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  • Morgan Messick

An Ongoing Battle: The Difficulties of Being Trans In the Workplace

A group of co-workers of varying genders having a meeting, courtesy of The Gender Spectrum Collection

As the recent surge of ongoing strikes across the country has shown, simply trying to secure a livable wage, decent benefits, and worker protections is a major challenge for any working class American.

If you happen to be a transgender person, finding a job that not only helps pay your bills, but provides a safe, supportive, and inclusive environment to work and grow in is a whole other gargantuan task.

There are myriads of barriers that prevent members of the trans community from building a sustainable or successful career, much less getting a foot in the door at a job to begin with.

Trans adults are twice as likely to be unemployed than their cisgender counterparts, and are more likely to experience workplace discrimination. A 2021 study from McKinsey & Co. blew the lid open on the layers of roadblocks and difficulties trans people face in the workforce, from discrimination to wage gap disparities, from safety concerns to impediments to career advancement.

First of all, simply landing a job is a particular challenge for many transgender folks. The McKinsey report found that trans job applicants in the U.S. are more likely than cis applicants to face challenges throughout the job application process. This can include everything from not feeling comfortable being themselves in an interview to not understanding employment options, like health benefits. It’s imperative to realize that navigating daily public life for many trans folks can be mentally and emotionally exhausting, where many are forced to mask, or hide, their true selves out of fear of being treated unfairly for their trans status or misgendered.

A transfeminine executive with a non-binary employee, courtesy of The Gender Spectrum Collection

Now let’s say a trans person is able to land a job — there’s potentially more issues to face from here.

Despite the fact that gender identity is protected under Title VII’s discrimination act — remember when President Biden signed that order in 2021? — more than three-fourths of trans folks experience some form of discrimination at work. Beyond discrimination, there’s dozens of situations that can create extreme discomfort and anxiety for trans employees, such as being deadnamed or misgendered by coworkers or customers, feeling unsafe using the restroom, and dress code enforcement, which most recently made headlines in Texas.

Getting paid fairly is another problem, as cisgender employees make 32 percent more than their transgender colleagues, according to McKinsey’s research. Trans folks who are Black, Indigenous, or Latinx experience the most financial hardships of all. It’s no surprise then that 29 percent of transgender people in the U.S. live in poverty.

There’s also the issue of employers who don’t offer trans-inclusive health care, or worse when a company does, but threatens to take away that care if workers unionize, which has happened to trans Starkbucks employees. To have to show up for a job that doesn’t offer the life-saving care you need, or doesn’t feel safe or supportive — in other words, a job that doesn’t value you as a full person worthy of such things — can be an enormously alienating and emotionally taxing experience.

Ask any trans person and you’ll surely hear multiple workplace horror stories. As a trans person myself who’s spent a decade working across multiple industries, I can attest to experiencing many of these things.

A group of people of varying genders work in an office, courtesy of The Gender Spectrum Collection

Even when trans folks are able to find a job they feel safe and welcomed at, there aren’t always opportunities for advancement.

Thirty-six percent of the trans respondents to McKinsey’s study said they believed their gender identity would impact their ability to be promoted, with most noting they felt a lack of support from supervisors. If you look around at many U.S. companies, you’ll notice there are very few if any trans people in upper management positions. How can one be expected to grow at a job when they don’t see anyone who looks like them higher up, and when companies fail to truly diversify leadership or senior roles with trans employees?

Removing employment barriers for the trans community isn’t just about giving people job opportunities, it’s about improving the overall material conditions for those among the country’s most marginalized. These issues are directly correlated to not only the trans community’s poverty levels, but are also the reason many transgender women work in the sex trade — a career option that many say is their only practical means of survival due to discriminatory systemic barriers.

If we want to build a better world where transgender folks not only have the same work opportunities that cisgender people do, but one where trans people can begin to build generational wealth and access comfort and support in the workplace, then it starts with every trans ally breaking down the dozens of obstacles in the way.

Ready to join the movement? Volunteer or donate!

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