Creating Inclusive Workplaces for Trans and Non-Binary Workers

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Ashley: Hello and welcome to Health and Safety to Go, a CCOHS podcast.

Today, we're joined by diversity and inclusion champion, Dani Gomez-Ortega. Dani will be among our speakers at this year's changing world of work for them in Halifax and we're excited to give you a little bit of insight into what delegates will learn in her session, “Creating Safe Inclusive, Workplaces for Trans and Non-binary Workers. Dani's field experience includes her current role at McCain Foods, as Senior Manager, Global Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as roles at Loblaws and Ryerson University. Dani, thanks for being our guest today.

Dani: Thank you so much for having me, Ashley.

Ashley: So, tell us a little bit about how you got started on this career path.

Dani: Sure. Absolutely. So, like many people who do diversity equity inclusion work today, I started doing this work on a volunteer basis. So, I started doing it for free on the side of my desk.

When I first came out, I came on in a very conservative family and my family needed support. So, they went to this organization called Toronto p-flag to seek support from other parents. And so, once I got the support that I needed, I started volunteer with them. I started co-facilitating support groups for parents. I started presenting at schools, about diversity, and I also joined their board.

And so around that same time I became very active leading employer resource groups at my workplace where I was getting paid and then when I got into a management job, I started really applying that diversity, equity in an official lens.

So, in that time, my role was really focused on students. So instead of asking how can we help students? I start asking how can we help students, who have been historically left behind, such as Indigenous students, black students, LGBTQ students? And it was around this time that I started doing a bits and pieces of diversity work in my day job that I started seeing these DI jobs, pop up everywhere in response to George Floyd's murder. So, when I started seeing these jobs, I was like, people are getting paid to do the work for free? That's pretty cool. I want to get paid to do this work that I do for free. And so, I started applying to different DI roles and the rest is history.

Ashley: Amazing. Thanks for sharing that with us. What would you say are some of the biggest challenges faced by trans and non-binary employees in the workplace today?

Dani: Unfortunately, there's plenty in and while I wish things were getting better, we're actually regressing in time a little bit.
The first one is around documentation, so often our ID documentation, doesn't reflect who we are today. So, for example, my passport, it has my dead name, and for those who don't know what dead name is. A dead name is the name that trans person had previously that they no longer identify with. Also, my passport, I have a beard where I don't have a beard today and so when I have to show my ID, it creates an issue to the point where I have even been denied entrance into a building because somebody thought that I stole the ID, and I worked in that building.

So, the ID piece is a really big issue, and you might be thinking well Dani why don't people just change their ID? Imagine changing your password right now. It is cumbersome. It is expensive, it is overwhelming. And just so you know I've been going through the process of changing my name since last November and I am still waiting for the government to get back to me to see if they approve my name change before I get to all the other IDs.

So that's one. Also, just getting hired is a huge, huge, huge barrier for trans people. So trans people are four times more likely to earn 10,000 dollars or less even though 40% of us have degrees. So, we are living at or under the poverty line. At the same time, we are being rejected from jobs because of who we are. So, in Ontario, when they did a survey 50% of trans people felt they were rejected from a job because of who they were. And it's also important to know that this is a recruitment issue too. Many of us turn down jobs because we don't feel like we'll be safe there. 17% of us turn down jobs. So just getting hired in the first place is difficult.

Health Care is also challenging so you might be thinking what does healthcare have to do with the workplace. Well, when your workers get sick, you tell them to go to a doctor. And you take a leave. You tell them to give you documentation from a doctor. Well, it's good to recognize that trans or non-binary people, and it’s 40% of us, have been ridiculed, feel scared, or have been subject to discrimination from doctors.

21% of us don’t go to the ER because of fear of ridicule, because 10% of us have been denied care. So, getting medical documentation, going to a doctor to help you, is challenging. There's also a piece around safety and public. Two-thirds of transgender and binary people avoid public spaces and 97% of us avoid public space if we have faced violence at least once. And it's also important to know that over 50% of us avoid using public washrooms. Taking the train to go to work, it's a public space that I'm often nervous about because we're afraid of harassment. Being in the workplace, I'm nervous overall even though I have really, really, really, really inclusive workplace right now, I am still nervous that somebody might be offended by my presence or that I might experience violence or harassment.

And when it comes to washrooms this is especially challenging because for me, I identify as a trans woman, but I often don't know which washroom to go into. Should I go into the men's washroom where a lot of people say I should go? Or should I go into the woman's where I have the right to go? But a cis woman may call the police on me. And so even going to the washroom is challenging and requires a lot of, a lot of calculations for safety.

There's also concern for housing discrimination. And again, you only thinking what is has housing discrimination have to do with the workplace. Well, wouldn’t you want to know if some of your employees are experiencing homelessness? Many trans people experience, homelessness. I’m only 30 and I've experienced homelessness twice and guess what? I had to go to work the next day, right? So, it's important to know this is happening and impacting the health of employees. It's targeted violence and when it comes to targeted violence, it's important to note as well, that when something goes wrong, you call the police. Trans people don't have that luxury because about a quarter of us have been harassed by the police. And so, when it comes to security and police there's a deep sense of distrust and a deep sense of fear because this discrimination that we face from them.

And last but definitely not least, we have the interpersonal homophobia transphobia so on, so it is really, really, really, really, important to know that in the past couple years, hate crimes in Canada against the LGBT community have increased by over 60%. Trans youth were compared to feces by an Alberta politician that just got elected. A political party believes in an anti-trans platform and 96 percent of us, have heard that they are not “normal”.

So, these are the things that we're hearing the workplace all the time and it's important to recognize that when we hear these things in the workplace, they're considered jokes, but we need to call them what they are, which is harassment, right? And is it's not often recognized as harassment. People are misgendering us on purpose for using different pronouns or our names and this is being treated really lightly as opposed to what it is, which is outright harassment.

And I also want to highlight that a couple of workplaces and Canada have been fined a purse of thirty thousand dollars for not respecting a trans person’s pronouns. So, it’s legal issues.

Ashley: It’s a human rights issue.

Dani: Yes, it's a human rights issue. Exactly and so, where does this leave trans people? Where? It leads to self-harm, often drug abuse, and often high rates of suicide. However, people and individuals can be the difference between life and death for trans people. Having one supportive person in a trans person’s life decreases suicide attempts by 40%. I’m going to repeat that because it's big; having one, a single one, having one supportive person in a trans person's life, decreases suicide attempts by 40%. So, when it comes to being inclusive on trans people in the workplace it is not about being politically correct. It is not even about being nice. It is about keeping people alive.

Ashley: Thank you for that. What would you say? What are some of the first steps that employers should take when they want to make the workplace more welcoming and inclusive for everyone? And how can other workers help you mentioned? Like, just having one friend in the workplace has makes a huge impact.

Dani: Yes. So, I would say that first step for any workplace on any individual is education, right? We don't typically learn about trans people in school or university and often what we learn in the media might be inaccurate and a lot of these fears about trans people are based on fake news, for lack of a better term. And so, the first piece it's education, people in all workplaces need to know that trans non-binary people exist. They need to know that we have legal rights and it's also good for all employees to know what to do when somebody comes out because it can be a really key moment in somebody's life.

Then, the workplaces need to take a look, a good hard look at themselves and ask themselves, which of our processes are currently hurting trans and non-binary people which of the processes are causing pain. So maybe washrooms are one? Where you have men's and women's washrooms, but you don't have any other gender washrooms. So that could be an easy way to make life for trans people a little bit easier. Maybe you require that people show ID to get into the building. Well, maybe you want to rethink that. And see if there's other ways to confirm somebody’s identity before they go to the building. Maybe in your systems, you show somebody's dead name instead of their chosen name and showing somebody's dead name is deeply, deeply, deeply, painful for trans people.

And so again it's really important to take a look, a hard look at themselves as a company and asked himself which of our processes are causing pain to trans people. And if you don't have the knowledge to ask yourself that question, work with trans people that are in your organization, work with organizations like Pride at Work Canada, who could help you do a deep assessment of which processes are causing pain and so on. And in terms of individuals, just be kind to the transgender and binary people around you. What I often see happen is that trans and non-binary people, especially when they come out, they're treated like they're sick, they’re treated like there is something wrong with them and everybody just avoids them, and they become really isolated. So, just being kind asking people how their day is going, you know complimenting their hair! Just being a friend, goes a really long way.

Ashley: A scenario that I've heard come up, sometimes, in conversations about inclusion is, when people say that they're nervous about using the wrong pronouns or the wrong terminology, and they don't want to cause harm. So maybe they avoid a conversation altogether. What are some ways they can move past that fear?

Dani: Thank you for that question. It's a really, really, really, really good one. Allyship is about showing up imperfectly but showing up and if you want to be an ally towards a community, you have to recognize that that it is better for you to show up imperfectly than not show up at all. Especially right now trans people non-binary, people need you to show up. Even if it's imperfect, everybody makes mistakes. For example, I make mistakes with people’s pronouns sometimes, right? So, you are going to mess up. It is part of allyship, part of allyship is accepting that you are going to mess up and when you do mess up the most important thing to do is to apologize and try to do better. So, if you miss gender somebody for example, say, oh, I apologize. Correct yourself and try to do better next time. What you don't want to do is pretend that it didn't happen because it in you don't want to talk about how hard it is for you to say the right thing all the time, right? It's not about you.

And last but not least, you also don't want to be like I am so sorry I made the mistake. I'm not I'm not a bad person I promise, please forgive me. What happens then is that they're going to end up having to comfort which is not the point…

Ashley: so, taking on emotional labor.

Dani: Yeah, exactly. They're gonna have to take care of you instead of the other way around. So again, you are going to make mistakes. It comes with the territory. What's important is that you accept it. Apologize. And try to get better.

Ashley: Dani. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our listeners?

Dani: I just want to highlight one more time that individuals can make the difference between life and death for trans people. I cannot tell you how many people we lose every day in the workplace, in the community, because they are active excluded from society. So, again, by being inclusive, you can keep people around you alive and being inclusive of trans non-binary people is not about being politically correct and it's not even about being nice. It is really about keeping people alive.

Ashley: It's been such a pleasure to talk to you today, Dani. Thank you so much for joining us.

You can find more resources for creating psychologically safe and inclusive workplaces on our website c-c-o-h-s dot c-a.

Thanks for listening.