As part of their larger diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, companies are working to provide a supportive workplace for transgender employees at a time when they face dangerous cultural and political winds.
The language-learning platform Babbel, which has integrated DEI guidelines into its in-app audio content and product development, has produced a detailed glossary to serve as a benchmark not only for content creation but as a reference for its employees. A section devoted to sex, gender and sexual orientation, for example, offers a detailed breakdown of terms like nonbinary, gender nonconforming and gender expression. Real-life scenarios are addressed, including employee questions like “What if I misgender someone?” and “What are the symbols of the LGBTQIA+ community?”
“I think it’s important to note that this isn’t something that happened suddenly or recently — there has never been any question for us about whether trans people should be included and visible in our product and in our workplace,” said Eileen Barnard, senior organizational culture manager for DEI at Babbel. “We have trans Babbelonians” — the company’s term for its employees — “and we have trans learners. Why wouldn’t we include them?”
According to Barnard, the company is mindful of communicating with trans employees about their needs and expectations, while it requires DEI training for all newcomers so they understand the culture. As for trans learners, the company strives to ensure that they, too, are represented in training materials, so they can connect with the language they are learning and represent their authentic selves in their new language.
“This is our forever journey, because building a culture of belonging doesn’t happen overnight,” Barnard said.
Support for transgender people is especially crucial considering the often hostile reality they face, including a wave of retrograde legislation and the ongoing fallout from Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Bud Light promotion featuring trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. This, even as a majority of Americans say they favor protecting trans people from discrimination. Meanwhile, 8 in 10 workers, according to one poll, said they would quit their jobs if their employer lacked a commitment to diversity.
Mar. 31 has been designated International Transgender Day of Visibility, with the aim of recognizing the contributions of trans people and drawing attention to the discrimination they continue to face, as well as the importance of trans equality in the workplace. That encompasses healthcare, including gender-affirming care, something supported by a growing legion of employers including Netflix, Amazon and Starbucks.
The ripple effect of companies taking a stance on trans rights should not be underestimated, according to Barnard. “As an employer, particularly if you are a larger company, you have economic power — being willing to use that is important,” she explained. Using trans friendly suppliers, partnering with companies that are trans-owned and making donations to trans rights organizations are all beneficial, she added.
Meanwhile, employers, particularly larger ones, can also make decisions about the places they operate — and state those policies publicly — sending a message to other companies, policy makers, the trans community and the public at large. “It’s really important to be transparent about what you are doing, so that other companies can follow your lead,” Barnard said.
While many companies have DEI policies and initiatives in place, a common complaint is that often such moves are merely performative. Increasingly, however, employers are being called to account for how they’ve made real, measurable progress in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
Some companies are more transparent than others. Take the customer and employee experience platform Medallia, which publicly reports its workforce demographics each month, revealing where the company is making progress or falling short of DEI goals. In addition, Medallia has established 10 separate workforce communities, representing groups including LGBTQIA+ employees, which it supports with annual budgets for driving diversity initiatives.
Lauren Jackman, senior vp of global DEIB at Medallia, believes empowering such constituencies, including by way of employee resource groups, is essential to ensuring all voices in the company are heard. “We have trans colleagues, and we have colleagues who have trans children. So, making sure that there’s a foundational level of education, awareness and understanding” is key, she said. “It’s important for making sure you have a safe and inclusive work environment for this population that is becoming more visible in the workforce.”
Medallia has put policies in place, for example, supporting employees going through gender transition and providing the workforce with educational resources like those provided by the Transgender Law Center, which are free of charge to employers.
To be sure, companies standing up for trans rights and employees who are part of that community has never seemed as urgent.
“It is a polarized world out there, and this is a vulnerable community that’s in the crosshairs,” as Jackman put it — and supporting trans people “is really something companies can do more of, and better.”