There are more and more companies that are coming forward and creating formalized protocols for employees who have declared an intent to transition gender. These are typically industry leaders and are setting a nice pace for everyone else who, it is hoped, will follow. After reviewing many of these guidelines, I have found them to be remarkably similar.
Therefore, these best practices can be standardized, and adopted by any size company, from a major corporation to a small business with a handful of employees. A well-developed transition plan is based on mutual respect for the transitioning or gender fluid employee, their co-workers, customers, business partners, and management. Such a plan helps all affected parties successfully navigate the transition and contributes to the company’s ability to diminish or eliminate workflow disruptions.
For instance, Dow Chemical Company (NYSE: DOW), which has 56,000 employees and is based in Midland, Michigan, is one of the companies I met with that has formalized transition guidelines. According to Cory Valente, PhD, who is part of its HR department, the corporate culture is very affirming. The guidelines state that transgender employees have the right to discuss their gender identity or expression openly, or to keep that information private. Only the transgender employee can decide when or whether to disclose private information. The employee’s manager, HR support, or co-workers should not disclose information that may reveal an employee’s transgender status or gender non-conforming presentation to others. This kind of personal or confidential information may only be shared with the transgender employee’s consent and with co-workers who truly need to know to perform their jobs.
An employee has the right to be addressed by the employee’s preferred name and by pronouns (for example, he, she, they) and other terms of address consistent with their gender identity. A court‑ordered name change or other official documentation is not required.
Employees who transition on the job can expect the support of Dow Chemical’s management and HR staff. The HR manager works with each transitioning employee individually to ensure a successful workplace transition. Dow recommends that transitioning employees work with managers to develop a workplace transition plan that addresses some issues that may occur during an employee’s transition. This workplace transition plan should be developed individually with each transitioning employee and their HR manager to meet their specific needs.
Before the workplace transition begins, the transitioning employee meets with their HR representative to inform management of the upcoming transition. The HR representative then informs the employee about the company’s transgender-related policies and the availability of transition-related healthcare benefits. Next, a meeting is scheduled between the transitioning employee, the employee’s supervisor, the HR representative, and other company representatives, such as members of the company’s LGBTQ+ support group, if desired by the transitioning employee, to ensure the supervisor knows of the employee’s planned transition. Other management members who interact with the employee should be made aware of the employee’s planned transition so that leaders can express their support when the employee’s transition is made known to the employee’s work team. This will be done by HR with the approval of the transitioning employee. During this first team meeting or at subsequently scheduled meetings, a timeframe for the employee’s transition process is developed, as it is likely that not all individuals of the transition team need to be brought on board at once.
At that point, Dow believes that each transgender individual should come up with their own plan for making the transition known at work. One employee may prefer a quick start in which all their co-workers and peers are informed about the transition at the end of the working week, and the employee makes the transition to their new gender expression in the workplace the following week. Another employee may prefer a more gradual transition, in which colleagues are notified of the transition, but the employee will not actually present in the new gender role until a later date. However, the company does require setting a formal date for when the change in gender expression will officially occur. This means the date that the employee will change their gender expression, name, and pronouns, and begin using the bathrooms for their desired gender identity.
The official notification may be done in person or via email from the supervisor. A link to additional resources and optional training offered can also be provided if the team is geographically dispersed or it is determined that an in-person meeting is not feasible. The transitioning employee may choose not to attend; however, it is mandatory for the supervisor, HR leader(s), and a member from the ethics and compliance team to be there to answer questions and explain Dow’s non-discrimination policies.
The HR department then decides what, if any, training will be given to the transitioning employee’s co-workers. At the same time, they work with the transitioning employee to determine dates of any leave that may be needed for scheduled medical procedures.
On the first day of the employee’s official workplace transition, the transitioning employee should be welcomed in the same manner as an employee who has been newly hired or transferred. This includes making sure that the transitioning employee has a new ID badge and photo if necessary, ensuring all work documents have the appropriate name and gender and checking that these have been updated in all of the places and systems where an employee’s name may appear. As a best practice, both the direct manager and the HR manager involved with the transition should visit with the employee formally approximately one month after transition.
Every company’s needs will be different—as will each transitioning employee’s—but Dow Chemical sets a great example for any company trying to establish a basic set of best practices.