Trans Job Seeker Guide: Overcoming Obstacles in the Job Market

Kathy MorrisAuthor

Applying for jobs can feel overwhelming, especially when you’re a trans applicant.

Do you out yourself immediately or wait until paperwork is filed? Can you avoid outing yourself at all? Can you apply with your new name or do you have to use your legal name? What about company dress codes?

These are just a few questions trans job seekers ask themselves.

Factor in other serious questions like how to find a trans-friendly company, where to find trans rights resources or how to handle discrimination in the workplace, and suddenly stress and anxiety levels go through the roof — but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here’s a resource to guide trans job seekers- and help employers be more supportive.

Trans Workplace Rights

In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes protections for members of the LGBT+ community. Until that point, employers in many U.S. states had the right to fire employees simply for being gay, bisexual or trans.

How To Spot A Trans Friendly Workplace

Each year, more and more companies jump on board to make the workplace more inclusive, but that doesn’t mean every potential position will be trans-friendly.

Here are a few things to remember when looking for a trans-friendly workplace:

  • How big is the company?
  • Remember, fifteen or fewer employees means trans workers aren’t legally protected. If you’re not sure how many employees work at a company, visit the website or simply call and ask.

  • Do your research
  • If a job catches your eye, take a look at its reviews and staff.

    You can find company information on their websites and social media pages — but don’t stop there! Look at what people are saying about the company and how it treats its employees.

    Find this information in the comments on social media posts, responses to company blog posts or company review websites.

  • Dig deep
  • Most company websites and social media pages include information regarding community outreach. Take a few minutes to thoroughly research how a company interacts with the community.

    Does the company support specific events or participate in any awareness campaigns? What are they and do they align with your values?

  • Pay attention to health benefits
  • What benefits a company offers its employees is a clear indication of how well (or how poorly) you can expect to be treated.

    When you look into a potential future employer’s health benefits, ask yourself if they are inclusive enough for your needs.

    It isn’t always easy to uncover this information, especially when you haven’t even applied yet, so how can you find out?

    Start by reading company reviews. If that doesn’t yield any information, try contacting the company’s HR department. Let them know you’d like some information regarding health benefits, specifically what options a trans worker can choose from.

  • Take a trip
  • Still not sure if a company is trans friendly? If possible, visit the office and try these tips.

  • Walk around
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. Look for clues regarding company viewpoints. Is there a gender-neutral or all-inclusive bathroom available?

  • Make small talk
  • Talk to the receptionist. Do they like working for the company? Is there anything potential employees should know before applying?

    If you happen to catch an employee who is willing to spare some time, ask them how they feel about company culture. Do they feel seen and heard by upper management? Are they happy with workplace policies?

  • Hang out
  • Take a seat in the reception room or at a nondescript table and take in your surroundings. Really look at the people who come and go.

    Is there a diverse group of employees? How are they dressed? Does there seem to be a strict gendered dress code?

Job Hunting Tips

Resume and Cover Letter Pronouns

Do you have to apply with your legal name?
When you’re ready to apply for a job, consider whether to use your given or preferred name.

It is not illegal to apply with your preferred name, but note that if you’re hired, you’ll need to use your legal name on all onboarding and benefit paperwork.

When to use your preferred pronouns

If you haven’t legally changed your name yet, it’s time to make a decision. You can use your preferred name and pronouns in your cover letter, wait for the interview or hold off until you’ve been hired.

Here’s a breakdown on which each of those choices look like:

In the cover letter

Using preferred pronouns in a cover letter tells the company what to expect right away, but you risk missing out on the job if the hiring manager decides to hold your gender identity against you.

During the interview

Outing yourself during the interview opens the door to discussing LGBT+ rights in the workplace and can help you decide whether the company is right for you.

This also provides an opportunity for you to request others use your preferred name and specific pronouns.

When signing paperwork

Waiting until it’s time to sign the paperwork means only HR will know you’re trans. If you don’t plan on coming out at work, this is the best option.

Keeping your gender identity under wraps at work also gives you plenty of time to decide when or if you should come out.

You can wait days, months or even years — or you can decide it’s no one’s business and choose never to come out at work.

Interview Tips

  • Ask questions
  • The number one thing to remember is interviews go both ways.

    Prepare necessary questions regarding the position, of course, but don’t forget to ask about company culture and policies. Here are a few questions to start with:

    • Has the company taken any steps to create a safe place for its employees?
    • Does it offer diversity training?
    • What is the dress code and is it gendered?
    • Will it be an issue if you dress according to your identity?

    These questions may not sound like they need to be asked during the initial interview but it’s better to understand company views prior to entering a potentially hostile work environment.

  • Be prepared
  • You’ve already researched the company’s views, but now it’s time to learn a bit about the hiring manager.

    Learn or simply ask their name before the interview. Ask if others will be involved as well and get their job titles.

    Prepare role-specific questions to show your interest in the company and the job you’re applying for. Make sure none of your questions can be easily answered by scrolling through the company website or social media pages.

  • Practice
  • All interviews can induce anxiety. It’s difficult to remain calm when it comes to a career opportunity.

    How can you soothe those pesky interview nerves? Practice with a friend. Memorizing good questions about the role and company culture will help prepare you for the actual interview.

    If you want to come out while speaking with the interviewer, role play a few ways to do so without distracting from your qualifications and interest in the position.

Workplace Discrimination

Discrimination comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Coworkers who make off-color jokes or who “lightheartedly tease" someone for their sexuality, race, identity, nationality, etc. are behaving inappropriately.

More examples of gender identity discrimination include:

  • Not being allowed to use the restroom associated with your gender identity.
  • Being denied equal treatment in the workplace.
  • Getting fired or demoted when your employer discovers plans for sex reassignment surgery.
  • Getting disciplined for wearing clothes according to your gender identity or an exclusive dress code that makes no effort to accommodate trans workers.
  • of promotions and/or opportunities in the workplace due to gender identity.
  • Exclusion from company-related events due to gender identity.
  • Harassment by superiors or other employees in the workplace.

Note that harassment can be anything from inappropriate comments and jokes to outright threats.
But what can you do if you are the victim of workplace discrimination?

How To Handle Discrimination In The Workplace

One immediate reaction is to tell the offender(s) to stop. Let them know it’s inappropriate and you will not tolerate that behavior, then privately document the incident. If it persists, ask them to stop again, document it then go straight to HR.

However, if you feel uncomfortable confronting workplace offenders or fear repercussions, you can skip that step and instead go straight to HR. You are not responsible for educating your coworkers and it is perfectly reasonable to defer the matter to professionals.

It is the human resource department’s job to ensure all employees are treated with respect in the workplace. Show them your documentation, explain the situation, and they will take the situation from there.

Wait a few days for HR to make a move. Look for a sudden company-wide training session, class or meeting. If it seems HR isn’t reacting, follow up with the department again and document that you spoke to them twice.

What if HR fails to solve the problem?

After speaking with HR twice and giving them ample time to respond, if it seems your issue was cast aside, take the next step by filing a charge against the company and offending employees with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

EEOC accepts charges via mail or phone. Contact the nearest EEOC office or call toll-free 800-669-6820 . A charge must be filed within 300 days of the discriminatory act.

Personal Resources

After going through the proper channels, you may need help to get through the emotional damage. Here are a few helpful resources:

  • Turn to loved ones
  • Friends and family can support you through this difficult time. Share your situation with the people who love you.

    Loved ones are always willing to provide support, whether it be in the form of kind words, advice or a shoulder to cry on.

  • Get involved
  • Relying on your support network can make all the difference, but it won’t stop workplace discrimination.

    If you want to make a difference, get involved with local organizations created to help people respond to discrimination.

    By connecting with a group of like-minded individuals, you can learn how to grow and fight back. Join the cause and hold companies accountable for discrimination in the workplace.

  • Seek help
  • If your situation is extreme or you are unable to push past doubt, anger and other negative thoughts or feelings, consult a professional.

    Speak to a therapist to work through and manage stress, depression, guilt and other emotions impacting your mental health.

    Here are a few helpful resources to try:

Legal Responsibilities For Employers

Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a safe environment for their employees. This means employees should be able to come to work without fear of discrimination, harassment or prejudice.

It All Starts With HR

The Human Resources department should be well-versed in how to handle situations as they arise, but the best companies also have an HR team that thinks ahead.

A strong HR department will prepare for possible situations like an employee transitioning from one gender to another, handling gender-based discrimination among employees and providing the necessary tools to educate employees about the LGBT+ community.

Steps To Making A More Trans Friendly Work Environment

As an employer, you may ask yourself how to create a better work environment for your trans employees. Hiring qualified trans people is a great first step, but what else can you do?

  • Address Employees By Their Preferred Names And Pronouns
  • Allow employees to include these pronouns in everything from office-wide memos to everyday conversations. This allows them to feel included and seen.

  • Provide gender-inclusive bathrooms
  • This can be as simple as removing the gendered plaques from restrooms or just replacing them with gender-neutral signs.

    Bonus points for providing feminine hygiene products and odor neutralizing sprays, candles or oils.

  • Reconsider the dress code
  • Gone are the days of women wearing skirts and men wearing suits. Offer general guidelines all genders can follow, such as a no hat policy, only natural hair colors and a tidy appearance.

    If necessary, provide a more detailed list that generalizes what material pants and tops must be made from but do not state women must wear X and men must wear Y.

  • Revise the Equal Employment Opportunity paperwork
  • Make sure your EEO paperwork specifically includes “gender identity" or “gender expression" as protected classes.

  • Be prepared
  • Talk to HR and make sure there are gender transition guidelines that address what a transitioning employee can expect from management.

    This should include general procedures for implementing transition-related workplace changes, like adjusting personnel records.

    You may also want to assign someone to be responsible for helping the transitioning employee with managing their workplace transition.

  • Update medical benefits
  • Remember, trans people are still people. They require everything cisgenders do. This means trans employees should have just as much access to prenatal care as they do prostate exams.

    Update the benefits you offer employees so everyone is included and has access to the healthcare they need.

  • Participate
  • There are always LGBT+ community events the company can engage in.

    Participation can be in the form of sponsoring employee programs, providing pro bono services to the LGBT+ community, donating to LGBT+ non-profits or using LGBT+ vendors and partners.

  • Update and create strong policies
  • Support your LGBT+ employees by updating policies to include and protect them. Make sure these policies are clearly communicated to the entire team and ensure all policies are visibly enforced.

Workplace Resources For Employers

Employers interested in making the workplace more inclusive have several resources to choose from. Here are a few to consider:

  • SHRM
  • – The Society for Human Resource Management. Learn about HR policies, maintaining HR integrity and updating existing practices.

  • Transgender Law Center
  • – Take a look at the Model Employer Policy, which clarifies laws and helps companies include transgender, gender non-conforming and transitioning employees.

  • Human Rights Campaign Foundation
  • – Download the “Trans Inclusion in the Workplace: A Toolkit for Employers" PDF. This toolkit helps employers build a more inclusive workplace.

  • Harvard Business Review
  • – Learn how to stop trans stigma, discrimination and hostility in the workplace.

  • Trans Employment Program
  • – Move beyond bias, how to model policies and more.

  • Inspire Human Resources
  • – How to proactively plan for trans inclusion.

  • Trans Can Work
  • – Evaluating, training, consulting, eLearning and more.

As with all change, it will take time, research and a lot of work to implement. But if you and your company invest in creating a more inclusive workplace, your employees will feel seen and the office will become a safer, healthier environment.

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Kathy MorrisAuthor