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When it Comes to Transgender Workplace Inclusion Are You Resting on Your CEI Laurels?

So, the HRC’s Corporate Equality Index for 2016 (CEI) has been out for a few months now and there are a number of companies that are newly minted “100’s” – in addition to the incumbent companies that have occupied the “perfect CEI score” space for a number of years now. In fact, according to my friends at the HRC’s Workplace Equality Program, the 2016 report contains the largest number of companies – 417 – that have garnered that coveted 100 score since its inception in 2002, and with it the right to promote themselves as “the best places to work for LGBT equality.” What’s more, a total of 511 “less-than-100” companies surveyed for the 2016 CEI now offer trans-inclusive healthcare – from a grand total of zero back in 2002. I suppose that means that there are 94 companies that still have work to do on one or more of the other CEI criteria, but I digress.

Regardless of the measurement, progress on transgender workplace inclusion has been clearly and definitively made and that is something we all can be very proud of. However, just because we’ve reached this new plateau doesn’t mean the work is finished. Hardly.

Flip the CEI over on its axis and you’ll see what I’m talking about. All you need do is look at the total number of companies that are a part of the survey – 851 – and do the math. Depending on which of the aforementioned numbers you choose, that means either 40% or 51% of companies on the survey still have unfinished business when it comes to creating fully inclusive workplaces for their transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) employees and recruits – and by any measure, that’s still too many.

It is important to emphasize that this only pertains to the policy portion of the conversation. Arguably, the workplace inclusion narrative on transgender and GNC individuals has focused almost exclusively in this area. While that, of course, is beyond essential for creating the foundation for a safe and welcoming workplace, it is by no means a panacea.

Allow me to draw a personal parallel. When I transitioned a number of years ago, many of my colleagues and friends (both straight and LGBTQ) said that once my gender reassignment surgery (a choice, by the way, that was consistent with my own journey, and not meant to represent the entirety of the trans population) had been completed, my journey to my true self was also. The reality was that it was only just beginning, as I set out into the world living into my true self each and every day – and it continues to this day.

It’s much the same for trans and GNC workplace equality. Just because the policy work has been completed in a company does not mean the work is finished. In so many ways, it now signals a new phase of work that is equally, if not more, important: moving from policy to practice. As Chad Griffin, the HRC’s President, put it in his preamble to the latest CEI, “But we know that policies in and of themselves do not always translate into genuine inclusion of the transgender community. Critical cultural shifts need to take place to foster greater inclusion of the entire LGBT community.”

The reality of the matter is that for many companies, whether or not they have any “out” trans or GNC employees – that they know of – the next chapter of this workplace inclusion story will revolve around more basic things that will breathe life into their foundational policies. I have found, that for many of the companies I have worked with, more practical guidance is needed so that HR and D&I professionals can become more comfortable working with a transgender-identified person – for perhaps the first time in their life.

What type of practical guidance am I referring to? It has been my experience that this guidance falls into what I call the “Three C’s” of trans/GNC workplace inclusion:

Communication & Language
Cultural Acuity
Continued Education

Communication & Language

Communication can often be seen as the most basic of workplace skills, but it can often be the most overlooked. When viewed through the lens of trans/GNC workplace inclusion it is even more important. Communicating sincerely with authentic intent, along with non-verbal cues that send the message that you really do care is something that you might view as quite rudimentary, but to the trans/GNC employee – be they established or a new hire – it means everything, because for many, respectful conversation is seen as quite affirming of who they have always known themselves to be.

In this space I have previously discussed the importance of “getting the language right,“ because for many managers, doing the right thing involves not wanting to embarrass themselves or insult their trans/GNC colleagues by using incorrect or inappropriate words – like pronouns, for example. To be sure, that can be rather daunting for the uninitiated, but here’s the thing: when in doubt about what to say – just ask. What’s more, there are plenty of wonderful resources available to guide you in these conversations. For your reference, I have listed these at the conclusion of this article.

Cultural Acuity

When it comes to your company’s culture I have always felt that any workplace inclusion effort does not occur in a vacuum. Your strategy and tactics are always developed and executed against the backdrop of your company’s culture – and only you know what that is, for it can vary widely from enterprise to enterprise. But to be successful in bringing trans/GNC workplace inclusion policy into common practice it will require you to become a student – if you aren’t already – of your particular company’s culture. Only the culturally savvy individual – regardless of whether you are an HR or D& I professional, employee resource group leader or manager of a trans/GNC employee – will know how to navigate this culture to successfully build alliances with effective executive sponsors and business unit leaders who can further the cause of trans/GNC workplace inclusion.

The concern that I have is that despite our best efforts, we still are combatting bias – both conscious and unconscious – towards trans/GNC employees in workplaces across Corporate America. It is precisely this bias, regardless of your CEI score and adopted policies, that can inhibit trans and GNC employees from participating fully in ALL of the opportunities available to them within the enterprise: such as leadership and career development initiatives and opportunities for movement across business units and work teams.

Continued Education

In the end, diligence, persistency and continued education will carry the day as you embark on the objective of imbuing your organization with the special type of compassion that is required to ensure that your workplace practices the tenets of trans/GNC inclusion that your policies outline. Make no mistake about it, regardless of ever-increasing levels of visibility for the transgender community in popular culture, the need for education is great. It is precisely this element that can serve to eliminate fear and ultimately sow the seeds of acceptance – and inclusion – for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals both inside and outside of the workplace.

This story was originally featured in the February 22, 2016 edition of Diversity Best Practices’ Diversity in the News.

We Are All Orlando

I feel so utterly deflated and numb by the hateful and horrendous events that have unfolded in Orlando.  I am in pain.  The wind has been taken out of my sails.  I am angry.  I am depressed.  On an emotional level, it brings front and center the same array of feelings I experienced when I was working in Manhattan on September 11, 2001.  At its best, it is disturbing; at its worst paralyzing.

Innocent, vibrant lives were taken far too early.  Bright lights of hope for a better, more loving tomorrow snuffed out in the blink of an eye and in the muzzle flash of an AR-15. One hundred and two families forever changed by the horror of that night seared into their memory.  As I write this, there are some parents that still do not know the whereabouts of their children. I pray for them.  I pray with them.

This was not ISIS; this was not some quasi-radicalized terrorist.  Quite the contrary.  This was an act of pure, unadulterated hate.   The kind of hate that blinds and eviscerates the soul of the person who embodies it.  That was Omar Mateen.  By all accounts thus far, he calmly and unemotionally stalked his prey and carried out his perverse plan, unaffected and unmoved by the cries and pleadings of his victims.

When I woke up Sunday morning, the news had broken, but the extent of the carnage had yet to be revealed. It wasn’t until I reached the park in Brooklyn where I was being taped for a Logo series that I found out from the production team that 50 people (50 people!!!!) had perished. My heart immediately sank, and I suspect it will remain heavy for a very long time.  Tears come rather easily.

Because you see, I may not have actually met – in person – the patrons of The Pulse nightclub, but I am intrinsically connected to them.  They are, for all practical purposes, my brothers and sisters.  They are, in a very real way, a part of my family.  We share a common bond, a common thread – we are all unique.  In one form or another, we have let our freak flags fly high and wide.

We have suffered the indignities of those who choose hate over love and throw their version of the Bible at us at every turn.  We have felt the loss of loved ones and friends who either could not, or would not, see past what they did not understand to the loving human being that lies within.  We have struggled with that strange brew of excitement and sheer terror that comes with – finally – revealing our true selves to our co-workers and hoping we won’t be fired on the spot. We felt the exhilaration of the immense weight lifting off of our shoulders when we weren’t.  We all have slowly opened up the door of our very dark closet to embrace the light of day that was always waiting outside – for all those years.

The South African Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls this connectedness Ubuntu.  He describes it this way, “‘It is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. . . They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are.” 

Make no mistake . . . there is a disturbance in the force.

But lest we forget, this is Pride Month – it is our time to hold up our heads proudly and demand that we take our rightful place in society. Our voices, though perhaps temporarily weakened by the tears we shed and the cries of justice we shout for our brothers and sisters who perished in this horrific act of hate, must never be silenced. In fact, we must be louder and prouder and queer-er than ever.

We must be seen.  We must be heard.  We must be strong. 

We must be fearless.

Sure, do it for yourself and for those closest to you – the ones that love you unconditionally and celebrate the awesome person you are.  But more importantly, do it for your brothers and sisters in Orlando – both the perished and the survivors – because they are an elemental part of your family.

We need to hold on tightly to each other and our allies and love each other like we never have before. We do so to honor and celebrate the lives of the fallen and to remind ourselves that we are amazing points of light that will never allow our collective flame to be extinguished.

We stand in solidarity with Orlando, because we are all Orlando.

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Stephanie Set to Return to the Forum on Workplace Inclusion

As she did last year, Stephanie will be returning to speak at the 2016 edition of the Forum on Workplace Inclusion sponsored the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business and being held at the Minneapolis Convention Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 29 – 31.

On Wednesday, March 30 from 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm she will present a workshop entitled, “So What Do We Do NOW? Evolving the Transgender Workplace Inclusion Narrative from Policy to Practice.”

The session overview outlines what will surely be an interactive and enlightening workshop for all who attend:

The current narrative with regard to the workplace issues of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals has tended to focus on the events and preparations leading up to the time of transition itself. This lively and engaging session evolves the conversation beyond this stage and covers an area that up to now has not been discussed—the post-transition (and beyond) story.

A major international voice in the workplace equality movement for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, Stephanie throws open the shutters of this darkened room and casts a bright light on the pertinent issues that D& I and human resource professionals need to know to successfully transform their workplaces into a truly welcoming environment for ALL of their employees. Participants will learn key actionable takeaways that will “bring to life” their transgender-inclusive workplace policies and procedures – and leave better prepared to be an advocate / ally.

To learn more about this wonderful conference, you can access a downloadable PDF summary HERE.  

You can also access the 2016 Forum website HERE.

Hope to see you there!

Stephanie On Caitlyn Jenner – & Other Women’s Topics – On Huff Po’s #WMN

Screen Shot 2015-06-26 at 7.09.50 AMEarlier this month on June 4th  I had the pleasure to appear as a live in-studio guest on the the Huff Post Live show “#WMN,” hosted by the wonderful Carol Modarressy-Tehrani.

It was a privilege to  be joined by two other terrific women, doing outstanding work in their own fields – and making a difference at the same time:  Author Leora Tanenbaum and Nakisha Lewis, from the Ms. Foundation.  While I was there primarily to discuss my take on Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out in Vanity Fair, what made it even more special for me was that I had the opportunity to be a part of a larger conversation about issues of the day important to all women.  It truly was an awesome experience with plenty of lively conversation.

You can view a video of the show in its entirety Huff Post

 

Stephanie Serves as Consultant to Diane Sawyer & ABC News on Groundbreaking Bruce Jenner Interview

As I settle in to write this, 48 hours have passed since the airing of the Diane Sawyer interview with Bruce Jenner.  17 million viewers, over 675,000 tweets and innumerable Facebook posts (including mine!) later, I feel compelled to ask the question:  so what has the transgender and gender non-conforming community gained as the afterglow of this past Friday’s watershed event ever so slowly begins to fade?  In a word:  Plenty.

To better substantiate my claim, let me first take you back to Tuesday of last week when I found myself at the ABC News studios in Manhattan in a conference room with Diane Sawyer and her production team.  We were all gathered together that evening to screen, for the first time, the program in its entirety.  I was asked to serve as a consultant to the team at ABC because it was very important to them that a trans person not involved with the production itself had a chance to provide input and offer insights on the show.  From the moment I met everyone, it was very apparent that Diane and her entire team had a sincere desire to make sure that the finished product was a genuine, honest and human portrayal of not only Bruce’s journey, but of the myriad issues that the transgender and gender non-conforming community face.  And you know what?  They hit it completely out of the park in all respects.ratings26n-3-web

The point that I made that evening that thankfully was not lost on anyone in the room was the importance of not losing sight of the larger context within which Bruce’s story was being told.  To be sure, the main drawing card of the show is Bruce’s story: to finally hear what he had to say – his feelings, his emotions, and his journey thus far – it provided a much needed counterpoint to the tired, overblown and all-too-intrusive tabloid coverage that we’ve had to endure of late.

But the program would have done a horrible disservice to the trans/gnc community if it did not employ the forum that the story of Bruce’s journey to embrace his authentic and true self provided.  Thankfully, that was not the case at all – and that’s a very good thing.

The legacy that the show will leave behind has yet to be fully written.  For one thing, Bruce’s transition is far from over.  In so many ways, it is only just beginning.  Months from now, when we look back on what transpired last Friday night, that fact will be quite apparent.  But the immediate – and I hope lasting impact – is its ability to instantaneously create a public discourse – a conversation about not only the issues facing the trans/gnc community, but who we are as human beings – in places where perhaps it has never happened before across the country.  The opportunity this presents for our community to simply tell our stories, have them be heard and, most importantly, to educate – is what the real legacy of this moment is.

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As I was rushing home on Friday night from another commitment I had in New York City, I had one eye on my Facebook feed to see what people’s reaction to the interview was. Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  Having already seen the show I knew that it was a solid, non-sensationalistic portrayal, but that was just one trans person’s opinion, and obviously mine was just a bit biased.

What I saw amidst the repeated pinging and buzzing of my phone was one very obvious truth: people were all talking to each other about what was unfolding before them on the television screen.  They were sharing their stories.  They were sharing their feelings. They were teaching.  Teaching everyone that we share one common desire:  to be happy.  The pursuit of happiness – a concept our founding fathers got a long time ago.

To see such a display of truth and authenticity left me feeling grateful – for having had the opportunity to serve as a consultant to Diane & her team, emotional – because there are so many parallels I can draw from my own journey to Bruce’s, and last and most importantly – so very proud of who I am, my history and the community I am a part of.

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As a runner, I subscribe to inspirational quotes that I receive in my email each morning.  They help me get out on the road on those days when I would rather do anything but that.  Much to my delighted surprise, today’s edition was from another American Olympic hero, Frank Shorter, which beautifully provides inspiration for not only my newest sister, but for all of the transgender and gender non-conforming community:  “Be willing to move forward and find out what happens next.”

This blog post also appears in the Huffington Post here

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