Transgender at Work
TRANSGENDERS EN WERK Een onderzoek naar de arbeidssituatie van transgenders in
Nederland en Vlaanderen
Utrecht, mei 2010
Auteur: Paul Vennix
In this study the employment situation of Dutch and Flemish transgender employees has been mapped out and the circumstances influencing their situation. Unemployed transgenders have also participated in this study, and have given insight into the problems they experience with being transgenders when trying to find work. Participants of this survey have mainly been approached through the websites of transgender interest groups in the Netherlands and Flanders. We put a comprehensive questionnaire on the Internet, which was answered by 386 transgenders. The transgenders who responded are not representative for the entire transgender population.
The survey distinguishes between MtFs (transgender females born male) and FtMs (transgender males born female). A further distinction is made between non-ops (transgenders who do not proceed with Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS)), pre-ops (those who have applied for SRS) and post-ops (those who have had surgery). FtMs are underrepresented in this study. Consequently, certain aspects of the employment situation of FtM non-ops, pre-ops and post-ops were impossible to compare. Moreover, too few unemployed FtMs participated in the survey to describe their circumstances. Unemployed MtFs (but very likely FtMs as well) are often rejected when applying for a job because of their transgender background, and face great difficulties finding jobs in which their transgender background is accepted. Reintegration bureaus and departments are rarely well-adjusted to the personal situation of unemployed transgenders.
Having a transgender background is a career barrier both for the unemployed and the employed. Being unable to be oneself, discrimination and lack of acceptance from colleagues play important roles. Consequently, transgenders are underrepresented in important positions.
Transgenders hardly dare come out at work. This goes especially for non-ops, since they do not know whether their managers are going to support their coming out.7 They fear being bullied by their colleagues. Eventually, in the event of having chosen for SRS (pre-ops), coming out is inevitable.
Even then a number of pre-ops postpones their coming out till the very limit. However, pre-ops, who admit to wanting Sex Reassignment Surgery, are usually supported by their management. Generally, a majority of their colleagues accept their decision to have surgery.
In spite of all this, as the National Enquiry into Employment Circumstances 20068 shows, transgenders (non-ops, pre-ops and post-ops) are confronted with annoying behaviour of colleagues much more often than others. MtFs are even more troubled by this than FtMs. Gender crossing expressions by men (make-up, women’s clothes, girl’s names etcetera) are hardly ever accepted at work, though women are also expected to conform to the current gender rules. This renders it impossible for transgenders to show themselves at work as they really are.
Male colleagues’ attitudes are more deprecative towards transgenders than those of female colleagues. Therefore, FtM pre-ops have more difficulty in being accepted as men into the men’s world at work. MtF are more easily admitted into the women’s community Few transgenders fit into the box ‘male’ or ‘female’. Gender dichotomy and organizational (and cultural) policies often lead to mental problems, because people can not sufficiently be themselves. MtFs often find themselves in male dominated jobs because of a ‘male’ career choice, in which they do not feel comfortable. This also leads to psychological problems.
Diversity management contributes to a large degree to a positive job experience and a good work relation with colleagues and superiors. Diversity management promotes transgenders’ open attitude at work.
In order to improve transgenders’ position (at work) policies specifically directed to their employment situation are needed, as well as a general organisation policy. The Yogyakarta-principles9 are an important guideline in this. Additionally, the memorandum on the Emancipation policy of Lesbians and Gays 2008-201110 needs to be readjusted, since it hardly pays any attention to transgenders. The male-female dichotomy needs to be broken apart not only in legislation and abolition of sex registration, but by granting partial sex reassignment surgery in the Netherlands in accordance with international guidelines11. Simultaneously, transgenders’ image needs to be improved by means of education and information (with special focus on gender diversity). Transgenders as a target group need explicitly to come under the Equal Rights Act. Equality and antidiscrimination policy will only then be directed to transgenders as well. Moreover, both in diversity management and in the Collective Labour Agreements special attention should be paid to transgenders. Labour reintegration offices and labour advice bureaus should be better equipped (and have more know-how) to be of service to transgenders.