Questions to ask when writing a trans inclusion policy
A fortnight ago, I tweeted a question:
Trans friends: we’re trying to improve Wellcome’s policies around trans inclusion and support for employees who are transitioning at work.
Tell me about companies that have good policies for this? (The more detail, the better.)
RT for reach?
Doing more to help our trans colleagues is a big focus for the LGBTQ+ Staff network and the Diversity & Inclusion team this year. Part of that is a proper policy that affirms our support for them, and setting some expectations for how trans people should be treated as Wellcome.
I was vaguely aware that other organisations were doing good work around trans inclusion, but I didn’t have many details. I can guess at what might be useful, but that’s not the same as seeing some real examples. I have a lot of trans followers on Twitter, so I was hoping I’d get a few replies to guide my thinking – and I was pleasantly surprised!
Dozens of people reached out with suggestions, pointing me to policies and good practices, and giving me lots of material to read. I’m incredibly grateful to everybody who sent me a message. It was useful to read policies from a variety of places, and think about the challenges people face in different roles.
This post has some of my initial notes, with some common themes and ideas I spotted. As we actually write the policy and have more conversations, I expect I’ll have more to say.
Why have a policy?
If you’re trans, but you’re not out at work, the prospect of coming out can be pretty scary – especially if you don’t how how your colleagues will react. Trans people come in for a lot of harassment and abuse, and given how much time we spend at work, it can get pretty unpleasant.
I hope that having a policy that sets the tone for how trans people should be treated will make it easier for people to be themselves at work. You’re not just rolling the dice and hoping your individual team will be nice – you know the organisation supports you, and will help you push back if you face hostility.
It’s not the only thing we can do to look after our trans colleagues, but it’s a good first step.
How do you write a policy?
Writing good policy is about asking questions. What scenarios might somebody face? How do we handle those as an organisation? How do we respond? You want to anticipate common questions in advance, not answer them as you go along. Every organisation will have different questions, and different answers – you can’t just copy somebody else’s policy unmodified.
It means thinking about your entire organisation – everybody in it, everybody they interact with. It means making hard decisions – there isn’t always an easy, correct answer. Often the most valuable part of writing policy isn’t the policy itself, but the conversations you have while writing it.
What goes into a policy?
If policy is about asking questions, which questions do we need to ask?
Every organisation will have slightly different questions – but there are lots of similarities. These are some of the common ones I spotted.
What’s the point of the policy?
I’ve already explained why I think you need a policy. Most policies I read opened with something similar. Common goals included:
- To provide appropriate support to trans employees
- To guarantee privacy and confidentiality
- To encourage a diverse working environment
Alongside that, most of the policies had a section about the organisation’s key values and beliefs. Nothing too surprising:
- Trans people exist, they have the right to self-identify as their chosen gender, and to be treated with respect and dignity.
Transition is an individual process. That can include medical, legal, or social transition -- or some combination of the three.
A common assumption is that transition is just about medical procedures (which aren't always desired or possible). You don't have to transition medically to be trans.
Gender isn't a binary. There are plenty of trans people who are neither male nor female.
Even if this stuff seems “obvious” to you, it’s worth stating them explicitly. That’s something I saw in a lot of the policies, and was a useful reminder for me – just because I know something doesn’t mean everybody does. A policy has to make sense to everybody, not just people who are already in-the-know.
Who is the policy for?
Most of the policies had different sections for these groups:
- An individual who is trans or transitioning
- Other people in the organisation who work with them – for example, managers or coworkers
- The administrative systems – HR, company directory, email addresses, and so on
- People outside the organisation who they interact with – customers, supplies, clients, etc.
Each of these groups will have need to be handled differently. A person who’s transitioning will have different questions and concerns to their manager or somebody in HR, and so on.
The best policies drilled down into more detail in each group. For example, university policies distinguished between staff and students.
At Wellcome, we’ll need to really pick apart that “people outside the organisation” group. It’s quite large and diverse – members of the public who visit Wellcome Collection, researchers whose grants we fund, policymakers at external organisations, and lots of others. (In most cases, I expect we already have a policy, and it’s a case of joining the dots. For example, there’s probably a line in our grant conditions about treating Wellcome staff with respect; we just have to make sure that covers transphobic harassment.)
Does everybody know the words?
Phrases like “cis”, “trans”, “non-binary” and “gender identity” – if you’re trans or close to trans people, you probably already know these terms, but plenty of people will never have come across them before.
All the policies I read had a glossary to explain the key words and terms.
What laws are applicable?
Some policies referred to specific laws that affect inclusion, including:
- The Gender Recognition Act 2004
- The Equality Act 2010
- The Data Protection Act 1998
The DPA 1998 was mentioned in the context of allowing trans people to update their details in administrative systems – name, gender, title. I didn’t see anybody mention GDPR, but it covers similar ground and I’d expect newer policies to mention it.
How do you transition at work?
Every person’s transition is different, and you can’t prescribe a course of action – but you can signpost ways the organisation can help.
Many policies talked about creating a timeline, by talking to managers and/or HR. Key milestones included:
- Are you going to change your name? (Not everybody does.) If so, when?
- When are you going to start presenting at work as your chosen gender?
- When do you want to start being addressed with your new name and/or new pronouns?
- How and when do you want to tell your immediate team? The wider organisation? Clients and customers? (As appropriate.)
There were also pointers to related workplace rules or policies, such as:
- When can you start using the bathrooms of your chosen gender? Are there gender-neutral bathrooms you could use?
- What do you do if you get harassed or misgendered, or if somebody outs you without your consent? What's the organisation's grievance policy?
- Does the organisation have a dress code? If it's gendered, when can you start wearing the clothes of your chosen gender?
- Do you want to tell people who were hired after you transitioned? If so, when?
How can colleagues/managers support somebody who’s transitioning?
Policies listed ways a colleague/manager could support somebody who’s transitioning:
- Let the trans person drive the process. Transition is something very individual, and they should decide if, how and when they want to do things
- Offer assurance and affirmation of their chosen gender
- Help them develop a plan for announcing the change to the rest of the organisation
- Ensure confidentiality: don’t out them without consent
- Help to address the concerns of colleagues and clients – don’t let it all fall on the individual
How can the organisation support the colleagues/managers of somebody who’s trans?
I liked the policies that acknowledged that trans people in the workplace are still relatively rare – for many colleagues and managers, if a trans person comes out, it’s the first time they’ve been working with/managing a visibly trans person. There’s a lot of pressure not to screw up, in an area where they may not have any experience.
Some organisations offered to help these people:
- Providing explicit guidelines in the policy itself (see above)
- Running training about trans inclusion and being a good trans ally
- Giving pointers to external organisations with trans expertise (see below)
What HR systems need updating?
Many trans people choose a new name, title and pronouns that are more congruent with their chosen gender. You probably have lots of systems that use their existing name: payroll, company directory, business cards, email addresses – the list goes on. It’s useful to have a list of all the places where you might need to update somebody’s name or gender markers, and include those in the transition guidelines.
You probably have part of this list already. People often change their name when they get married, and somebody in HR will know where their name needs updating – you can reuse that list.
Do you cover the costs of medical transition?
If somebody wants to medically transition in the UK, they have two options:
- Wait for the NHS (less expensive, waiting time of years)
- Seek private treatment (faster, but more expensive)
Treatments might include things like therapy, hormones, and surgery
If your organisation provides private health insurance, ask whether it covers the costs associated with transitioning. This is still quite unusual in the UK (I think it’s more common in the US), but that’s changing. Several of the organisations I looked at (including Accenture, Herbert Smith Freehills, Starbucks) explicitly cover the costs of medical transition in their healthcare plans.
The best policies I read were extremely thorough and detailed about what the insurance covered. They listed exactly which procedures are and aren’t covered, and who they’re covered for. (For example, Accenture’s policy covers dependent family members and partners as well as their employees.)
How do you handle absences related to transition?
Transitioning can involve lots of extra appointments, such as therapy sessions, doctor’s appointments, and surgery. Some forms of surgery have long recovery times: typically months, not weeks.
What are the rules around taking medical leave? Is it okay for somebody to take medical leave for transition-related appointments?
Which external organisations are worth talking to?
At least two of them (GIRES and Gendered Intelligence) offer paid training and consulting services, which might be useful for non-trans employees.
A possible outline
With all that in mind, here’s a brief outline I’ve written as a starting point for discussions at Wellcome:
- Goals and values
- What to do if:
- You’re trans or transitioning – writing a plan, negotioating the organisational bureaucracy, how to get support
- You manage somebody who’s trans or transitioning – offering support to your managee, support for you, how to be a good ally
- You work with somebody who’s trans or transitioning
- Administrative matters and benefits
- Use of facilities
- Identity management, updating compnay directory, and so on
- Medical leave
- Healthcare benefits
- Links to other organisations
And as we write the policy, we’ll expand each of those sections in more detail, guided by some of the questions above.
I’m grateful to everybody who reached out to offer suggestions, links or help. I read it all, and it gave me a lot to think about (and I think I’ve replied to everything – ping me if you think I’ve missed something). You can see many of those people in the replies to that tweet. I also had several people reach out privately, some of whom are trans but not out in public/their workplace.
Thank you everybody for your help!
These are some of the policies I read while preparing this article:
American Alliance of Museums: LGBTQ Alliance. The Institution’s Guide seems especially relevant to our work at Wellcome.
Berkley Lab: Workplace Gender Transition Guidelines
De Montfort University: Policy on Support and Procedures for Trans, Gender Fluid and Non-Binary Staff and Students
National Education Union: Trans educators toolkit
University of Oxford: Transgender policy
I also heard about a number of other organisations that are doing good work here, but they don’t have public policies:
- Accenture have a very detailed policy, including a breakdown of exactly what treatments are covered by private health insurance
- GSK’s policy seems pretty good
- Herbert Smith Freehills pays for gender reassignment surgery
- Hogan Lovells has a trans inclusion policy and provides training to staff
- Lloyds Bank pays for private trans surgery
- Starbucks covers a lot of the costs of medical transition (I assume this is also covered in the UK, but I haven’t checked)
- Stonewall have guides to trans inclusion in the workplace
- I’ve heard good noises about M&S and Monzo, but I don’t have details
If you have time, do read the policies I’ve linked above – they’ll give you more idea of the sort of detail they go into. And if you know of other good ones, please let me know!
This is just part of a bigger conversation at Wellcome about how we do a better job of trans inclusion. A policy is part of that, but there’s more we can do – I’ll be thinking about it more over the next few months, and hopefully I’ll write about some of it here.
If you’re interested in what we’re doing, please get in touch – by Twitter or email.