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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.

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!

An Absence of Compassion, An Absence of Humanity

So I suppose I’m one of the “lucky ones.”  Not only did I get caught up in the traffic hell of the George Washington Bridge “traffic study” last September, but I also happen to be transgender.  At this point you might be asking yourself, “How do these two seemingly unrelated things relate to each other?”  Allow me to explain . . .

With respect to “Bridge-gate,” my partner Mari and I live in Cliffside Park, approximately two miles south of the bridge.  Since I work in the wilds of Westchester county, north of New York City, my daily commute takes me via local streets underneath the approach ramps to the bridge and then on to the Palisades Parkway.  I’ll save you from all of the sordid details, but let’s just say I was going nowhere fast on those four days in early September.  I do remember that as I inched closer to the bridge, the lines of cars trying to gain entry through the usual access points were longer than I had ever seen before.  “Must be some crazy accident” I thought to myself as I finally made my way around the mess – I was, after all, going in the opposite direction.  But to experience a “crazy accident” four days in a row?  Hmmmmm . . . that’s odd.  Little did I know then what a major crisis it would turn into for our esteemed Governor Christie.  I must confess to not losing a minute of sleep worrying about his well-being, but I digress.  Enough said about the “Debacle at the George.”  It’s the second part, the part about my being transgender, that lies at the heart of this commentary.

If you weren’t paying attention, or more accurately if you do not live in New Jersey, you could have easily missed it.  Amongst the never ending media coverage of the bridge lane closure affair, something that directly impacts transgender New Jerseyans took place in Trenton.  Governor Christie vetoed legislation on January 13th that would have eased the requirements for transgender individuals seeking to obtain an amended birth certificate – one that would accurately reflect their true and authentic selves.  No longer would an amended birth certificate be within the sole reach of those in our community who choose to have gender reassignment surgery or other gender conforming surgeries.   In other words, it would expand the availability of an amended birth certificate to a much larger portion of the transgender community – those that either have no plans for surgery, or those that do, but do not have the financial means to pursue it – yet are living their lives, 24×7, in the gender that is consistent with what they know to be true in their heart, in their soul. To quote a portion of the bill’s text, its purpose is to “. . . acknowledge that individuals do not necessarily undergo sex reassignment surgery when changing sex, and to revise the process for obtaining an amended certificate of birth due to a change in sex to reflect current practices.” 

Simple enough.  Straightforward enough.  The General Assembly thought so, and so did the State Senate . . . But not our Governor . . .  on the grounds it “. . . may result in significant legal uncertainties and create opportunities for fraud, deception and abuse . . . without maintaining appropriate safeguards.”  Really?  You’re kidding, right?  A shining example of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo at its best. 

It has been suggested that perhaps this is just the latest act of political gamesmanship that tends to occur with disturbing regularity in the state that I call home – the state that I was born and raised in. The state that I am proud to tell anyone who asks, that I am from.  Call it whatever you want, but the simple fact of the matter is that too many wonderful things have happened to the Garden State’s LGBT community lately –  gay marriage, the striking down of gay conversion therapy – for the Christie administration to allow yet another “win.”  So who gets the short end of the stick?  Why it’s the transgender community, of course!  Caught in the cross hairs once again.  First it was the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) back in 2007 when we were summarily stripped out of the bill as a protected class in an effort to make it more – you should pardon the expression – passable.  And now in my own backyard – this veto.  Do people think we somehow like it underneath the proverbial bus that we always seem to get thrown under?  Or is it perhaps that we are too easy a target?  Need a punching bag? Roll out the trans community, nobody cares about them anyway.  They’re just a bunch of wackos on the lunatic fringe.

Well guess what?  We are not some secret deviant society that lurks in public restrooms.  Quite the contrary.  We are real people.  Contributing members of society that just want to live their lives in the gender that they innately know is their true, honest and authentic one – and to have it authenticated with an amended birth certificate.  Is that too much to ask?  For Governor Christie, apparently it is.

I can assure you that to many of us in the trans community, an amended birth certificate is by no means merely a piece of paper. It is so much more than that.  It is a panacea for many. I can remember when I received mine in the mail a few months after my surgery.  It meant everything to me to see my mother and father’s name, the hospital in Newark where I was born that is no longer there, the date and time of my birth – and most importantly my full female name.  It is more than an understatement to say it was completing.  I remember thinking to myself through my tears of joy, “this is the way it was always supposed to be – and now it is.”  To deny someone of that feeling of completeness because of a perceived lack of “appropriate safeguards” is at best totally lacking in compassion, and at its worst, inhumane. 

So I pose this question to our Governor and his staff:  Is there no room for compassion for your fellow human beings anymore?  Is there no semblance of humanity left in Trenton?  Wait, wait – you don’t have to actually answer – your veto tells us all we need to know.  A basic tenet of my personal and public activism has always been that education can lay the foundation for understanding, which in turn sows the seeds of acceptance.  But what must happen for an educational interaction to exist?  One must first establish a meaningful dialogue.  A two-way interaction that involves the sending and receiving of messages from the two parties engaged in that dialogue.  Has that ever happened with the current administration?  Do I even have to ask?  The vast majority of the “meaningful dialogue” has occurred in court rooms between lawyers and judges – not with the affected constituents.  I often say in my speaking engagements “just give me five minutes” and you’ll come away with a much different perspective about transgender people.  To briefly paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, if you must judge at all, than work with me to create a forum whereby I can be judged on the content of my character – the content of my “human-ness.”

But perhaps this veto is merely a beacon bobbing on the top of the water attached to something much larger, much deeper, and more troubling – just below the surface.  Jim Beckerman of The Record in a commentary about this year’s crop of movies nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, points to it very succinctly, “Are we, at the end of the day, a . . . people who care only about success, money, the big score, no matter who gets hurt?  Or are we a people who, when the chips are down, care about equality, compassion, justice for all?”  

I choose the latter, and this veto – as well as the cavalcade of shenanigans going on in the Governor’s office these days – make it clear to me that the former rules the day for the Chris Christie administration.

A Different Kind of New Year’s Resolution . . . .

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions – but with good reason.  Permit me to explain by painting a picture of what they were like for so many years for me.  There was a time in my life that I put great stock into them, though, thinking that somehow the turning of the calendar would magically transform my life – transform me.  Fat chance.  Go buy a Power Ball ticket (oh wait, they didn’t exist yet) the odds are better. 

But this is how it would play out for most of these years:  on New Year’s Eve, as midnight approached I’d somewhat anxiously count down the hours until the stroke of midnight, with the help of a few cocktails, and herald the onset of the New Year with the annual viewing of the ball drop at Times Square on television.  I can recall most of those evenings being quite emotional.  I would invariably find myself in tears about the prospects of getting another year off to a fresh start and leaving another behind.  The beat goes on:  lose a few pounds, start working out, be kinder to others, change my gender . . . .  Oh wait!  Whoa, did I say that?! . . .  I can’t possibly do THAT!!!  That is simply IMPOSSIBLE.  To do that would surely end my life as I knew it:  however fake it had become.  I felt trapped, I can’t possibly keep – let alone make – a resolution to embrace my authentic self.  In those days it was just not possible.
 
So I cried a lot on New Year’s Eve: yet another year goes by and I have to hide behind a mask, to continue to play a role that had become increasingly apparent to me was not who I was.  Another year of living a lie, of putting up appearances and surrendering my life to be lived on someone else’s terms – and I didn’t even know who that someone else was.  It was, I suppose, some vision of what I thought a man should be and how he should act; stitched together by my interactions with the men around me.  If I took what I thought to be what the best qualities were of each I could somehow transform myself into this super, mega man that would ultimately drive out of my body these feelings I had that my current gender was not the correct one.  But what I didn’t realize then is that one cannot simply cast out what is innately, intrinsically in your heart and in your soul. 

Could I muster up the strength and the courage to keep the facade in place for another year?  Heck, for another month, or another week?  After all, I had gotten pretty darn good at it.  But I convinced myself that it was the only means by which I could cope with the conflict.  I was lost, too afraid to move.  I would always laugh off the tears to others – like my ex-wife, for starters – as that’s just my being overly emotional.  The fact is, there were times when I cried so hard that it was all I could do to stop myself from sobbing out of control for fear of drawing attention to this internal conundrum.  I had tried to run from it, to “love” my way out of it, to immerse myself in hobbies and organizations that would take my mind off of the constant drumbeat in my brain that I was different.  But none of them ever worked.  Oh, perhaps as a temporary salve, but never all that long lasting.  Such were the New Year’s Eves of the 80’s, 90’s and early 00’s.  At least I had Dick Clark, God rest his soul.

Fast forward to this past New Year’s Eve.  My partner Mari and I are over our “brother” Noel’s house ringing in the New Year with cooking, music and wine – oh, and dare I forget the champagne!  What a wonderful evening, we shared stories of our recent cruise together – the pictures of which I finally posted to my Facebook page – and shared the warmth and love of what family to us is all about.  To be sure, we reflected on this year – for me a year of internal change and positive movement in my perspective on my life:  my career, my contributions to the community and to the movement at-large and my relationship with Mari.

We were into the second movie of the evening’s double feature, Serenity (the first was the original release of Kinky Boots with Chiwetel Ejiofor playing an amazing Lola), when I realized midnight was fast approaching.  Surely we were going to pause the movie and switch over to New Year’s Rockin’ Eve to see what antics Ryan Seacrest and Miley Cyrus were up to – or perhaps to see what bizarreness Kathy Griffin was subjecting Anderson Cooper to this year.  But no . . . we were approaching the climax of the movie – another one starring Ejiofor (no, we did not purposely assemble a Chiwetel Ejiofor Film Festival) – and as the clock struck midnight we exchanged kisses and “happy new year” pleasantries without taking our eyes off the screen – or so it seemed to me. That was it!  No countdown, no ball drop, no confetti flying in the air, no images of freezing people wearing Nivea hats partying at Times Square (where and when do they pee??!!).  Nothing.  Nada.  Surely we can go outside and bang some pots and pans??  Nope.

I will admit to a slight case of “hoopla withdrawal”, but I was surprised to find that it passed rather quickly.  How refreshing!  No tears, no angst, no consternation.  Just pure unadulterated gratitude for all that I have been blessed with in my life.  It most assuredly did not happen overnight, rather, it was years in the making.  Perhaps that’s what made it so cathartic to some degree. 

As I leave 2013 behind and welcome 2014 I have no sweeping resolutions to share that I know  I’ll never keep.  Just a promise to myself to love more, write more, read more and most importantly, to hold life gently guided by an ever increasing confidence that God is looking out for me.  Perhaps, just perhaps, that’s what following your heart is all about . . .
Happy New Year!

The Kids Are Alright

“Behold the children and imitate them . . . They are interested in the present moment, in being curious and in learning, in showing and in sharing, in making and creating.”-Clarissa Dinkola Estes, PhD
Perhaps the children really are the ones that truly “get it.”  The totality of their young lives exists, in so many respects, in the present.  They can seem so anchored there, relishing – or sometimes not – what they find themselves interacting with at that precise instance.  Ever watch a young child eat an ice cream cone?  There is no past, no future – only the present moment where ice cream meets mouth.  I can remember those days as a youngster down the Jersey Shore with my parents when, after a day at the beach, we’d walk along the boardwalk to the frozen custard stand.  I was transfixed!  The world as I knew it came to a screeching halt – all for the want of an ice cream cone. The singular focus, the ability to screen out everything around me . . . looking back on it through an adult lens, I can now appreciate the sheer beauty of its unfettered simplicity.  I had no idea then of how important that intense focus on the now would be to me later in life. More on that later . . . .
 
Once I made the decision a few years ago to give back to my community and “pay it forward”, I soon realized that I was essentially embarking upon a double life of sorts.  First there was the “day job”:  the responsibilities that I have in my current role as a corporate vice president at my company – and all of the duties and deliverables associated with it.  Then there is this “other life” that was developing outside of my daily work life.  Specifically, it is my activism and involvement in the LGBT community which quickly began to take up an ever-growing space in my life.  I owe this entirely to the difficulty I have with saying the word “no” when individuals or organizations approach me to get involved in some capacity.  It’s only recently that I have developed the tactic of the “polite decline” when it comes to being asked to serve on boards or committees beyond those I have already committed to.   But that said, it can quite often be a struggle of conscience because there is still so much work to be done within the LGBT equality movement, especially when it concerns the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people.
 
So now, as I embark upon my life’s next challenge I have become increasingly aware of a troublesome incongruence between the day job and my work in the movement.  I suspect that some of you reading this may have experienced similar feelings.  For me, it has been a troubling inability to reconcile the two spheres I have chosen to live my life within.  On the one hand, there is my work in the community which I derive great joy from and where I feel I am most blessed.  Having the opportunity to contribute in some way to creating the change that we seek and inspiring others to do the same – in their workplaces and in their personal lives – is most assuredly a gift from a higher place.  It makes my heart sing.
 
On the other is the “day job” (it occurs to me I need to come up with another name for it) – nowhere near as exciting or stimulating as moving an audience who wants to learn from my personal story of embracing my authentic self – but I have to grudgingly admit it serves as the foundation for it.  Now of course I get that part.  My company pays me a very good wage, and furthermore, didn’t run me out of town on a rail when I came out a few years back.  But I still couldn’t wrap my head around how best to reconcile the two.  Or if I had to at all.  It’s been difficult, make that very difficult, to connect the dots.  I simply could not make the connection between these two very disparate worlds.  That is until the other night, when I had a telephone conversation with my spiritual director.
 
But before I go any further I feel it is important to mention that what I am about to share comes from my own personal belief system.  It is not an attempt whatsoever to convert anyone.  Simply take from it what you will, if anything at all.  Some of you may stop reading now thinking I going to get all religious on you.  Hardly.  Feel free to substitute God for something that works for you – be it, Buddha, Allah, the Divine or perhaps Spirit.  With that little disclaimer out of the way, I’ll continue . . .
 
As we discussed this issue she made me realize that among other things, I was “enduring” my day job and not truly being present to it at all.  She went on to explain that I needed to shift how I viewed my daily work through a different lens – the lens of God.  I did not come upon my job by mere happenstance, I’m there for a reason.  She urged me to consider these questions, “What is God guiding me to in my daily work that is valuable and important?” “What are the benefits I derive from my job that I can bring to others outside of the office?”  And finally, “What are the gifts there that God has for me?”  She helped me to better understand that I have but one life and everything I do, however mundane, serves a purpose and is invariably intertwined with some other aspect of my life. It keeps me grounded and provides balance.  She taught me a simple but very valuable lesson:  a compartmentalized life is not an authentic life at all.
 
This brings me back to the lesson taught by the young children I mentioned earlier:  live your life in the moment.  Always be present to it and embrace the now.  There is much knowledge to be gained by focusing one’s life there.  Live in the present moment as the children do, with the knowledge that I am also living my life in my day job with all of its “time to make the donuts” moments, just as much as when I am in the front of a room speaking.  My actions – all of them, in whatever the setting – affects others.  I am making a difference in both places, in all of the places where I live my life – and that’s where the connection is.  That’s where I found the proverbial “golden thread.” By choosing to allow God to teach me what I am supposed to learn there – even if I’m not in the spotlight.
 
All it took was the realization that I am supposed to be there, focused on the present, and rooted in the now, with the wonder of a child . . . 
 
Anyone up for an ice cream cone?
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