For over a year, transgender employees have experienced some reprieve from our day-to-day anxiety through the “gift” of Zoom. We’ve been given the opportunity to control our environment and choose who sees us, and who doesn’t. With the reopening of offices on the horizon, we’re slowly rebuilding a sense of fear and uncertainty that comes with trans people simply being out in the world. From commuting on public transportation, to stopping for gas, to showing up in the office “changed” from the last time a colleague might have seen us, planning to return to the workplace can mean reinstating the need to be on guard all day, five days a week.
This is not an exaggeration. Of the more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills across the U.S. today, 130+ bills threaten the rights of transgender individuals, increasing anxiety where a return to normal is steeped in fear. Whether within our offices or in the communities we interact with throughout the work week, it’s something we have to start thinking about to care for our safety and wellbeing as our communities reopen.
Importance of allyship and community
Prior to lockdown, we found a sense of belonging at Intuit where the company has worked hard to make the workplace a safe space where everyone can bring their whole selves to work. Through the Transgender Advisory Board, a community of support and allyship driven by the company’s annual Trans Summit, key workplace experiences remind us that many will welcome us back to the office with open arms.
Jessica: When I showed up at the office for the first time after coming out to my co-workers, my team surprised me with a party. They brought in cake, “It’s a Girl” balloons, and some small gifts to welcome me to the team as my truest self. It was a moment that told me I am accepted as I am and can find belonging amongst my peers.
Tanner: When I transitioned, my teammates took it upon themselves to be the “pronoun police” on my behalf and worked hard to show me they’ve always known me as Tanner. They went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable in every corner of the office, including the restroom. Though I declined and had a good laugh over gender bathroom etiquette, a male colleague offered to accompany me to the restroom if it would make me more comfortable, showing tangible empathy during a vulnerable time.
Cedric: I sent my coming-out email not knowing what to expect. Within seconds, Tanner responded that he is also a transgender man and offered his support for whatever my experience would be. The immediate response launched a friendship that has moved beyond support during my transition to becoming a trusted confidant and friend.
Creating an inclusive return to the office
While allies and a community of support are critical to build and continue in any workplace, there is additional nuance to consider when transitioning back to office spaces that are both inclusive and empowering for your transgender employees.
Be flexible. Consider that full-time remote work may be the best option for some. Through an internal survey, Intuit found that 14% of employees prefer to remain remote full time, including Tanner and Jessica. While this may not be the case for all transgender employees, it may be the case for some, if not many, and companies should consider if remote work is an option, either part or full time.
Educate yourself. Don’t expect your transgender colleagues to educate you on their experiences. Look for available resources to better understand the transgender experience and stay up-to-date on the legislation impacting your colleagues and their community.
Lead with empathy. Your transgender coworkers are overwhelmed by threats to their wellbeing and are doing their best to maintain productivity through this trauma. Continue to listen and adapt your leadership style to accommodate this reality that is likely quite different from your own.
We are just like everyone else, looking for a lifestyle that empowers us to thrive and be our true selves in every facet of our lives. This includes in the workplace, wherever that workplace may be.
Tanner Arnold, Jessica Darke, and Cedric Honigberg are members of Intuit’s Transgender Advisory Board.