Work Spaces as Safe Spaces: Visibly Supporting Transgender Employees

Written on 31 March 2021

Max Turner – Work Acceptance Officer and OC Pride Gender Identity Rep

Today marks International Trans Day of Visibility, an annual worldwide day dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments and victories of transgender and gender non-conforming people whilst raising awareness of the work that is still needed to save trans lives.

This month also marks one year since many in the UK began working from home in response to the Covid19 Pandemic. Stonewall highlighted the effects of lockdown on the LGBTQ+ community in April 2020, recognising that for some, staying home is not a safe option. From going back into the closet to domestic violence and homelessness, these concerns led UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to call on all countries to take targeted actions to protect LGBT people amid the pandemic.

At Osborne Clarke, inclusivity is a core value that runs through everything we do. This year it has become more important than ever to provide visible and meaningful support for the trans community.

In September the firm stood with its trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming colleagues. In the wake of reports suggesting that the UK government was planning regressive legislative steps that would have negatively impacted the lives, safety and careers of transgender individuals, Osborne Clarke joined over 40 other global corporations in voicing their concerns to the government in the form of public and private letters stating that Trans rights are human rights.

The firm continues to ensure that the office is a safe space for trans colleagues, providing a platform for trans voices in both internal and client facing events; and hosting events with a focus on allyship.

I had been working at OC for four years when I started to transition in 2017 and I was never in doubt that I would be supported by the business and by colleagues. But even so, I was blown away by the overwhelming level of that support for myself as an individual and for the trans community. The office is one of the few places I count as a much needed safe space in my life.

For businesses unsure of how to start offering this support, here are a few recommendations I can share from my experience at Osborne Clarke:

Engagement: Engage your trans, non-binary and gender non-confirming colleagues. Listen to what they have to say and be open to understanding, but do not rely on them to do the work for you or to educate your business. Everyone in the trans community is different and has different needs, and whilst it is important to listen to the needs of your colleagues so that you can support them, you should also educate yourselves on issues within the wider trans community.

Evaluation: Set time aside, quarterly or annually as appropriate for your business, to evaluate what support you have given, what lessons you have learned and what you can do next. Identify the areas where support is lacking or potentially only performative. If your intention to support is there but it is inaccessible to the people who need it then it is not meaningful support.

Expectations: Make your commitment to the support of the trans community clear both internally and externally. Setting this example can reassure colleagues but also sets an expectation for clients, customers and future colleagues on where you stand on these issues. This can go a long way in ensuring your work place is a safe space.

It is important to note that in order to protect themselves, members of the trans community will often assume a space is not inclusive of them unless it is clearly stated that it is. The only way you can ensure that the trans community knows that their workspace is a safe space is to demonstrate that it is in as visible a way as possible.