Tips for Managing Gender Transition in the Workplace was originally published on Idealist Careers.
Illustration by Marian Blair
No matter what aspect of your life you consider, the journey of gender transition can be nerve wracking, and one arena where you may feel even more trepidation about how to proceed is in the workplace. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be dreadful or uncomfortable. In fact, transitioning on your own terms can be a very empowering experience.
Here are some suggestions on how to comfortably and professionally navigate your gender transition with your employer.
You are in charge of your transition
First and foremost, it’s critical to remember that you are in charge of your transition and that you are the one who gets to decide the pace at which you want to proceed, and who is let in on your journey.
Luckily, there are others who have come before you, and it can be helpful to read about their experience for guidance and resources. But of course, it is ultimately up to you to decide what feels good and appropriate as you begin your own gender transition. Remember that there is not one standard set of steps that you have to take at any particular time or in any particular order.
Trying out different names
If you plan on eventually changing your name to something that better fits your identity, you might want to start by trying out a temporary name. For example, you can ask specific co-workers to start calling you by a different name in informal spaces to see how that feels for you.
The same is true for pronouns; ask the co-workers you feel most comfortable around or perhaps those you might have already informed about your plans to refer to you by a different pronoun.
Updating co-workers with your new name and pronouns
Once you settle on a new name, and if this is a name that you would like to exclusively be called, the next step is to update your team and any other people you interact with regularly.
At this point, you may want to loop in HR as your organization may have useful resources about how to make this announcement; they may even offer to do it for you if that feels comfortable. If you decide to make the announcement yourself, one option is to send an email.
Here is a useful template:
Subject: Name (and Pronoun) Change
I am writing to let you know that I have decided to change my name to [NEW NAME] and my pronouns to [NEW PRONOUN], which will start immediately. I recognize that these changes can be difficult to make, and so I want to thank you in advance for your support as I go through this transition both personally and professionally.
[NEW NAME], (pronouns)
Updating clients, customers, or other external partners will be a little different. It might require a general email update to everyone, or perhaps you can do it on an individual basis with people in your network. Make sure to speak to HR and your supervisor about how to approach this since there might already be organizational guidelines you can follow and they can also support you in this process.
Talking to HR about updating documents and accessing facilities
There are many places where your employer can update your name and gender. Below are some examples of where you can seek support from your HR department:
- Updating business cards
- Updating your personal desk or office nameplate
- Updating your bio on the organization’s website
- Granting access to updated gendered facilities if you now need access to different bathrooms or locker rooms than those you’ve been using
All of this can be done prior to any “legally official” name or gender transition. However, if legally updating your name and gender is also something that interests you, check out this guide on how to change your federal identity documents. Note that some HR documents cannot be officially updated until you legally change your name and gender.
If you are a freelancer or someone who doesn’t have access to an in-house HR department, a lot of these responsibilities will fall on you, however, you should still be sure to notify those you work with about any changes they should expect, including a change of name or pronouns.
Making sure you feel supported
Many organizations do their best to support transgender employees by adopting organization-wide practices, such as normalizing the use of pronouns during introductions, and working with DEI teams to foster transgender inclusion. These are things that you can expect your HR department to actively work on and that you should feel empowered to request if you feel like they are not being implemented
Finding ongoing support in your workplace throughout your transition is important and the law is on your side. If you ever experience transphobia or if someone makes you feel uncomfortable, seek guidance from an organization that specializes in supporting transgender people in the workplace, such as the Transgender Law Center or the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
If you are new to this kind of a transition, it may feel strange to experience so many changes at once. Transitioning in the workplace is no easy task, and you might even feel like you have a spotlight on you for a while. But as scary as it might seem, it is also an exciting journey, and you’ll find that sharing your full and authentic self with those around you can be very liberating.
Do you have other tips about transitioning in the workplace? Share with us on Facebook.