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The Cutting Edge of Employment Diversity:

Transgender Human Resources Policies in U.S. Employers

 

Full text version. Click here to view my dissertation, "The Cutting Edge of Employment Diversity: Transgender Human Resources Policies in U.S. Employers.  For those of you without time or patience for 2MB and 200-odd pages, an introduction follows.  For a blog on the subject, see Transgender Workplace Diversity.

 

 

Introduction: Why Gender “Identity”?

 

The most recent trend in equal employment policy is the protection of “gender identity.” In other words, if an employee changes gender, they won't be fired or disciplined, but will continue to be judged on job performance like any other employee. More than 200 employers, over 50 of them Fortune 500, have adopted such policies in the last few years.  What makes this a particularly interesting phenomenon is the fact that the transsexual population is extremely small, perhaps 0.002%.  The concepts and identities involved are “gooey,” that is, they are ambiguous and changing, creating policy headaches.  Is altruism driving the policy?  Is it political correctness?  Or is it a serious business concern?

 

I conducted intensive interviews with 43 officials and employees who were involved with the adoption of the policies at 33 organizations.  My research suggest that it is, indeed, “serious business,” but for reasons having little to do with trangender employees.  It’s also something that every forward-thinking employer is starting to address, and my consulting practice is finding a ready reception in those quarters.  One of the most undervalued social forces is changing U.S. demographics. By 2020, U.S. Census Bureau projections show that racial and ethnic minorities 18-65 will comprise 40% of the U.S. population, as opposed to the current 25%.  By 2100, the total jumps to 60%, though perhaps by then “minorities” will seem as ancient a reference as “the negro race” does to us now.  This may be hailed by some and decried by others, but our opinions about it will have as much effect on it as on the slow but certain movement of a glacier.  This glacier analogy is appropriate because the demographic effects have been visible in small ways for quite some time.  By 2100, of course, demographers, historians and social scientists will be able to trace the long, slow sweep of the numbers starting a century ago. This will change the face of our country in every aspect. High school students of the future will wonder how and why U.S. minorities put up with all that ancient 20th century oppression.  Every aspect of our society – including consumer products, media, advertising and marketing, businesses, unions and sports – all will have adapted to the new reality. 

 

Meanwhile, those of us now living in the path of the glacier are not so concerned with where the glacier is going to be in 95 years.  Rather, we need to be well in front of where it is now, and watch out for earthquakes, landslides and avalanches instead.  The causes and effects deemed most significant in our great-grandchildren’s history books will likely be different from those we consider most signficant now.  What my research shows is that the rise in transgender human resources policies may be one of the many effects of these changing demographics.  I’m not talking about a surge in numbers of the U.S. transgender population - there doesn't seem to be any - though certainly transgender people are a little more visible than they have been in years past.  Rather, employers seem to adopt transgender policies to avoid the risk of talent drain and loss of market share that may lead to financial bankruptcy in the coming decades. 

 

The people to whom I spoke repeatedly indicated the reason for policy adoption was a “business case” – it’s good for business.  At first I was skeptical, but after seeing one long, involved torturous policy adoption process after another, I realized they wouldn’t spend so much time and effort on it unless they were serious.  After looking into it, I learned that demographic projections indicate that there may be more jobs than candidates in the next decade, particularly jobs requiring a college education.  In 2012, 40% of 22 year olds will be racial and ethnic minorities.  Employers that can attract top minority candidates will win the talent war, and that may mean the difference between profitability and bankruptcy.  There are a number of factors that may change this scenario, but employers are acting as if it’s already happening.  They want to be well in front of that glacier and the time to start is now, not when it appears in the corporate cafeteria.  

 

Every employer nowadays has a non-discrimination policy on race and ethnicity, so that is no mark of distinction.  When minorities with top marks in college go looking for employers that they feel comfortable with, other things will start to loom large.  One of these is transgender policy.  Employers with such policies are talking to minority candidates: “We take care of everybody, even this tiny socially disfavored group.  They can be themselves here, and so can you. You’ll feel more comfortable here.”  They may not have any openly transgender employees (few do), be somewhat unsure of what transgender means (most are clueless), or deal poorly with the issues of transgender employees (hey fella, what do you mean you want to use the women’s bathroom??), but they are certainly well out in front of the glacier.  Hopefully, by the time that glacier arrives, they will have dealt with the real “cutting edge” of workplace diversity:  the need for resources on an organizational level to combat discriminatory norms.  The rest of us should break out the long underwear – it may be a chilly century.

 

If you’d like to read more specifics, click here for the 2 page Dissertation Chapter Summary,

 


 

Updates. Here’s some interesting news. The New York Times recently published an article entitled “Coming Soon: The Vanishing Work Force.”  One of its conclusions is similar to that of my demographic research: there may not be enough young workers to go around in the not-too-distant future, causing companies to scramble to get the edge in recruitment. "This is a sleeper issue," said Charles E. M. Kolb, president of the Committee for Economic Development, a group of business and education leaders that conducts policy research in Washington. "We do have a demographic time bomb." 

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/29/business/yourtaxes/29old.html?ex=1094992777&ei=1&en=9e41521d67c83048

 

One of the respondents from the study sent me the following email.  It epitomizes what the research shows:  transgender identity is unprotected when it publicly violates heterosexual norms.

 

“I'm in the midst of a battle with my own management. They're a little annoyed with my crossdressing while on business trips and during company events, as well as with me sharing information about my involvement in the transgender community. So much so that I've been accused of misconduct and insubordination. They can't fire me for wearing a skirt, but they can fire me for not doing what the boss asks me to do (or not to do.)  They have asked me if I'd consider presenting my female side all the time. Then the misconduct stuff goes away. (But, so may my 26 year marriage.)”

 

Another employee at a large company made the following comment about this study: “For those of us who have transitioned on the job, it hits very close to home.”