Does Your Company Have a Transgender Affirmation Process?

Note: I am not an expert regarding transgender issues. I just wanted to share my experience assisting an employee's gender transition as a technical leader at one organization.

I had a unique leadership opportunity several years ago. I had a software developer on my team who had gone to HR to discuss transitioning from being a man to being a woman. I was looped into the process as her leader and as a technical resource. I was not privy to all the conversations within HR, so I can't give you a complete blueprint of the entire process, but I'll highlight some key steps we took. My hope is that I can share some insights into the process we developed and that the results will encourage readers to see if their organizations have a process. If you work at an organization that doesn't have a gender transition process, maybe you can help develop one.

Planning & Communication

The director of Human Resources did a wonderful job of managing the training and communication we needed internally. The organization had a robust and well-staffed DEI program. Staff and leaders had training regarding pronoun use, unconscious bias, and more. With that foundation already in place, HR moved quickly to inform the executive team first. The VP of the department was also looped in and partnered with HR to meet with all the department leaders in IT to announce what was happening, set expectations for the leaders, and answer any questions they had. With all leaders in the department informed, they could watch for coachable moments or address any staff behaviors that put the associate and the company at risk. The team leaders were entrusted with informing their teams and setting expectations with them. The team leaders were prepared to answer most questions from their teams and HR was standing by to assist leaders and associates with any questions they might have.

We also made an intentional decision to NOT over-communicate by communicating with the entire company. We didn't want to draw more attention to the associate than was necessary. We did want to prepare people outside the department who have regular contact with the associate in a professional capacity in an attempt to avoid any awkward moments. The coordinated, multi-level communication plan related to this associate's gender transition was key to the success of the effort.

Next, there was a technical challenge. If someone changes their name for other reasons (like getting married) and a few systems still reflect their previous last name, that might not be a big deal. For a transgendered person, using their correct name and pronouns is very important to them and can be an affirming step in the transition process. Seeing their previous name or picture in Teams, Confluence, Outlook, or other systems can be uncomfortable or even disturbing for them. For a successful transition in the workplace, a checklist and a process are needed to identify systems where an employee's name and picture need to be updated. A good list of systems will include the HRIS system your organization uses, the identity provider your organization uses, cloud access accounts, internal employee directories, and more. With the list assembled, it would be wise to prioritize the work. We did our best to make all the updates within days, not weeks or months. There can be some technical or security considerations with a name change. For example, if your organization is like mine and uses an employee's full name in their company email address, system administrators may need to provision new accounts, set up new email addresses, set email forwarding rules, and more. It is real work that will need to be prioritized with the other work these teams need to accomplish.

The Outcome

The outcome of all our efforts was remarkable. The associate gave us regular feedback on our process development and was very pleased with everything we did. We had managed to set expectations with leaders and associates in IT, scrub the associate's old name from various systems, and codify a process for future associates. All the teams and leaders in our department did their very best to use the associate's preferred names and pronouns. I was very pleased with how it went, but more importantly, the associate who was transitioning was very happy with the effort we put in and the results.

For me personally, I learned a great deal about the challenges that transgender people face. I am grateful that I was able to contribute to the development of a gender transition process in the workplace. Does your company have a process? If not, maybe you can help put one together.