Today is Trans Day of Visibility: the annual global event that centers the accomplishments of trans and gender nonconforming people. Initiated in 2009 by US-based trans activist Rachel Crandall, this is a moment for trans people to revel in the acknowledgement of their unstoppable force and beauty. But just as importantly, it’s a day for allies to reflect and act on the work that still needs to be done to ensure all trans people everywhere thrive every single day.
TOPdesk: where we stand today
As a trans person working at TOPdesk, I’m glad to share my thoughts with you on this day. I’m thrilled to have seen recognition within our company of the fact that trans and gender nonconforming people must be an integral part of our culture.
We’ve taken some mention-worthy first steps in doing the work internally: TOPdesk hosted its inaugural Diversity and Inclusion week in fall 2021, with trans and gender nonconforming awareness as part of the program. We also now have gender-neutral restrooms in our headquarters in Delft, and colleagues are increasingly more careful and respectful when it comes to pronouns. Corporate Social Responsibility is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our DNA too, and our recent Women’s Day blog on bridging tech’s gender gap was a great start to the types of urgent conversations we must have. These are all steps in the right direction that we should be proud of!
We also have to be honest with ourselves: so far, we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. Pronouns and restrooms are just the beginning. But why is trans inclusion in particular so important? What more can we do? And how do we trans-form to get to a place of true inclusion of trans and gender nonconforming people?
While I may not have all the answers and can only speak from my experience — that of a white, university educated, able-bodied trans person — I’ve outlined some statistics and action points below that can serve as a guide to the next steps we can collectively take towards trans and gender nonconforming people’s sustained inclusion and celebration.
Why trans inclusivity matters
With the risk of sounding cliché: trans inclusivity matters because everyone deserves to have their human needs and rights met, at all times and everywhere. There’s the illusion that “developed” countries in the West, or the tech sector, in which TOPdesk operates as well, are past the point of gender issues. “Everyone is welcome, we don’t see gender anymore and we’re all a happy family!” Right? Well, sadly, reality couldn’t be further from this.
Not to be a Debbie Downer on this celebratory day, but statistics about the global rates of anti-trans violence are high, while the rates for employment and overall life satisfaction of trans people are low, to put it mildly. To give you an idea, last year was the deadliest year for trans and gender nonconforming people that died at the hands of anti-trans violence; 375 people, to be exact, and those are only the ones that were recorded, and the majority of victims were trans women, especially Black, brown, migrant and sex worker trans women.
Globally, trans people, especially Black, brown, poor and disabled trans women, face higher unemployment rates and lower housing opportunities, not only due to direct transphobia, but also because of the vast structural inequalities that push trans and gender nonconforming people down the ladder. Furthermore, there isn’t a trans person in any study executed that hasn’t experienced at least some kind of (micro-)aggression at the workplace. All these issues are interconnected, and the resulting mix of struggles that trans people face on the daily makes living and thriving that much harder compared to their cis family, friends and colleagues.
Universally, one of the most urgent needs most trans people have is adequate health care, and here I’d like to briefly touch upon my own experience with trans health care in the Netherlands. The Dutch government and health institutions — which market themselves as incredibly tolerant and progressive — abandon us and police us at the same time. On the one hand, whenever trans and gender nonconforming people voice our concerns, our voices are ignored. On the other hand, we are punished for seeking autonomous ways of accessing health care: for instance, without the need of our “condition” to be “approved” by a “gender therapist” to receive the care we need. Or without waiting for years and years on waiting lists just for a first introduction appointment at the very few institutionalized places for trans care.
This causes immense daily stress to trans people, and it increases our rates of suicide, of dissatisfaction with life, of being unable to do our work properly or to find a safe house to live in. It also forces us into dangerous self-medicating paths and requires of us to pay for very expensive affirming procedures — such as facial feminization surgery, hair lasers, top surgery, to name a few — out of pocket; the costs can be in the tens of thousands of euros.
The inclusion of trans and gender nonconforming people cannot be a purely corporate desire. It must come from a place of genuine care for your employees and co-workers’ well-being.
Why trans people are essential to tech
As doomed as the current picture may seem, it’s impossible to ignore how powerful and vibrant trans existence, resistance and joy are. In the tech sector in particular — which is still majorly a bro culture paradise — the presence of trans and gender nonconforming people can be, and is, an engine to progress and innovation. I mean, who better to develop breakthrough technologies than people who themselves transgress and tear apart any type of social constructs, to then build them up again in their own unique ways?
Though statistics on trans and gender nonconforming people working in tech are virtually nonexistent — which is telling in and of itself — there are numerous trans pioneers that are paving the way. From the ones whose names and stories are globally renowned, there’s Angelica Ross, a Black trans woman that founded TransTech, a social enterprise that provides skills and support for trans and gender nonconforming people that wish to enter tech. Other trans trailblazers include Lynn Conway, who is a pioneering chip designer at IMB, and Ana Arriola, a former product design director at Facebook, head of UX at Samsung and partner at Microsoft, who shares that, as a trans woman, she “learned about how I can apply that uniqueness I have as a person into entrepreneurship.”
Expectedly, however, most influential trans and gender nonconforming people in tech are white, university educated, able-bodied. The next urgent step in the inclusion of our community in tech, but also in any sector, is for an intersectional approach that centers and uplifts the most marginalized: Black, brown, immigrant, poor, disabled, and sex worker trans femmes.
What can we do?
It’s 2022, and, let’s face it: you don’t want to be on the wrong side of history; especially not as a tech company that should be at the forefront of innovative progress. But if you’re down to do this work, there’s one essential thing to keep in mind — this is not a “ten things we can do” checklist that will increase employee efficiency and, in turn, boost your sales and profit. The inclusion of trans and gender nonconforming people cannot be a purely corporate desire. It must come from a place of genuine care for your employees and co-workers’ well-being. And there’s no way to “hack” inclusivity — it must be established with consistent actions of support.
There are a bunch of ways to start this journey, and one of them is learning more about the topic yourself. As mentioned already, respecting your trans and gender nonconforming colleagues’ pronouns and names is an essential part of establishing a safe work environment. Unintentional slip-ups can happen, and that’s totally normal. Don’t let it stop you from being an ally! Just apologize, don’t make it about you, and quickly move on; it’s that simple. And, if you notice someone else slip up without apologizing, then step up yourself and make sure they do. I promise you, your trans colleague will appreciate it.
Staying informed on correct terminology and learning more about trans people’s experience, history or communities is necessary if we are to establish meaningful and deep connections as people. But asking your trans and gender nonconforming colleagues about each and every single thing can be emotionally taxing on them. If they haven’t taken the initiative to teach you about a topic, do your own research and commit to being proactive about learning.
But it’s unrealistic to expect that cis people’s knowledge itself will suffice to create the necessary company-wide changes. Bigger structural trans-formations are needed to ensure all trans and gender nonconforming employees work in an equitable and respectful environment. To begin with, make sure there are gender-neutral restrooms in your office. It’s so easy to do, but can eliminate a lot of mental and physical discomfort for gender nonconforming people. Most importantly, just let everyone use whichever restroom they wish; it’s really not that big of a deal.
As a company, make sure you give recruitment a trans-inclusive training. For example, often trans people that have “holes” in their resumes might seem unqualified, when the case could be they were discriminated against. It’s vital to address such issues in recruitment processes and hire more gender-diverse people.
Beyond getting more trans and gender nonconforming people on board, it’s essential to build a safe place for them to work once they’ve been hired. Issue a trans-inclusive company-wide policy that establishes some basic accountability rules and makes it clear that you will protect your trans employees if injustices occur.
Also, be aware that transition can be an intensely personal and both mentally and physically demanding process. So, like paid sickness and parental leave, allow trans people to take off time for their transition if they need it. As an individual, and as a company too, you can commit to donating to trans people’s crowdfunding efforts at raising money for gender-affirming procedures; those are extremely expensive but life-saving!
Correspondingly, there is a need for trans-specific mentorship. There are processes that trans and gender nonconforming people go through the impact of which only our community understands. And so, having a mentor — and leaders! — of trans experience could be immensely beneficial to personal development and a feeling of safety at work. It can boost someone’s fit within a company’s culture too and allow them to see the possibilities that are available for them development-wise.
The above is based on my personal experiences and views. But one thing is universal: we need more trans people in tech and we need to do better at ensuring their safety and happiness. We’re all at different stages in our commitment to doing this long-term work, but we need to be aware that there’s always more to be done. Let’s celebrate our achievements today while also making concrete plans about how to become better and better at ensuring trans liberation and equity for all!
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