Workplace inclusion of women must integrate trans women


YW Boston is committed to advancing gender equity, looking beyond the cisgender* binary and supporting the advancement of transgender* people. When we speak about creating inclusive environments for women, this includes nonbinary* and trans women*, who face additional barriers to employment and advancement. Too often, trans women are left out of the conversation when we speak about equity in the workplace. As Bianca Robinson, YW Boston’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, stated in an interview with News @ Northeastern to promote their Reach(OUT) LGBTQA+ Career Conference, “The fact is, trans people, and trans women in particular, just are not participating in the economy right now in the ways that people who represent the rest of the queer acronym are participating.” We must move beyond diverse hiring practices and commit to inclusive gender policies that address the barriers trans women face in the workplace.

Please see the glossary at the end of this blog post for a number of terms (noted in the post with an asterisk *) used in this blog post.

Trans women are women.

First and foremost, in order to support trans women, we must reject the belief that one’s gender can be determined by their sex medically assigned at birth. Gender identity* is experienced differently by everyone and can evolve throughout a person’s life.  

Trans women are women. The use of the adjective “trans” in the term “trans woman” signifies that trans women are a type of women, similar to the adjectives that describe women of color, white women, Muslim women, disabled women, etc. Each of these adjectives describe the women themselves, and assert that they are, in fact, women. Any person whose internal gender identity is “woman,” is a woman. 

Cis women and trans women are similar in many ways. Misogyny, or hatred and discrimination against women, is systemically experienced by all women. Due to this, women are more likely to face inequity in the workplace, including challenges such as being paid less than their men counterparts, being less likely to be promoted to leadership, and experiencing sexual harassment. Cis women and trans women face these inequities in the workplace, and it is in all women’s best interest to work together to end sexism at work.

One of the distinctions between cis women and trans women is that trans women face cissexism* in addition to sexism. Many of the challenges cis women face are exacerbated for trans women, and they face additional barriers due to cissexism and transphobia*. Trans women face compounded discrimination across multiple sectors, including employment, housing, and health care. Taking an intersectional look at equity is crucial to identifying the ways in which people with overlapping identities, such as those who are both trans and women, have been historically discriminated against — as well as ways to address this discrimination through inclusive workplace practices. In the words of Audre Lorde, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” In fact, trans women of color and black trans women in particular, face disproportionate rates of unemployment, harassment, and lethal violence.

Working with an intersectional lens resists the ways in which dominant, mainstream feminist movements have excluded trans women. This echoes the ways in which white, upper-class, cis women have excluded women of color, working-class women, and other groups from mainstream feminist conversations. TERFs*, or trans-exclusionary radical feminists, have dominated feminist conversations and perpetuated the myth that trans women are not women. Therefore, while cis women have seen major advancements in workplace inclusion over the past few decades, this progress has been slow or non-existent for trans women. TERFs believe that trans rights are taking resources away from working toward women’s rights. However, this belief fails to recognize that sexism and cissexism are interconnected and both systems disadvantage anyone who is not a cis man. Recognizing the ways in which trans women face sexism and cissexism provides us with the ability to fight both systems and move toward equity for all women.

We cannot wait to support trans women in the workplace.

According to GLAAD, 90% of trans people report “experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job,” which contributes to the fact that trans people are twice as likely to be unemployed. Trans people of color are four times as likely to be unemployed. In Boston specifically, the 2015 Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Boston found that “fewer than 25% of Bostonian transgender women had full-time jobs and only 20% held part-time jobs. Many report harassment or unsafe conditions in the workplace and discrimination as the cause of their firing.”  Creating inclusive workplaces for trans people benefits both trans employees and your entire team.

Diverse teams are stronger teams. As Sara Prince, Partner at McKinsey & Company, presented last fall, “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21% more likely to outperform those in the bottom quartile.” Diversity of thought, identity, and lived experience has been found to improve decision-making. Diverse teams make better decisions 87% of the time. Greater gender diversity means hiring and retaining trans people at your organization. Cis people must begin working to create inclusive environments for trans women in order to ensure they are no longer pushed out of the workforce, as they have been historically. Your team, organization, and industry will benefit from your active support of trans women. 

Take steps to support trans women.

1. De-center cis-normativity* and learn more about trans experiences.

In order to be an inclusive leader, you must recognize that we are not socialized to believe or accept trans experiences. In doing so, we begin to recognize and resist the ways society upholds cis-normativity and harms trans people. This is perpetuated by the fact that trans women, and trans people in general, are underrepresented in media and in leadership. Therefore, many cis people have not taken the time to seek out the narratives, work, and leadership of trans people. The diversity among trans people is vast, so seek out trans voices and learn about their experiences. Be sure to set time aside for independent learning, so as to not expect trans people to dedicate their time and energy to teaching you themselves. You can seek out ways to learn more from diverse trans voices by checking out reading lists like this one.

2. Ensure your organization’s hiring and retention policies are trans inclusive.

You can begin by expanding your hiring diversity statement to include gender identity and specifically assert your organization’s support for trans candidates. Your organization should look at its promotion and salary practices, to determine whether there are disparities among those who are cisgender and those who are openly transgender. You may also look at your benefits, such as healthcare, to ensure they fit the needs of trans people. Not all trans people will need the same support, so listen and adjust to what your employees say they require to do their best work.

3. Implement trans inclusive practices in your workplace.

One step toward trans inclusion is ending the assumption that all or most of your staff or your audience is cisgender. Integrate practices that normalize trans identities. For example, YW Boston’s practice is for everyone, during meetings, to share their gender pronouns* when they introduce themselves. At events, we provide guests with the opportunity to include their pronouns on their nametags. By sharing pronouns, it both provides easier avenues for trans people to share their pronouns with others, and it reminds everyone that we should not assume another person’s gender.


*Gender Terminology

In order to support trans people, we must have an understanding of commonly used gender terminology.

Cisgender/Cis – An adjective describing a person whose gender identity corresponds to the gender expected of them based on their sex medically assigned at birth.

Transgender/Trans – An adjective describing a person whose gender identity does not correspond to the gender expected of them based on their sex medically assigned at birth.

Gender Identity – One’s internal perception of their own gender and how they would label themselves. (i.e. One may identify as a trans man, a cis woman, non-binary, etc.)

Trans Man – A person who identifies as transgender and as a man.

Trans Woman – A person who identifies as transgender and as a woman.

Non-binary – A person who does not identify as a man or a woman. (One may refer to themselves as genderqueer, agender, bigender, among other terms. Learn these distinctions here.)

Cis-normativity – The assumption that all people are cisgender. This idea has been the dominant idea throughout dominant white culture in the United States, and therefore influences all systems to be cis-normative.

Cissexism – The systemic advantaging of a cisgender people, including the idea that being cisgender is the correct or only way to identify.

Transphobia – The fear, discrimination, or hatred of trans people, on an interpersonal and/or systemic level.

TERFs – Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists, a phrase that refers to people who consider themselves feminists, but reject the fact that trans women are women. They advocate for the exclusion of trans women from women’s spaces and oppose transgender rights legislation.

Gender Pronouns – Pronouns are the terms we use to refer to people without using their name, such as “she”, “they”, or “he”. Pronouns often correspond with one’s gender identity. Many workplaces, including YW Boston, make it best practice to ask people’s gender pronouns, rather than making assumptions.

Find many more LGBTQ+ definitions here.


About InclusionBoston

InclusionBoston advances diversity, equity, and inclusion by partnering with organizations looking for improved business results. Using our advanced assessment tool and the latest research on behavioral and organizational change, we partner with organizations to create an action plan and provide them with the resources needed to drive lasting change. Our customized, evidence-based approach builds internal capacity and promotes cultural change while supporting organizations throughout their journey.

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