Friday January 25, 2013
When the knock came on John Chung’s office door, the human resources director assumed the worse – a talented systems administrator was quitting.
The reality was more startling. The employee announced he was having sex reassignment surgery.
This was a first for Chung, but not for his employer, The Jonah Group, a thriving Toronto consulting firm that designs solutions for custom web applications, data warehouses and interactive media. The 65-person company hired its first transgender employee four years ago.
“Transgender,” is an umbrella term for the spectrum of people whose gender identity differs from what they were assigned at birth. The most-current highly-visible transgender person is probably Chas Bono, formerly Chastity Bono, the son of Sonny and Cher.
Today transgender individuals are identifying themselves in record numbers. “Three recent studies suggest that one in 200 people are trans,” says Hershel T. Russell, a Toronto psychotherapist who works with trans clients and their families.
But not every company is as accepting of employee diversity as The Johan Group. A 2010 study showed that while most trans people in Ontario are relatively well educated, half earn less than $15,000 a year. At blame are discrimination, harassment, violence and fear of a transphobic workplace, says Nicole Nussbaum, a London, Ont., lawyer specializing in human rights cases.
For organizations with transgender employees but no corresponding policies or plan, the list of potential missteps is endless. The consequences of mismanagement range from legal action to company-wide losses in productivity, job satisfaction and employee engagement. So, here’s how to avoid the biggest blunders: