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Research signals benefits for employees and companies of educating about, and implementing trans allyship

Companies that actively implement strong inclusion and diversity practices may benefit not only from having more engaged and motivated transgender and non-binary (‘trans’) employees but also from bringing along colleagues who might otherwise have been reticent about supporting trans people openly.

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Companies that actively implement strong inclusion and diversity practices may benefit not only from having more engaged and motivated transgender and non-binary (‘trans’) employees but also from bringing along colleagues who might otherwise have been reticent about supporting trans people openly, new research from the University of Bath shows.

Dr Luke Fletcher of the University’s School of Management along with Dr Rosa Marvell of the University of Portsmouth’s School of Education and Sociology conducted a study of employees who identified as heterosexual cisgender about how, or whether, they might support trans colleagues, and a second survey which examined trans employees’ perceptions of allyship in their organization.

The research, published in the International Journal of Human Resource Management, showed that a strong diversity and inclusion climate, underpinned by robust anti-discrimination policies and action, could help spur support and advocacy for trans staff, potentially even amongst colleagues more predisposed to prejudicial attitudes.

“We found that when employees perceived they were working in a company or organization with a strong diversity and inclusion climate they were less able to demonstrate their reticence about inclusion and were potentially more willing to learn about allyship. In short, the practical framework, and leadership, around a company’s approach to allyship are key to this,” Dr Fletcher said.

“By allyship, we mean explicit, active solidarities which listen and attend to the needs of trans workers. Ultimately, it is the demonstrable behaviors that matter and make a difference. Allyship needs to be more than a passive act or self-determined label and organizations can facilitate that through their policies and practices,” Dr Marvell said

Dr Fletcher and Dr Marvell’s paper noted that although progress has been made in workplace diversity and inclusion, there remained a significant gap for transgender workers compared with their lesbian, gay and bisexual counterparts, adding that many employers remained far from trans-inclusive or were unclear how to create a trans-inclusive working environment.

Dr Fletcher said the research, which draws on a wider project on LGBT working lives commissioned by the UK’s CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, showed the importance of companies understanding the ‘lived experience’ of trans employees, particularly to avoid allyship policies becoming token gestures or tick-box exercises.

Mel Norris-Green, Research Adviser at the CIPD, said organizations and people management professionals should also review organizational policies, such as dress code, absence, and family policies, through an inclusion lens. Employers should make sure they are gender neutral and ensure line managers are trained to understand how to support trans staff, and fairly enact people management practices. Organizations should champion LGBT+ inclusion from the top of the organization, for example having leadership allies.

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Dr Fletcher and Dr Marvell noted that HR professionals could also influence psychological safety at work by enforcing anti-discrimination policies which clearly set out what is unacceptable conduct with examples and consequences of behaviors.

They also suggested that allyship initiatives may include formal programs about understanding what it means to act as an ally in the workplace; diversity training where there is a focus on educating people about the variety of gender identities and the expressions of these in the workplace; awareness raising about what being trans in the workplace is like, for example through ‘lunch and learn’ sessions; and showing visible signals of solidarity such as supporting trans days of visibility

Dr Fletcher and Dr Marvell urged organisations to consult and involve trans employees in setting policies or to seek out trans-inclusive/trans-specific organisations who can offer external expertise and experience.

“Facilitating allyship in a company or organization is not just a moral good that supports inclusion. It has a very strong psychological benefit for minority groups and helps them feel more engaged with their work, more loyal to their company, and more productive. Allyship is, essentially, a win-win for that person and their employer, but it has to be carefully considered and have an authentic, deep meaning to the organization,” Dr Fletcher said.

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