Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace

Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace

In recent years, the visibility of trans people has soared in America, and while awareness and acceptance are certainly on the rise, it’s still a tremendous challenge to be trans today – and those challenges extend to the workplace. Our guest today is David Baboolall, an Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company, who was part of the team that researched transgender inclusion in the workplace and wrote a feature for McKinsey titled “Being Transgender at Work”. Here, they explain:

  • The value of a shared vocabulary, when it comes to discussions of gender;
  • The systemic work and work progression barriers transgender people face;
  • The role of safety in creating an inclusive work environment for trans employees; and
  • How you can help your workplace become more inclusive of transgender employees!

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The Value of a Shared Vocabulary

  • The transgender experience in the workplace is often ignored because people don’t have the vocabulary to talk about it.
  • According to the Human Rights Campaign, transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and expression is different than cultural expectations surrounding gender and sex. This can also include nonbinary and genderqueer individuals
  • In the McKinsey & Company research conducted by David Baboolall (they/them), Sarah Greenberg (she/her), Maurice Obeid (he/him), and Jill Zucker (she/her), and presented in the article “Being Transgender at Work”, they refer to trans people as anyone who does not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. Those who do identify as the sex they were assigned at birth are classified as cisgender.


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Being Transgender in Corporate America

  • It is important to consider safety when contemplating coming out in the workplace, and if it would bring more happiness or harm.
  • There are more than 2 million transgender people, and 1.2 million people who identify as nonbinary in the U.S., and employers must recognize this and the systemic barriers to work and work progression that transgender and gender non-conforming people face.
  • “Trans fear” is evident in the numbers indicated in this research:
    • Less than 50% of transgender people feel like they can be comfortable expressing themselves in the workplace.
    • 60% cited that safety was their biggest concern when choosing a job.
    • During the application process, transgender people are 1.5 times less likely to be their authentic selves, and during the interview process they are 1.3 times less likely.

The Research

  • David and their team built on prior McKinsey research surrounding how LGBTQ people fare in the workplace, specifically about being transgender at work, and transgender inclusion in the workplace.
  • They collected stories and employment history from transgender people, and make recommendations for businesses for how they can better support transgender people in the workplace.
  • This study found the most defining concerns of transgender employees to be: 
    • Safety from Physical, Mental or Emotional Violence: At 59%, this was the most cited reason for transgender people not seeking employment in certain industries;
    • Representation: Not seeing other transgender people in the the industry was cited as a concern; 
    • Lack of Support: For many transgender and nonbinary people, they don’t feel support from their employers.
    • Lack of Ability to be Authentic: 50% noted that they felt they could not be their true selves in their industries, which can impact workplace performance and contributions.
      • Transgender employees are three times more likely to skip meetings, drawing a conclusion that presence is an issue.
      • 55% of transgender employees do not speak in meetings, which several impacts transgender people to communicate with teammates and progress the corporate ladder.
  • The research concluded that transgender individuals are underemployed and underpaid, even with the same levels of education.
    • Employment: Only 73% of transgender adults are in the workforce, compared to 82% of cisgender adults.
    • Income: The average annual income of a transgender individual is $17,000 less than a cisgender person.
    • Industries: Transgender people are 2.4 times more likely to work in the food and retail industry where most positions are entry level jobs, paying the minimum wage.
    • Education: Education is not an equalizer. Transgender adults in the survey were 1.7 times less likely to have a college degree than cisgender individuals.
    • Leadership: Statistically, openly transgender people are less likely to be in leadership roles in businesses, significantly preventing career growth aspiration and being able to see themselves at the company long term.

Being Inclusive to Transgender People in the Workplace

  • There has been DEI progress in the workplace in recent years, which has recognized many identities, but often neglected comprehensive LGBTQ+ rights.
    • Being transgender today, even in the workplace, can mean facing stigma as well as threats to safety.
  • There have been some highlights for transgender employees in recent years such as the Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation, signed by President Biden in January of 2020, and Bostock v. Clayton County, a Supreme Court case that protects LGBTQ+ people in the workplace.
    • However, transgender inclusion in the workplace has been lacking by diversity and inclusion efforts by employers.
  • Transgender inclusion in the workplace starts with education and awareness. 
    • To create more inclusive policies, it is also important to understand the barriers that come with being transgender at work and in their personal lives.
    • Leaders need to be clear that DEI initiatives are inclusive of transgender people
    • There are many ways companies can be advocates for their transgender employees:
      • This includes being intentional in recruiting tailored to the transgender community, offering transgender affirming benefits, crafting trans-inclusive policies and programming, and signaling an inclusive culture.
      • This also includes reducing gendered company language, re-evaluating a company's dress code, offering mental health services, offering hormone therapy or gender affirming surgery, and more.
      • Normalizing the use of pronouns can be useful in creating a more inclusive environment, but do avoid mandating this practice, as it can pressure those transgender employees who choose to keep their gender identity private.
  • “Compassion does not require comprehension”
    • While some may not completely understand the transgender experience, full understanding is not required in order to want things to go well for transgender employees, or for them to be safe.
    • For those who resist learning more about the transgender experience or engaging with trans colleagues, it can be helpful to start conversations and keep those conversations ongoing.

David Baboolall Background

  • BS in Decision Science and Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University
  • Currently, David is an Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company.


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