Most managers confident handling trans staff’s complaints about workplace treatment, study shows

There are two women overlooking a report. One is wearing a brown shirt and the other has a more colourful shirt on. There is a creative background of the trans pride flag colours.

Despite misinformation in the media and hostile political rhetoric from both sides of the House of Commons, a new survey has found that most managers feel equipped to handle issues that trans and non-binary staff face.

The study, published by the law firm Irwin Mitchell, found that 76 per cent of business leaders and line managers feel comfortable dealing with complaints from trans employees about their treatment in the workplace.

On the flip side, only 15 per cent said that they don’t feel confident and 9 per cent said they would prefer not to say.

The responses of more than 2000 people in leadership roles offer up a glimmer of hope that taking trans and non-binary inclusion seriously isn’t just a tick box exercise for most.

The fact remains though that trans and non-binary staff may face more discrimination than other LGBTQ+ employees. From overt discrimination like deadnaming and misgendering to hidden discrimination like being overlooked for promotions, it should come as no shock that 65 per cent of trans people don’t come out at work. 

Some managers are still afraid of saying the wrong thing when it comes to trans issues

Irwin Mitchell’s survey dug deeper to find out the reasons people wouldn’t feel comfortable responding to complaints from trans and non-binary staff. Some themes emerged: a lack of knowledge and training, not feeling equipped to deal with the situation, lack of real-life experience, never having managed trans staff before, difficulty around the subject, uncertainty over the law, not understanding the correct approach to take, anxiety about getting it wrong or saying the wrong thing and not having the correct knowledge or understanding the vocabulary to use.

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Specific responses noted in the survey included: “People are far too ready to take offence,” “fear of offending the employee,” “feels like a minefield”, “lack of support from higher-ups,” and “scared to use the wrong pronouns.”

Commenting on the survey, Charlotte Rees-John, employment partner at Irwin Mitchell said: “It’s positive, although quite surprising based on the enquiries we have received, that so many business leaders are confident they could deal with a complaint about the treatment of trans employees in the workplace.

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“It can be a polarising debate and I’m not surprised that those who aren’t confident about dealing with these types of issues, worry about causing offence. That’s where good diversity and inclusion training comes in.”

How workplace leaders can become more confident

While the results from the Irwin Mitchell survey are promising, it is clear that there is more work to be done – especially when it comes to education and a better understanding of the trans and non-binary lived experience. With the community facing constant scrutiny and discrimination, managers need to be visible allies.

Speaking at the recent PinkNews Trans+ Summit, Emma Cusdin, director at trans and non-binary inclusion consultancy Global Butterflies said: “Being a manager isn’t easy. You can be a force for allyship or not.”

“For trans and non-binary people, having a leader that supports them, then they can be themselves.”

When it comes to managers not getting the terminology right, Claire Harvey, head of inclusion, wellbeing and engagement at the global financial firm TP ICAP, believes that sometimes being clumsy is part of the journey to becoming more confident. 

Speaking at the summit, she said: “Sometimes getting the wrong language is always better than not having the conversation at all.”

To help those managers that are lacking confidence in addressing the trans and non-binary experience at work, Irwin Mitchell has created a resource guide that includes information on terminology, legal framework and how business leaders can support their trans and non-binary employees.

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