Employers should be aware of the business costs of ignoring these issues. A erican Progress indicated that companies in the United States lose an estimated $64 billion annually as a result of having to replace employees who departed because of unfairness and discrimination; many of those individuals were members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Hostility and discrimination also increase absenteeism, undermine commitment and motivation, and decrease productivity. A recent study by the Human Rights Campaign found that employee engagement declines by as much as 30% in unfriendly work environments. Although the study focused on LGBTQ+ employees more broadly, its findings are no doubt representative of trans people’s experiences. In addition to hiding who they are at work, which LGB individuals often must do with respect to their sexual identity, trans people must hide their gender expression, including how they dress, speak, and present themselves.
Discriminatory workplaces also prevent companies from attracting and retaining top talent. When employers, whether knowingly or unknowingly, fail to address prejudicial behavior, they send a potent message about their indifference and develop an external reputation for being an unwelcoming place to work. (According to the Level Playing Field Institute, one in four people who experience unfairness in the workplace report being highly unlikely to recommend their organization to others.) Furthermore, laws relating to gender identity and expression, although still severely lacking in the aggregate, are evolving at the local, state, and federal levels-creating greater obligations for employers. Without comprehensive strategies for addressing issues around gender identity and expression, organizations risk being sued. Those legal actions can be expensive to litigate, distracting to business activities, and damaging to a company’s reputation, in addition to involving costly payouts. But it is our hope that companies will approach trans inclusivity from a moral and ethical standpoint rather than a purely economic one.
Organizations should not wait for the courts to determine that trans individuals are fully protected under the law. Instead they should proactively incorporate gender-identity-specific nondiscrimination policies and practices throughout their businesses. That involves two key issues: protecting and promoting the rights of people of all gender identities and expressions, and increasing employees’ understanding and acceptance of their trans colleagues. In a meta-analysis we conducted with Cheryl s, we found strong links between the degree to which employers enact these practices and the job attitudes, psychological well-being, and disclosure decisions of LGBTQ+ community members. In another study, focused specifically on trans employees, Enrica Ruggs and her coauthors found that the presence of trans-supportive policies was positively related to participants’ openness about their identities and their decreased experiences of discrimination at work. However, such effects are likely to occur only when leaders model these policies consistently in both words and behavior. Also, it should be noted that effective diversity and equity practices have been found to positively impact the productivity of all employees.
Laws regarding gender and gender expression are constantly evolving and differ according to location. In the United States no federal law prohibits discrimination against trans people, and only 19 states have explicit protections for trans workers. Additionally, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 makes it more difficult for trans employees to file discrimination complaints against employers who justify their practices on religious grounds. Using religious freedom as a rationale, certain states have enacted laws to revoke or prohibit equal protections for trans individuals. Although gender expression has been covered in some court cases under the broader sex-discrimination protections within Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, in the absence of a federal law it remains up to the courts to decide case outcomes according to their interpretations of prior case law. Indeed, the U.