A Guide to Coming Out at the Workplace
- 1 A Guide to Coming Out at the Workplace
- 2 Coming out at Work
- 3 What to Expect/be Prepared
- 4 Note
- 5 See Also
- 6 External links
- 7 Discuss
A Guide to Coming Out at the Workplace
One of the most difficult issues that transsexuals face during their transition is that of coming out. Whether this is to family and friends, or at the place of work. The fear of rejection, isolation, ridicule, and discrimination can be overwhelming, which in turn can lead to misery and illness. Although this guide is primarily aimed at the employee, it may also be used by an employer who is transitioning and an employer who has employees who are transitioning. This guide has also been purposely kept neutral and generic so as to be applicable to the user from any country, state, province etc...
Coming out at Work
One of the key elements to a successful transition and a requirement of the real life test is being able to work in the desired gender. Unless a person is wealthy the financial burden imposed by transition can be staggering and the need to maintain steady employment is vital. Coming out at work has it's own problems that must be addressed before a person actually comes out. This all has to begin with research and the preparation of a plan that will layout such things as a time line, a list of issues that must be addressed, key people that will be involved, training or information sessions, letters, and literature to mention a few. Not doing this runs the risk of being laid off, fired, or terminated etc... It will also help you to determine if you are going to be able to come out at work or not.
Before you begin any sort of action you must first research where you stand with regard to your civil rights, freedoms and protections that maybe guaranteed by your national government, and/or by your provincial or state governments, there could be differences between the two legislative bodies. Determine if there are there provisions that protect you against discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Often the transgendered person is not specifically listed, but as in Canada (rightly or wrongly) they are included and covered under the definition of sexual orientation.
Most large corporations and companies have a myriad of policies that direct the interaction of it's employees and managers. For the most part they are there to protect both the employer and the employee and should include such policies as: harassment; sexual harassment; code of conduct; dress/attire; discipline; etc... It may be difficult to determine what your HR departments experience is with TS issues without asking them. To get this information may take some digging on your part. For example, the authors company, while supporting transition insisted in remaining anonymous, so there would be no record of their support except in confidential records. Included in these policies should be the procedures that employees are to follow should they feel they have been discriminated against because of gender identity. Remember that the chances that your company has had to deal with transsexual issues can be remote and managers may not be aware of the policies that govern them. It is very important for you to find out what your company policy is before proceeding, and what, if any, experience they have in dealing with transsexual issues. The research that you do will go along way into helping you to determine if you will be able to successfully come out and transition at work. Going forward blindly can have serious consequences should you find out too late that you have no protections.
Examples of two large North American Companies Policies can be read here.
Once you have decided to move forward with your plan to come out you will need to identify those people who will need to be directly or indirectly involved in your transition. You must ensure that you will be getting support from the highest level possible therefore you will need to know your company structure; who is your manager, who does this person report to, and so on. You will also need to know who in your Human Resources (HR) department you will need to contact or who will have to be involved. Keep this groups as small as possible to avoid complications and lessen the impact. Your first contact should be with the highest person possible with the HR department kept in the loop with copies of any documents exchanged. The authors group of personnel initially contacted was just two people, the general manager, and the manager of the HR department.
You should have a rough idea of a date when you would like to initially make the announcement and then the date you would like to transition in the workplace, notice I said "like", you should not be making any demands at this point. Many recommend three to six months hence but the author would recommend eight to ten months. The next step is to make preparations. This includes how you are going to initially contact the key people, (letter, phone call, email, meeting) etc... and how you are going to present the situation to them. Many who have gone before have successfully presented their issues through the preparation and presentation of a Transition Package, the contents and extent of which vary according to the individual needs and experience of the company with this situation. (The authors was 22 pages in length.)
The Initial Contact Letter
- There are many ways to inform your company of your intention to transition, either in person, by mail, by email, to mention a few. However, one of the best ways is an official letter from you that tells the employer about your situation, what you need to do to correct this situation, and how you plan on going about it. Realistically the letter should be no more than two pages in length, any longer and the reader may become distracted and start glossing over the contents. The letter should also be prominently marked "Confidential".
- There are several letters, formats and styles available and the one presented here is a compilation that has proven to be successful in the past. The letter can be found here and may be used, edited, to meet your needs.
- With the receipt of the letter, management will undoubtedly set up an appointment to meet with you to discuss the situation you have revealed. For this meeting you should have a transition package prepared, one copy for each person who will be attending the meeting.
The Transition Package
- The object of the Package is to furnish the employer with information, provide answers, allay any initial fears or concerns that may have been created with the receipt of the Initial Contact Letter. It should also outline basic information on yourself, what you expect to happen, and a time line for the transition There are several examples of Transition Packages available on the Web. This is but one variation, but one that has proven to be successful. The package is very extensive and would need to be edited to fit personal needs. The sample transition package can be seen here.
An Initial Meeting
The best place to start is with an initial meeting with those in management who will be involved in your transition, and only those personnel. This meeting is one of the first issues that should be discussed after the receipt of your initial letter. Along with your transition package you should have a rough outline of how you see your transition proceeding. This is not to say that this is what will happen but it will serve as a place to start. Also a record of the meeting should be made in the form of minutes.
Be prepared. Try and have as much information as you can on Transsexualism, Transition, and anything else you can think of that would affect you and the company. There will be questions so be prepared to provide the answers. An "I don't know" does not go over well, you must show that you are prepared and committed to this as you will expect management to be. Some of the topics that you can expect to be discussed will be; What is it that you want; Questions about transsexuality; Questions on transition; Questions on how far you are with transition; What do you expect from the company; How do you see the transition proceeding; What is your time line, How do you see your transition affecting your colleagues and or the company customers; will there be any special training or allowances required, to mention a few. A key element is that you should be willing to make compromises over such things as when and how the transition will take place. While you may want to start in two months time, the company may want more time to prepare.
The Time Line
- Your company will want to know the time line you have in mind for your transition. This is where you should be willing to compromise. You have already met the first milestone with the initial meeting, next you will have to outline how you see it progressing, and should include such things as future meetings; training and information sessions; the announcement; and The Day. Flexibility here is essential and you should be willing to delay the Transition Date. In the authors company the letter was mailed and received by the general manager. He replied asking permission to include and forward a copy of the letter to the HR department. Next a date was selected to meet and discuss the transition. The meeting was attended by the general manager and a senior HR manager from head office. Many things were discussed and the following was agreed to. Transition would take place; the company wanted three months to prepare; after their preparation (the author was not privy to this)a date was set for a second meeting that would include the authors manager. Next a date were set for harassment training for all employees that would be affected, followed later by sensitivity training. Next a date was set when the company would announce the transition, and finally the date of the actual transition was agreed to, six months later than originally planned.
There are many issues both real and perceived, from the simple to the complicated that will be brought up in any company that is not experienced in transition in the work place. These need to be addressed as much as possible before the date set for the transition, to ensure that the transition will be as smooth as possible. Of course there will be issues that manifest themselves after your transition has started but careful planning can keep these to a minimum. Some of the issues you will need to discuss with the company are as follows:
- How do you wish to be addressed. At first co-workers will be nervous around you so to make it a little easier for them to interact with you they will need to know how you wish to be addressed. This includes the prefix to be used such as Miss, Ms, Mrs, or Mr, and what name you wish to go by, whether it's your first name or your middle name (if you have one). How the name is to be pronounced, it's shot form, and/or a nick name that would be acceptable.
- The Washroom. This can be the single, most contentious issue for everyone involved. Generally speaking in shared facilities most men will not want a woman in the "Men's", just as most women would not want a man in the "Woman's". Of course this does not present a problem should the company have only unisex, single stall, facilities where they are clearly marked "Restroom", "Washroom", etc. Possible Solutions include:
- Allow you to use a facility in a different part of the building where you are not likely to encounter other employees until everyone is more comfortable with the situation.
- Designate a separate facility for you to use such as a single use facility described above.
- NOTE: These solutions can make you feel that you are being isolated, singled out, and discriminated against, therefor they should be used with care.
- The best solution is to allow you to use the appropriate restroom "Women's" for MtF, and "Men's" for FtM, and ensure that all employees are made aware of this. This will allow your coworkers who may be a little resentful of you invading their space and privacy, avoid embarrassing situations.
- The point that has to made to management and employees is that there are no ulterior motives involved, that just like others you are only in the restroom for personal reasons just as they are, nothing else.
- Disruptions. Compared to your current record the company should expect minor disruptions to your attendance and your productivity, and the word to stress is minor. Unless you encounter medical complications as a result HRT or surgeries your day to day performance should not change except more frequent attendance for medical appointments and therapy sessions, which are normally scheduled and planned in advance, and of course time away from work for surgeries. Again these are normally planed well in advance and not normally last minute.
- Social Implications. The societal implications of your transition will affect those who you work with differently. There are many variables that shape the workforce and it's social attitudes. Being employed in an area where religion and right wing or conservative thinking prevails may affect you differently compared to one who is employed in a more liberal minded society. Knowing the general attitudes towards the GLBT communities and issues in your locale will serve as a measure to gauge reaction at work.
- For the FtM, coworkers will react based on their relationship to you. For example as a woman, a male colleague may have been attracted to you and may have even flirted with you but with you as a male he may be caused to now re-evaluate his own sexuality, that in turn may lead to hostility and denial towards you. Similarly, your new male colleges may test your loyalty to their group with off color jokes, innuendos, sexual comments directed at their female colleagues to gauge your reaction. Not being one of the guys can lead to exclusion. Females may see your transition as a betrayal, as a way of getting ahead, getting more money or a promotion, jumping the line so to speak.
- Similarly, MtF could experience reactions from her new female colleagues. Again a female employee may have thought you a very attractive male, and may have had thoughts of a relationship, or as with the FtM situation, may have flirted with you. There will be women who will think that your transition is just away of invading their world, that you have ulterior motives. Some women may even respect and be flattered that a man would want to relinquish all his "male" advantages to become a woman.
- Both groups will have members who will just not want anything to do with you regardless of which way you are transitioning. You have been privy to and been included in private group activity and views that you are now taking over to, and revealing to the "other side".
Training & Information Sessions
- Training. During research you need to determine what if any training the company provides to address such things as harassment, sexual harassment, and sensitivity training. Most companies do, but it should be checked out. Once determined this topic should be brought up in the initial meeting to determine if the company is willing to spend the time and money to set this up, and conduct it in those areas where needed before the date agreed on your transition. While none of this training may be specifically oriented towards the transsexual such training is easily tailored to meet those needs and it would emphasize the companies resolve with regard to these issues.
- Information Sessions. In addition to training sessions a date for the announcement of your transition has to be agreed to and how it will be conducted, afterwards the date for the information session(s) can be determined in order to give the company time to let the announcement sink in. The worst way to tell people is by mail of any form, but of course for some this may be the only practical way to do it. The best way is for your HR department to do it in person one on one for individuals or as a group in the form of information sessions. The information session is probably one of the most crucial parts of the whole coming out process, and should include such points as the companies position on the following:
- Sexual Harassment
- Equality in the workplace
- Diversity in the workplace
- The company should also explain what is happening, why it is happening, when it will happen, who it involves and how it is going to transpire, and what the company expects from its employees and from you. One of the key elements that must be agreed to is if you will be present during this. There are pros and cons for both and this depends on how you feel. Being there for the information session would let you immediately respond to questions that may arise and if you were "dressed" would reveal how you would be presenting yourself at the workplace. Of course you would need to be ready for this, having the answers prepared. On the other hand, being there may cause a distraction and while the session is about you, the company needs to be able to address the issues and not the person as such. It is not necessary that you are in attendance, but you should have a statement prepared that management would read on your behalf if you are not. An example of such a statement can be found here.
- Outside Customers/Clients. The company should also consider it's customers who you may deal with and decide if there is a need for them to know. For example if you are a sales rep with a list of clients the company would have to decide if there is a need to inform the clients of your transition and also consider the risk that these clients may stop doing business with the company.
What to Expect/be Prepared
You will definitely need to be prepared for the big day, much like a speaker who is going to address a room full of people for the first time. While you may be nervous and even scared inside you will have to look as though you are full of confidence. Like it or not you are going to be the center of attention for the next few days. If nothing else the curious will want to see how you look. Others will want to see how you carry out your job and how you deal with the day to day routine they are used to. They will gossip, compare, ridicule, praise, congratulate, and offer their sympathy or support, may be both. You are going to be watched. It is very hard to tell how your colleagues will react or how they feel as while some may seem to be OK with your transition they may be very uncomfortable with it on the inside. This is their problem not yours so ensure you don't dwell on situations like this.
To ease the stress of the first days, select the clothes you will wear for each of the up coming days, and be sure your clothes are not flamboyant and meet the companies dress code. As much as possible make sure that your day to day routine is properly scheduled to limit disruptions. Some will be looking for you to trip up or slip, so preparation is crucial. You may also want to keep a low profile until you become comfortable. This is not to say that you should stay in your office, or hide, or shy away from responsibility, but to just do your job and do it as you've always done it. To try and take on additional responsibilities, or volunteering for extra work at this point in your transition may be a little too much to handle, remember that there will be those who are waiting for you to fail. The key is to carry out your duties as they've always been carried out so that everyone can see that you are still you, doing the same job, in the same professional manner.
You will also need to carry maintenance items with you especially if you are a MtF. This includes make-up, spare pantyhose, etc... and other feminine items that women may carry in their purse or bag. You don't need an emergency to disrupt your day. For the FtM it's a little easier as men don't usually carry items that do not fit into pockets or wallets. However, more and more men can be seen carrying large bags to the workplace. One the issues the pre-op FtM should remember is when your period has started or is due to start you will need to carry feminine hygiene products, so that there are no surprises, therefore you will need something to carry those items in that will not attract attention.
This article and the information contained in it is intended to be used as a guide. Your own situation will determine the extent that the information and recommendations apply to you, and how you use them.
- Transgender at Work
- HRC Foundation Working for LGBT Equal Rights
- Human Rights Campaign Best Places to Work 2008 - A list of companies and corporations that have protections for their GLBT workforce.
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