Jillian T. Weiss & Associates provides consulting services for organizations addressing gender transition in the workplace and having transgender employees.
Please describe the work that you do and how Jillian T. Weiss & Associates consulting group came into being.
After practicing as a lawyer for many years, I went back to school for a Ph.D. in Law, Policy & Society at Northeastern University, and found a job in that field as a professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey in 2004. My area of research is transgender workplace law and policy. In addition to my academic research and publications on the subject, I also offer consulting services to employers addressing issues of inclusion and engagement of transsexual and transgender employees in the workplace. I have worked with employers large and small, including Harvard University, Boeing and New York City.
What are some of the major issues that transgender employees face in the workplace?
There are about a dozen issues, some of which are ensuring that non-discrimination and non-harassment policies include gender identity and expression, co-workers are given appropriate guidance in how to respect other employees’ gender identity, health benefits for transgender employees are appropriately and clearly defined, and facilities usage policies suited to the workplace environment accord transgender employees proper respect for their gender identity.
How can employers show that they support their transgender employees?
Appropriate workplace policies that include gender identity and expression are very helpful. Employer resources, such as employee resource groups for LGBT workers, can also provide an outlet for issues that transgender employees may experience. Lastly, it is important to provide training for human resources managers so that they stand ready to assist employees transitioning on the job well prior to a workplace transition.
What suggestions would you offer to transgender employees experiencing difficulties at work? (ex. coming out or transitioning on the job, filing a complaint of discrimination, handling unsupported coworkers or administrators)
My suggestion is to read books and websites that discuss workplace transition, and to engage support from the highest levels possible at the organization at the first sign of problems. Waiting to see whether a problem will become more severe makes it more difficult for employers to effectively intervene. Unfortunately, many transgender employees do not wish to “rock the boat,” which means that employers don’t learn about problems until they become grave enough to merit a lawsuit. While trans employees should not be charged with the job of educating their employer about how to address problems and concerns, particularly when they are not experts in doing so and are employed to perform work of an entirely different nature, it is all too often necessary.
What does diversity and inclusion in the workplace mean to you?
Diversity, properly understood, is more than just throwing together a random group of people from different backgrounds and hoping that no problems arise. It requires an understanding of how diverse groups work together, for better or for worse, and what are the sticking points that may create issues or concerns. Thus, an organizational emphasis on respecting diversity, clear channels and lines of authority for providing guidance to co-workers, and training for employees and human resource managers on diversity issues are key to success. Inclusion means not only tolerance, and not only acceptance, but understanding the issues that employee constituency group face and acting to ensure that those issues are managed properly so that transgender employees feel welcome and a valued part of the organization.
Please offer any final thoughts.
As I noted, books and websites on the subject may be helpful. I have a blog, Transgender Workplace Diversity that may help to give some information on the topic. I have also written a book on the subject, Transgender Workplace Diversity: Policy Tools, Training Issues and Communication Strategies for HR and Legal Professionals.