organisation understands the importance of acceptance and support for diverse gender identities.”

If other employees have a lack of understanding or respect around a transgender member of staff, how should workplaces and management respond and educate?

“Employers should ensure that they have an acceptable language policy backed by training, and a zero-tolerance policy on breaches. Staff need to be aware of their own responsibilities, not just within the wall of the organisation but also in the wider society.

“Workplaces should deal with any complaints seriously and effectively within their policy framework and trans and non-binary employees should know about this and how to access support if necessary.

“Education should always be the first step to ensure that everyone knows what is good and what is bad language around various gender identities. This will also have a positive effect on reducing issues around workplace incidents of sexism and misogyny.”

This month, it has been reported than two thirds of trans people in the UK don’t feel safe coming out at work - Is this surprising?

“There has been a huge increase in anti-trans rhetoric over the past two to three years. The consultation process on the reform of the Gender Recognitions Act 2004 that started in October 2018 put the rights of trans people up for debate.

“It also mobilised a number of trans exclusionary radical feminist groups to engage vociferously in debates around trans inclusion in sport, sex based rights, trans youth and children seeking transition pathways through gender clinics, plus many other fronts.

“The debate became embroiled with one side pitched against the others with no real winners and any potential review or reform was shelved by the government for the foreseeable future.

“It is hardly surprising with this level of debate and discussion online, in the media and across government, that trans people feel more under threat now than they did before the start of this consultation process.

“Coming out, or being open, about your gender identity is, for most people, a significant event – fraught with anxieties around humiliation, rejection and discrimination. Workplaces are still not doing enough to ensure the trans people will be supported.

“Nor is there sign-posting that they are fully open to help transgender and non-binary staff and that they will be treated with dignity and respect – so it is not surprising that people don’t feel safe to have a conversation.”

What is the most positive experience you’ve had as a trans person in the workplace?

“For me personally, the best experience I have as an individual is when I am valued for who I am and the skills I possess, and where my ‘transiness’ isn’t an issue or a factor in how I am treated. I simply like being treated as every other woman would be, but without the sexism of course!

“As a freelancer/consultant, I meet numerous new organisations and people on a regular basis. As an inclusion and belonging specialist I often joke that I am ‘professionally trans’ which allows me the privilege of not needing to hide or cover my identity – it is part of my superpower and value add.

“As such, I have very few issues myself, but I suspect that is often because of the nature of the role I provide and the openness and acceptance of the organisation and people with whom I engage.”

What is your future dream for gender inclusion?

“I want to get to a place when one’s gender and sexuality aren’t relevant yet are recognised and celebrated. Acceptance without question. Where it stops being a conversation and is just understood.

“We are not there yet. In the meanwhile, we need to break down barriers, collaborate, raise awareness, and elect more inclusive governments and leaders.”

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