Caitlyn Jenner, the ESPYs, and the Workplace

Last night, Caitlyn Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage during ESPN’s ESPY Awards ceremony – and media, both social and traditional, exploded with a combination of support and criticism – creating fodder for possibly contentious water cooler conversations at the office.

Public opinion has shifted towards supporting gay rights (finally!). Through the action of coming out, gays and lesbians have raised awareness of their issues; through conversation, through friends and family seeing that they aren’t different, or bad, more and more people worldwide have come to understand what being gay and lesbian is about.caitlyn-jenner-01-600x800

But the same can’t be said for the community represented by the “T” in the oft used acronym “LGBT”. Until Jenner came out on the cover of Vogue’s July issue, many people did not know what it means to be transgender. To see a former Olympian, who was a poster boy for athleticism and perhaps masculinity, now as a woman wearing lipstick, a vintage bathing suit, with legs-for-days, may be the first time the average Joe and Jane knowingly encountered a transgendered person.

This ignorance, at its purest definition, can lead to conversations in the office that could become offensive and contentious. What can we, as human resources, do to foster an understanding of transgenderism and minimize offensive conversations in the office?

  • Educate – Offer programming and information to managers and employees to help them develop an understanding of the transgender community. Reduce ignorance by exposing employees to the challenges and issues facing this community.
  • Celebrate – Celebrate the diversity of your team – take advantage of local and national events that help raise awareness for diversity issues. Have the company march in your local pride parade. Build affinity groups.
  • Mediate – Don’t allow conversations that could turn offensive to continue. Interrupt and help build a bridge of understanding between the two parties.
  • Don’t Discriminate – Update your non discrimination/EEO policies to prohibit discrimination against employees based on gender identity, communicate the changes to employees and explain why it’s important to your company culture.
  • Elevate – Enhance your employment brand by promoting the diversity and inclusiveness of your workplace. Show the transgender community that they would be welcome on your team.

Like so many potentially offensive workplace issues, most situations stem from pure ignorance. As we’ve done before, Human Resources can play a vital role in changing the discourse, raising awareness, and opening minds.

What ideas do you have for addressing transgender issues in the workplace?

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