How can HR pros – and their company as a whole – best support transgender employees?
Just ask Ellie Parsons. She experienced support beyond expectations before, during and long after transitioning.
Her experience at Ovia Health could be a textbook guide for supporting transgender employees, which is especially important now as we celebrate Pride Month – the catalyst for the months and years ahead in supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
Here’s her story, followed by four best practices from companies leading the way to support transgender employees and the LGBTQ+ community.
Ellie Parsons grew up the son of a car dealer, helping in the family business and moving through the motions of life and work – school, career, marriage, children.
Then the pandemic hit. Like many people, Parsons took a closer look at life, evaluating what mattered and exploring what could be next. She recognized she had spent most of her life thinking she was a man who occasionally enjoyed wearing women’s clothing.
Parsons talked with a nonbinary employee at Ovia Health, confiding that she might be trans. That was the start of the incredible support she received.
Her colleague said it would be just the start of her journey. From there, she talked to a few other close friends at work, who gave her the confidence to come out to the entire organization on April 2, just two days after Trans Day of Visibility.
As a transgender employee in a leadership role, Parsons felt it was especially important to come out so other people in the organization could see that Ovia Health was a safe space for everyone in their journeys.
She found emotional and financial support at her workplace. Colleagues and friends stood by her, listening and supporting her through the ups and downs. And the company provided insurance that would help cover the cost of hormone treatments, surgery, therapy and other medical procedures.
“I find that the lives of trans people are hard. It’s hard to tell your friends and family who you really are. It’s hard when relationships change because you reveal your true self,” Parsons says. “When businesses support trans people, it is a huge help. Not only does it help financially …, but it’s also a relief mentally knowing that the business values you as a person and that they are willing to support you in your journey.”
Ovia Health and ADP lead the way in how they support transgender employees. Best practices include:
Turn to existing experts
Most organizations already have in-house experts who can give direction on how to support transgender employees. They’re likely already part of your LGBTQ+ community and the Allyship.
Whether you want to offer training opportunities on proper language use, update benefit options to be more LGBTQ+ friendly or improve overall acceptance in the workplace, start with your Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) or Business Resource Groups (BRGs). Members can help HR and other leaders set the tone and build the right programs.
At ADP, leaders lean on BRGs for direction on initiatives for all employees. In this case, it’s The Pride Group.
“Our mission is to ensure that ADP’s workplace culture remains a ‘best place to work for LGBTQ+ equality,'” says Lacey Ross-Prouty, Director of Internal Communications at ADP and Chair of its Pride BRG. “We accomplish this through programs, initiatives and partnerships to drive inclusion and belonging, ensure visibility and define best practices for use within ADP, while providing insights that help to enhance our products and services.”
Most importantly, leaders make sure these aren’t fruitless collaborative sessions. They turn words into actions.
“The partnerships and collaboration between the Pride BRG and HR, DE&I, Marketing and even product development is a fruitful relationship. Members of the LGBTQ+ community and our allies make recommendations that better the lives of our associates and help enhance ADP’s product offerings, as well. Our voices matter,” says Ross-Prouty.
Offer learning opportunities
People tend to more easily accept what they understand. So HR will want to help employees understand, accept and appreciate the LGBTQ+ community.
For ADP, that includes “training around unconscious bias, non-discrimination and anti-bullying policies, and critical resources,” explains Sara Holquist, Director of Diversity & CSR at ADP. “Most recently, associates and leaders are encouraged to regularly share their pronouns and have received guidance on using inclusive language that is affirming of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Encouraging inclusivity and acceptance isn’t just lip service, either. Proof: ADP recently scored its 13th consecutive 100% rating in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s (HRC) annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI). That strengthened its designation as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality.
On a more personal level, training means a lot to transgender employees.
“It’s great when colleagues use the right pronouns and the correct name,” Parsons says. “Personally, I thought it would be hard on my colleagues to use a new name and pronouns, but everyone’s been really great with it. When people do slip, if they can catch themselves and correct it, that’s nice too.”
Create safe spaces
Efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) across any company can improve overall employee satisfaction and loyalty. But employees need to feel it’s OK and safe to bring their authentic selves at work – and talk about it.
“Even before I came out, there were many other LGBTQ+ folks at work, and everyone supported them,” says Parsons. “Seeing that acceptance made me feel safe that I could be vulnerable and bring my whole self to work, which are two things our former CEO really stressed.”
That’s one critical key: To best support transgender employees, a conscientious effort and sincere initiative needs to come from the top.
From there, stand with ERGs or BRGs. Offer space and resources for employees who want to have bigger conversations around transitioning and to further support transgender employees. It can have a serious impact.
“When I first started realizing I was trans, I was able to talk to a non-binary colleague about it. She talked about her own story with gender and just helped to provide validation that there’s no ‘correct’ way to express your gender,” Parsons says. “Being able to talk to someone who had been through a similar situation was just really helpful.”
Make benefits a reality
Experts at both ADP and Ovia Health stress the importance of offering transgender-friendly benefits. Again, it will help to work with your ERGs or BRGs who have first-hand experiences and knowledge.
Specifically, ADP offers domestic partner and transgender inclusive healthcare benefits.
As Parsons mentioned, Ovia Health’s benefits plan helped cover surgeries, hormone treatments and therapy.
“Companies must prioritize diversity and inclusion efforts, which are important drivers of retention and engagement. In particular, companies should expect to learn from their LGBTQ+ employees and evolve these strategies on an ongoing basis. This is true not just during Pride Month, but all throughout the year,” says Holquist.