Trans or transgender employees can still often face prejudice, hostility and misunderstanding within the workplace. This makes it imperative employers lead the way in offering health and wellbeing as well as HR support, argues Dr Peter Mills.
Gender identity is the gender that a person feels themselves to be. While biological sex and gender identity are the same for most people, this isn’t the case for everyone.
About the author
Dr Peter Mills is medical director at Cigna Europe
Some people born with male anatomy may identify as a woman, while some born with female anatomy may identify as a male. Others may feel they’re not definitively male or female. While there are no obvious physical symptoms, this mismatch between sex and gender identity can lead to distressing and uncomfortable feelings, and it is these feelings that are more commonly known as “gender dysphoria”.
The consequences of continuing to live in a body that doesn’t match your gender identity may be severe. Some people with gender dysphoria have a strong and persistent desire to live according to their gender identity; these people are sometimes called trans or transgender people.
Some trans people can suffer intense psychological distress, which often takes the form of stress-related physical illness and depression, including thoughts of suicide. For some, the answer is surgery to make their physical appearance more consistent with their gender identity.
Prejudice and misunderstanding
Growing public awareness of gender dysphoria has led to an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with the condition. While it’s reassuring that more people are opening up about the significant stress they are going through, the sad reality is that many people still face prejudice and misunderstanding. For example, as Stonewall, the UK’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans charity has highlighted, one in eight trans people (12%) have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues in the last year because of being transgender.
It can be difficult for employers to know where to find information on supporting trans employees in the workplace.
Being an inclusive employer means acknowledging and embracing the needs of all employees. Diversity helps draw top talent and foster innovation, and people perform significantly better when they can be themselves at work. That’s why it’s important to have the right policies and support in place across the spectrum of workforce diversity.
Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness. Many of the psychological problems that trans people can face are linked to social factors such as stigma and discrimination. Every trans person should have easy access to counselling within the workplace to help support them through this difficult journey.
To that end, we believe there is a real opportunity for employers to adopt a supportive and inclusive approach to ensure that trans employees don’t suffer discriminatory treatment at work and feel included and supported.
Our top tips for employers would be:
- Educate yourselves. Use the terms trans, transgender and gender identity, not transsexual and gender reassignment.
- Update your HR policies. Consider your audience and tailor the content to different roles.
- Devise an action plan. This should include physical spaces and facilities to cater for everyone.
- Introduce your staff to trans inclusion. Communicate your commitment and emphasise the uniqueness of every person’s transition.
- Create a transitioning work policy. This should provide structure, but be flexible enough to adapt to the individual
Cigna recently signed up as a member of the Stonewall “Diversity Champions” programme.
This world-leading employers’ forum works with organisations to make sure their workplaces are truly inclusive. Being a Stonewall Diversity Champion means we have the tools we need to take a strategic and structured approach to inclusion within our own workplace and with the customers we serve.
As a provider of corporate healthcare plans, our approach is to offer care that’s clinically appropriate and in line with patient needs, while at the same time ensuring the wider medical plan benefit is sustainable for our clients over the longer term.
We believe every trans person should have easy access to counselling. That’s why we provide a separate £10,000 lifetime pre-operative counselling benefit for those members or dependants over the age of 18 who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
Our nurses can also help to signpost members and their families to the relevant support, and these covered psychological benefits will significantly help individuals as they navigate their own trans journey.
And of course, as with all emerging clinical trends, we continue to review this position on an ongoing basis.