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3 Things Employers Should Know About the Transgender Workforce

David Baboolall (They/Them), Associate Partner at McKinsey, knows how important it is for the transgender workforce to feel supported in the workplace. In fact, along their own journey, they say the first time they ever felt comfortable to be who they really are was when they joined the staff at McKinsey.

“When I graduated college, I had come out to no one from a sexual orientation perspective and gender identity perspective, and truly the first place I actually felt safe was at McKinsey. I joined McKinsey in 2015, and within the first month of being at the firm, I started telling my colleagues I'm queer, and it was the first time those words ever left my mouth,” David explained in this week's episode of the "Untapped" podcast, where host Tariq Meyers has frank conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion with movers and shakers in the industry.

This experience has guided David's work in educating companies about the realities transgender employees face in the workplace. They recently spearheaded a McKinsey report, Being Transgender At Work, outlining facts employers should know about the transgender workforce, and the following are some insights David shared on the podcast.

3 Facts Employers Should Know About Their Trans Employees

1. Safety Is An Overarching Concern for Transgender Employees

In their research, David found that around 60 percent of transgender workers are extremely concerned about their safety in the workplace, and this concern is so strong that it informs all of their career decisions from what specific jobs to pursue to the fields they should enter. 

“Safety was by far the most cited concern for trans folks in their decisions to pursue industries or not,” David said. “They were applying to jobs and had to make a very deliberate decision: ‘I will not go into X industry or I will go into Y industry because I know I will be safe.’”

This is something David definitely says they can identify with because it has come up in the course of their own work.

“In my day to day at McKinsey, when I was given projects to choose from, some of those decisions were, ‘will I feel safe flying to X city? Or being in a state? Should I go to a team dinner in this part of town?’ I had to weigh all of those options internally,” they said.

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2. Remote Work Has Been a Double-Edged Sword for Transgender Employees

McKinsey's study found that when companies moved to remote work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a double-edged sword for trans employees that helped them in some ways, and hurt them in others. On the positive side, transgender workers found that remote work allowed them to be more comfortable when interacting with their colleagues, and they also had more freedom to handle their personal needs.

“In many instances, remote work and this ability to turn off your camera, or dial in with just audio, worked wonders for certain folks in the trans community—like those who were actively going through a medical transition and those who needed convenience to meet with their mental health professional,” said David. 

In addition, McKinsey found that when trans workers began a new job that allowed them to work from home during the pandemic, they were able to retain their privacy and not feel compelled to come out to colleagues before they were ready.

“In some cases, trans folks who joined new organizations during the pandemic didn't feel the need to come out prior to their medical transition,” David explained. “They were able to go through this medical transition without feeling the need to come out to new colleagues or new clients because of the protection of the remote model. We heard from many trans folks who said, ‘This was a blessing in disguise.’”

However, working from home could only make people feel safe if they were actually in a safe environment in the first place. For those who didn't have that safe haven, being able to go to the workplace every day was a welcome break from their home life. As a result, remote work did more harm to some trans employees’ mental health than good.

“Remote work forced some individuals to stay in environments that may not have been the healthiest,” said David. “Also, many people lost jobs, and moved back with their family for convenience, and that might not be the most healthy environment.”

3. Transgender Employees Feel Less Comfortable in Their Workplaces

For many trans employees, organizations have a long way to go to help them feel included in the workplace. As a result, McKinsey reports that about 60 percent of transgender workers do not feel comfortable talking in meetings, and 40 percent will make a point of avoiding their coworkers in general. In addition, they are much less likely than their colleagues to feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. 

“When we think about feeling included at work, the system is not allowing for inclusion,” David said. “If your trans colleagues are not feeling included today, fix the things that make them feel excluded.”

Listen to the latest episode of the "Untapped" podcast to hear more of David's insights on the transgender workforce, as well as their recommendations for making the workplace more inclusive for trans employees.

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