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Are We Ready for Trans Youth in Business?

24/12/2015 16:07 GMT | Updated 24/12/2016 10:12 GMT

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This year has been a truly remarkable one for bringing attention to transgender rights around the world.

From Caitlyn Jenner to Eddie Redmayne's performance in The Danish Girl, the presence of transgender people in the media is on an upward trajectory like never before. And this year has also been noteworthy for the rising visibility of transgender youth and young people with non-binary genders.

Yet many transgender people are still faced with a challenging everyday world. Imagine you are a young person wrestling with your gender, contemplating a new future, and thinking about the barriers ahead in everyday life. Will I get a job where I feel comfortable? Which bathroom to use? How to fill in that form at work?

In May 2015 Fusion's Massive Millennial Poll found that "50% of millennials felt that gender is actually a spectrum", and that "some people fall outside conventional categories". This US survey, which polled 1,000 people between the ages of 18 and 34 on topics including politics and race issues, made me think about how relevant the study was to the UK.

A number of UK universities are now introducing inclusive language, such as allowing individuals to declare their preferred pronoun, as well as gender neutral toilets to support their LBGT inclusive policies. Some have had such policies for many years. And with the number of young people who seek medical support for being trans increasing as much as 50% per year in the UK, it is going to be more and more important to support and accept transgender people.

However, while many organizations are accommodating shifting perceptions of gender, the workplace remains a very binary place. When applying for jobs, signing up for employee benefits, or, being customers, we regularly get asked for our gender or title.

Many organizations are built on systems and processes with boxes to tick that don't change and flex, where a perception of certainty trumps flexibility. Workplace systems typically only allow for one gender and our toilets are normally split into male or female environments. Imagine every time you tried to fill in a form at work, there wasn't an appropriate box to tick for your place in society. This is what countless everyday experiences can feel like to a transgender person.

So, how will the millennial generation respond to our binary workplaces? How can we adapt our notions of binary gender to make our workplaces more inclusive?

As an example, Facebook has created over 50 different ways for expressing gender and preferred pronouns on the social network. While there was controversy over its real name policy - which thankfully it has reversed - many young people are accustomed to using Facebook but are still potentially in for a shock when entering the workplace.

There are signs of progress. Stonewall's historic move to include trans questions in its iconic Workplace Equality Index survey is to be applauded. And I'm proud to work at a company that made Stonewall's Top 100 LGBT Employers list in 2015.

Despite this improvement, recent ground-breaking research by OUTstanding showed that many UK FTSE 100 companies "are overlooking transgender employees completely, with 80% of the reports failing to mention non-discrimination policies for transgender staff". There is clearly still much more to do.

I am worried that recruiters, policy gurus, senior managers and executives continue to reinforce the binary thinking in the workplace. While celebrities can help with broader social acceptance for trans people, it's the daily reality of finding and being at work for all trans people that still needs to change.