Two Thirds Of Trans People Do Not Feel Safe To Disclose At Work

Exclusive: A new survey reveals more trans people are hiding their status from colleagues than five years ago.

More trans people are hiding their transness at work now than five years ago, according to a new report on trans discrimination shared exclusively with HuffPost UK.

Almost two thirds (65%) of trans people do not feel comfortable revealing their trans status at work, according to a survey of 410 trans people conducted by Totaljobs, in collaboration with YouGov. This is a rise of 13% on the 52% of trans people who said the same when surveyed in 2016.

The report also reveals that 32% of trans-identifying employees surveyed have experienced discrimination in the past five years, 43% have quit a professional environment because it was unwelcoming (a rise of 7% since 2016), and that 56% believe it is harder to find employment because of their trans identity.

The findings back up recent data on trans discrimination in the workplace collected by other organisations. A 2018 survey of more than 800 trans and non-binary people by the charity Stonewall revealed that half of trans people have hidden or disguised their identity at work due to discrimination.

The same survey found one in eight (12%) of trans people have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in that year due to their transness.

Dr Nina Kane, a 48-year old theatre worker and supply teacher from Yorkshire who uses she/her pronouns, said she found the increase of employees feeling the need to hide their trans status “shocking”, despite claiming first-hand experience of discrimination as a trans man herself.

Dr Nina Kane
Dr Nina Kane

Dr Kane, who retains her legal female name for professional purposes, started openly presenting as a trans man while working for a previous employer. At first, she said she had only positive responses. “However, as time went on, I noticed a certain wariness and withdrawal on the part of colleagues,” she says.

“I’ve had male colleagues – senior management in particular – repeatedly call me ‘Miss’ in front of students in a disparaging and sarcastic manner, and also make exclusionary comments about me using the men’s toilets.”

Trans charity Mermaids, whose Trans at Work directory compiles stories from trans people across the UK, said the survey “unfortunately doesn’t come as a shock”, given the current prevalence of transphobia in the UK.

“The open hostility and public discourse around trans people has become increasingly toxic over the last five years, with hate groups taking pleasure in deriding and demonising trans lives,” a spokesperson for the charity told HuffPost UK.

“We know that many trans and non-binary people chose not to disclose their identity for fear of rejection, and some can feel that being open in the workplace will bring about a whole host of issues that they’d rather avoid.”

The spokesperson added: “Trans people, much like anyone else, want to be able to go to work, get their job done, and go home with a sense of pride and achievement. Sharing something personal, something that is constantly attacked in the media and debated in parliament, could put at risk their safety and in extreme cases their employment status.”

Jon Wilson, CEO of Totaljobs, also called the findings “deeply concerning”.

“Having a situation where any employee feels that they have to hide who they are in the workplace, or even decide to leave a role as a consequence of not feeling accepted, is simply wrong,” he said.

Wilson calls upon “all companies, big or small” to consider the steps they can take with recruitment and retention to remove barriers faced by trans people. Over half of trans employees (54%) surveyed said their employers didn’t offer training on trans issues to staff.

Other findings from the survey

The Totaljobs report revealed other short-term and long-term ways trans people face hostility at work

  • 35% said they wouldn’t report anti-trans behaviour when it happens
  • 32% said they had been bullied or insulted, with 27% saying they had been ‘deadnamed’, when a trans person is referred to by their former name
  • 30% said people at work had misused pronouns
  • 25% said they felt they had been socially excluded at work, and 17% felt left out of work projects, with 6% having experienced physical abuse or threatening behaviour.

“As employers, we need to ask serious questions as to what we can do to improve this state of affairs and ensure we’re championing a culture that is inclusive of trans individuals, to ensure they have happier, healthier working lives,” said Wilson.

“In particular, having a firm stance against anti-trans behaviour or abuse at work is non-negotiable. Nobody should have to feel unwelcome or unsafe at work.”

This concern was echoed by Ben Hodge, a 21-year-old trans man studying media and performance at the University of Salford, who said he is already worried about his future job prospects.

“The fact that less than half of workplaces don’t have an anti-trans discrimination policy concerns me,” he told HuffPost UK.

Ben Hodge
Ben Hodge

“If something was to ever happen to me in the workplace that I contribute to, I might not be supported. It’s hard not to feel like I’m a lower status of citizen to my colleagues, just for being my true self,” Hodge added.

“By the time someone from the trans community gets to the workplace, we’ve experienced some pretty tough life-lessons, we’ve become resilient, so to see trans employees feeling the need to hide who they are makes me sad.”

Trans people are legally protected in the workplace by The Equality Act 2010, which outlaws discrimination on the grounds of gender reassignment. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 also offers protection, offering trans people a Gender Recognition Certificate certifying a legal change in the person’s gender.

But the Gender Recognition Act has been the subject of much scrutiny. Recent calls for a revised version to allow trans people to self-identify without having to get an official medical diagnosis were dropped by the UK government, in a move that was viewed as a huge setback by many human rights groups.

Carolyn Mercer, a 73-year-old retired teacher from Lancashire, believes “the so-called ‘feminist’ anti-trans movement has contributed massively to the hostility being aired frequently and vitriolically” in everyday environments.

Mercer says she faced discrimination throughout her career as a secondary school head teacher, especially after her trans identity was leaked to the national press in 1994.

“After spending almost two decades working as an ‘out’ trans-historied woman, I would offer suggestions to hold your head up high and use processes and procedures including legal options to avoid being damaged by a hostile environment,” she said.

“Having said that, you are not weak to value your own mental health and walk away. But, please, do not allow yourself to be driven out. Support, professional and personal, is available.”

Carolyn Mercer
Carolyn Mercer

Some thing have changed for the better in workplaces, said Lee Clatworthy of trans charity Sparkle, which partnered on Totaljobs’ Trans Employee Experiences Survey – but he urged more could be done by employers.

“Many organisations are doing great diversity, equity and inclusion work internally, which is obviously important in retaining a diverse workforce that feels valued, but many are not promoting this work outside of the organisation to attract candidates from a variety of backgrounds,” he told HuffPost UK.

Clatworthy recommends “de-gendering the language” on forms, websites and job ads used in recruitment processes. “Having one single point of contact for all candidates, who is trained to be sensitive to the barriers that trans and gender diverse candidates may face, also helps to build the trust from trans employees that they’ll be welcomed in the organisation,” he added.

Dr Kane believes there needs to be more training at workplaces led by trans employees and “more focus in general on LGBTIQA experiences, lives and issues” – with these issues placed in an intersectional framework, taking into account “the common experiences of oppression experienced by women, BAME people or people or colour, disabled employees, working class and others who are LGB, as well as those of us under the T umbrella.”

There could be greater support from employees and unions, added Dr Kane, who also calls for “more research into the experiences of older trans people in the workplace” to understand how trans identity affects someone’s whole life span, career trajectory and earnings.

Useful websites and helplines:

  • The Gender Trust supports anyone affected by gender identity | 01527 894 838
  • Mermaids offers information, support, friendship and shared experiences for young people with gender identity issues | 0208 1234819
  • LGBT Youth Scotland is the largest youth and community-based organisation for LGBT people in Scotland. Text 07786 202 370
  • Gires provides information for trans people, their families and professionals who care for them | 01372 801554
  • Depend provides support, advice and information for anyone who knows, or is related to, a transsexual person in the UK