This is a fairly acceptable way to address teammates, regardless of gender. Right?
Well, it’s complicated.
In March, Viacom’s Talent Acquisition team invited employees to an event called Building Empathy and Awareness: Lessons from the Transgender Community. The session, which was held at both Viacom’s Times Square and Los Angeles offices, was a poignant exercise in reflection and understanding helmed by diversity consultants Marnie Florin and Kevin Perry. The event, which was aimed toward recruiters and hiring managers, broke down some of the issues and terms that are vital to understanding the transgender community: intersectionality, gender dysphoria, pronouns and advocacy, among others.
Viacom is a safe space, but how can it improve?
Florin and Perry explained further: Viacom scores 100 on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) index for workplace protections, including having trans-inclusive health benefits and diversity training (such as Lessons from the Transgender Community). However, the company is always seeking to improve its diversity and inclusion efforts.
“This is a victory for equality, for the LGBT community, for businesses at large, and for common sense.” – Rick Baker, Senior Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs, on the successful ruling to protect LGBT workers under the Civil Rights Act. https://t.co/Zee03sDOFk pic.twitter.com/XRV3mYKCRy
— Viacom (@Viacom) February 27, 2018
Viacom is a longtime supporter of LGBT rights in the workplace.
At the New York session, Florin and Perry solicited questions from the audience about Viacom policies and overall TA best practices when it comes to hiring trans employees. Some situations, they explained, can still be difficult, even at progressive companies like Viacom.
As a cisgender woman, the following situations are not difficult: showing my ID at the desk when welcoming a guest; enjoying perks like the Wellness Studio workout classes; taking advantage of on-site massages or hairstyling; flying for business travel; using the restroom.
But for trans employees, these are situations that can cause anxiety, depression or downright terror.
Florin and Perry didn’t take too much time pointing out blind spots like this. Throughout the lecture they offered myriad facts and lists, but let the audience know that they could find more information online. The goal was to re-orient us to see our work lives through the eyes of a trans employee, and help us align ourselves to be an ally.
Becoming a better ally
After learning how to open our eyes and be aware of roadblocks for trans employees, the next step is to become a better ally.
“Ally-ship equals making mistakes all the time,” said Perry. “It’s about wanting to learn from your mistakes. ‘Oh, I messed up those pronouns—let me learn.’”
Both Perry and Florin (who uses they/them pronouns) agreed that it’s best to simply correct oneself when making a mistake, such as mis-gendering somebody by using incorrect pronouns, than to profusely apologize. The latter puts your trans colleague in an increasingly uncomfortable position, where they feel responsible to assuage your guilt, rather than moving on with their day.
A powerful group exercise: the coming-out process
Employees were then asked to participate in an exercise, meant to mimic the coming-out process. Florin and Perry guided employees through the emotionally stirring activity, which evoked a range of sentiments from those in the audience. Some employees with transgender family members spoke up about how the lecture and exercise helped them empathize better with their loved ones in the transgender community.
One of the most pertinent takeaways from this experience was understanding just how vital a supportive work environment can be for someone who is transgender.
The organizers pointed out that many trans folk lose their close friends and family members once they come out. Sometimes, all they are left with is their job. Of course, even with a supportive network outside of the office, it’s imperative that those in the transgender community are able to make a living and prosper in an accepting and understanding workplace.
Florin and Perry cited information from the Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER) organization throughout this lecture. To learn more, visit the TSER website.