Transitioning isn’t easy.
In fact, as my Unum colleague Kay Gerber said: “It’s a metric ton of effort.”
Transition takes place across the boundaries of personal life, social life, and work life. And all those experiences are entirely different.
It’s hard to fully prepare, but here are seven things to consider in making a gender transition at work, or in supporting a colleague who is transitioning.
- Transition on your terms, advised Gerber, who began her transition at Unum in 2016. Don’t let someone else tell you how or when it’s going to happen. These are individual decisions. Choose terms you’re comfortable with.
- Tell someone you trust at work, said Sandra Rosen, a senior employee relations consultant with Unum, who created Unum’s transgender policy. This can be a diversity officer, human resource professional, on-site nurse, manager or even a colleague. Someone you trust will support you and have your best interests in mind, she said.
- Get familiar with company policies. Rosen points out that companies are required to abide by equal employment opportunity laws, and transgender employees are protected under Title IV, which prohibits discrimination based on gender. “Some companies have a transgender policy that specifically addresses discrimination and harassment in the workplace. This gives transgender people more peace of mind and assurance that they are protected,” Rosen said. Gerber also suggested researching company dress code policies. As long as you follow the guidelines, you should feel comfortable dressing as the gender you identify with.
- Make a plan. Gerber said this can include identifying all the places where your name needs to change, like email address, business cards, name plate and HR paperwork. The plan should also map out your first day at work in your new gender. You may want to talk with your team openly addressing your transition, or you may choose to transition more privately. Just make sure, again, that it’s on your terms. Be ready for the bathroom scenario. “You should never feel prohibited from using the bathroom that corresponds with your gender identity, but only you can decide if and when you are ready,” Gerber said. If you’re unsure of which to use, learn in advance whether your company has a single-stall restroom, or family restroom, where you can have some privacy.
- Establish boundaries. Have an understanding with HR about what constitutes aggression, unconscious bias, harassment and discrimination in the workplace – which can be verbal or non-verbal, advised Gerber. If you feel someone has crossed a line, be sure to tell HR so they can take action.
- Be open to more change. As you get comfortable in your new gender, you may become more intentional about your career. Gerber said pre-transition, she was focusing on one day at a time, because it took so much effort to live in the gender she was assigned at birth. Now, as she lives more authentically in her work life, she can look toward the future. “Recognize your value and that your unique perspective brings a competitive advantage to a company,” advised Rosen.
- It’s a journey. Just like any other major life change, transition in the workplace is a journey. Regular check-ins with an HR contact are a must to discuss how it’s going. Also, don’t forget to lean on your support network. Chances are, you’ve found a group of people who understand your heart, believe in your purpose, and want you to be happy.
Here are some other resources from the Human Rights Campaign for those considering transitioning.