Recruiting Transgender Candidates: 10 Simple Ways to Be Welcoming and Respectful

August 1, 2017

For the hundreds of thousands of individuals who identify as transgender in the US alone, job hunting can be a difficult and sometimes miserable experience.

Despite high-profile figures like Laverne Cox and TV shows like Transparent shining more light on the transgender community in recent years, as many as 90% of trans professionals have experienced discrimination or mistreatment at work.

Many states have few or no protections to prevent transgender workers from being fired or refused employment on the basis of their gender identity, making it harder to find and hold a job, and restricting advancement opportunities.

I reached out to three transgender professionals to discuss their experiences while job hunting, and the advice they would give to recruiters—both the recruiters who passed on them and those who hired them.

While everyone wants to be respectful and inclusive, the transgender rights movement has only recently becoming more visible, and some are still unsure of how to make trans candidates feel comfortable and respected.

Below are 10 simple tips you can follow to treat transgender people with respect, dignity, and fairness throughout the recruiting process.

First, some background: what it means to be transgender

Transgender people have a gender identity that doesn’t correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth. They may have already transitioned or be in the process of transitioning to their personal gender identity. But many remain “closeted” at work, delaying or hiding their transition, fearing it will affect their career and the way their coworkers treat them.

There are a lot of misconceptions about transgender people. For example, not all trans people have surgery or take hormones, often due to personal choice or financial reasons. With or without these medical interventions, many trans people dress and present themselves according to their gender identity some or all of the time. Here’s a handy FAQ to learn more about the basics.

And, here’s how to treat transgender candidates with respect during the recruiting process:

1. Go by the name the candidate tells you—even if it’s different on official documents

A trans candidate might have one name on their resume and another on official documents. Always go by the name they offer themselves—it might be how they sign their email, or on their resume.

They may also feel more comfortable waiting until the interview or when an offer is made to tell you that they’re transgender and go by a certain name. Just pay attention, and make a note of it if you think you’ll have trouble remembering to use it. You’d likely do this anyway for someone who told you they preferred a nickname.

Many trans people will change their name at some point, unless they already have a gender-neutral name that they’re comfortable with. But it can take time to officially change documents, records, and ID. A report by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National LGBTQ Task Force found that 80% of trans people who had transitioned hadn’t yet managed to change their name across the board. You can also casually ask them what name they go by if you notice it’s different on some documents.

2. It’s totally fine to ask for someone’s correct pronouns if you’re not sure

“Straight out asking someone about pronouns is ALWAYS better than guessing,” one trans professional told me.

As a general rule of thumb, if a candidate tells you that they’re trans and you’re uncertain whether their gender identity is male or female (especially if they have a gender-neutral name), it’s okay to ask. All the trans employees I spoke to agreed that this is the best way to proceed.

Simply ask the candidate, “What are your correct pronouns?” While some people are nervous about doing this, most trans people would prefer you to ask rather to avoid any confusion.

One professional pointed something out to me that I didn’t know: although the convention was once to ask about “preferred pronouns,” this is changing. “They aren’t preferred; they’re just my pronouns,” she said.

3. Speak to HR to learn about your company's non-discrimination policies

Your company might already have resources available to you to learn more about trans employees. Speak to your HR department to find out what your company’s policies are.

Some trans applicants may ask you directly if your workplace is LGBT friendly, and if you have policies to prevent discrimination. You should be ready to answer this question if they ask it—and if you think the answer is disheartening, speak to HR again to see if the policies can be improved.

4. Don’t freak out about saying the wrong thing—just be receptive, offer a quick apology, and learn from your mistake

You might make a few mistakes, like calling a candidate by the wrong name, especially if you’re speaking to a trans person for the first time. Your instinct might be to just ignore it and hope the person didn’t notice, in case saying something will embarrass them.

But taking a second to acknowledge your slip up apologize shows a level of respect that most candidates will really appreciate. You don’t need to make a big deal out of it and make the person uncomfortable. Just be gracious, say you’re sorry, and try not to make the same mistake again.

5. Don’t try to make the person disclose whether they’re transgender

If you think a candidate is transgender but they don’t bring it up, don’t press them. It doesn’t affect their ability to do the job.

Some trans applicants will not disclose their gender identity to you, even if they’re in the process of transitioning. That’s perfectly fine—they may not be ready, or they might be worried about potential repercussions. According to the NCTE and National LGBTQ Task Force’s study, more than half of all trans applicants feel compelled to hide their gender identity or delay transitioning for fear of experiencing bias and mistreatment.

Your job is to hire the best person for the position; a person’s gender and/or sexuality shouldn’t impact your decision. Instead, focus on testing for the qualities and skills essential for the role.

6. Don’t stare (or generally act weird)

One professional I talked to told me that some interviewers had a tendency to stare at him trying to “figure out” if he was transgender. Whether they realized they were doing it or not, this made him understandably uncomfortable, something he didn’t need in the already nerve-wracking setting.

Hardcore staring at trans candidates is just one of the weird things some recruiters have done in the past. Others have deliberately avoided making eye contact, a clear sign of disrespect.

And strange looks are not the only weird behavior trans people experience on a regular basis. Many are asked by total strangers about their genitals. Since you’d never ask anyone else about this (not if you value your job and want to avoid being punched), the question obviously has no place in the recruiting process—don’t ask it.

7. Don’t ask questions that you wouldn’t ask any other candidate

Of the trans employees I spoke to, two out of three shared horror stories of embarrassing questions they’d been asked in interviews. One was once asked by an interviewer why she was wearing a dress, and was told it looked “unprofessional.” Humiliated, she told me she’d never go near that company again.

Similar to the point above, before you ask a trans candidate a question that deviates from your list, ask yourself one thing: would I say this to any other candidate? If the answer is “no,” you generally shouldn’t ask the question (with the exception of pronouns).

You might have questions for a trans applicant that are perfectly well-intentioned, but the recruitment process isn’t the appropriate time to ask them. They have the potential to make the candidate deeply uncomfortable, especially if the person is not yet “out.” If you want to learn more about transgender rights after meeting a candidate, that’s great—check out resources like the National Center for Transgender Equality.

8. Ask your team for a second opinion if you think you might be biased

Unconscious bias is a tricky thing to root out. One way to ensure you’re making unbiased decisions is to share the candidate’s resume or their interview answers with another member of your team—without telling them any details about the candidate. Then they can give you a second opinion based solely on how the candidate performed.

This isn’t to say that you would intentionally discriminate against any candidate. But many people are unsure of the best way to react when they first meet a trans person, and that may cloud your judgement without you even realizing it.

9. Don’t use poor “culture fit” as an excuse to pass on transgender applicants

Hiring for “culture fit” should mean creating a collaborative and happy workplace, but all too often it’s an excuse used to hire people who are all similar. If you’re on the brink of recruiting your first trans employee, this can be a serious (and unfounded) barrier to entry for them.

78% of trans employees reported they felt more comfortable and productive at work after transitioning, even if they continued to experience harassment or bias from colleagues. If you think a trans candidate won’t fit in well, take a step back and consider whether it might be the workplace culture that’s the real problem.

If you feel the culture won’t be welcoming to them, you need to take active steps to change that, because it won’t change on its own. Speak to your HR department about unconscious bias training and other practices that can make the workplace more inclusive.

Feeling like you’re able to be yourself at work can drastically improve both morale and productivity, so getting rid of a toxic culture benefits everyone.

10. Find out if your company’s insurance covers transition-related care

Finally, it’s a good idea to find out how your company’s health insurance benefits affect trans employees. Some companies have benefits that cover transition-related care. Showing that your company has comprehensive coverage for all employees can be a big differentiator when attracting top talent. The candidate may ask directly, so you should know how to answer.

Don’t feel like you absolutely must bring these benefits up just because a person is trans. Again, ask yourself if you’d tell every candidate about them. But if it comes up naturally in the conversation, it’s a good thing to let them know.

Trans candidates face many struggles while looking job hunting. By following these simple steps, you can make sure that you treat these candidates with the same respect, dignity, and fairness that you want to show everyone.

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