Throughout 2012, Out & Equal will host a regular training forum on our blog where we’ll hear various perspectives on how to conduct LGBT workplace equality training. You don’t need to be a trainer to benefit from this series, since it will bring in guest bloggers who will share tricks, tips and concepts learned from their training experiences. This month, our focus will be transgender trainers and their experiences.
To start us off, Elayne Wylie, who is active in the Seattle Regional Affiliate and part of Out & Equal’s Trainer’s Network, will provide her insights. Elayne is a creative producer of film and television in Seattle, WA, who actively serves on the board of Ingersoll Gender Center and engages the public and private sectors in conversations about gender identity. She has developed a curriculum around cultural competency, focusing her training modules on workplace diversity and equality, and healthcare issues facing the trans community. Elayne can often be found working with a team of employees whose co-worker is in the midst of their own gender transition, or sitting on a diversity panel at a local academic institution. You can contact Elayne at email@example.com. If you are interested in becoming a certified trainer with Out & Equal, click here or email me at PBaillie@outandequal.org. – Pat Baillie
Guest Blog by Elayne Wylie
Since I began teaching cultural competency in the workplace in the Greater Seattle region in 2008, I’ve learned a few things from my audiences about what is important to them. This, in turn, has guided me to create a more impactful message, ultimately leading to a more positive workplace outcome for the transgender individual. It has also impacted the way I conduct my trainings.
I’ve been privileged to have the opportunity to enter the workplace setting for many trans-identified people in Seattle. Often, I’ve already built a personal friendship with my client, so there’s a high level of trust in place by the time they approach me with a request to speak. Admittedly, it’s easy to think of myself (at least early on in my career) as someone walking on eggshells…I must do this right, or I’ll jeopardize my client’s career. In Washington State, the first of two factors that I think of the most are the protections LGBTQ people have in the workplace, which are often enhanced by county, city and corporate regulations and policies. The second is Washington’s at-will employment state, which, simply, means that anyone can be let go for any reason.
It’s important, therefore, to consider how to create the most positive outcome possible. I think about value, and the message I consider most important in my time with my clients is this: Your employee is going to be the most authentic person on staff, and there’s a strong possibility that their excellent work is going to get even better as a result. The message is clear: Bring your best self to work, and you are going to excel in that environment. Suppress what it means to be the most genuine version of yourself, and you restrict the “blood flow” in the workplace.
Since the NCTE/Task Force study (Feb, 2011) was released, I’ve been working some of the data into my training. A significant factor listed in the executive summary is that, despite the 7 major areas of discrimination that trans people face across every facet of their lives, 78% of them report a better quality of life and sense of happiness for having transitioned. More than three of every four people who have transitioned are happier, more productive members of society BECAUSE they transitioned.
If everyone could be so lucky as to find the pot of gold at the end of their rainbow. And, of course we know it’s not all flowers and sunshine, there are many more obstacles to overcome. The biggest obstacle in the workplace, aside from the buy-in of corporate champions, is the base-level acceptance of co-workers to a mode of thinking that most have never employed: Gender is not fixed, not binary, and sometimes quite fluid.
The most effective tool I’ve found in my workplace trainings and even my panel discussions is to make a large ring of chairs to equalize my audience. I ask that everyone introduce themselves with a name and gender pronoun preference, and a fact about themselves that most people don’t know. There’s always an out in my trainings for those that are too uncomfortable to participate, but I’ve had fantastic success in this opening method. What follows is an organic discussion that covers the salient points, but is directed by audience participation. I’m employing years of public speaking and group facilitation experience to make this event a success, but the base rule I follow is to create a safe, equal space for people to express their thoughts about what is to follow. Equality doesn’t come naturally or easily for many people, who’ve learned at the institutional level that ‘some people are more equal than others,’ and that once the air pressure has been equalized in the workplace, any new changes can feel like a diversion of precious resources.
Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. I stress that we aren’t making any new rules to follow, or special circumstances for transgender people. Laws that are designed to protect transgender people don’t remove liberty from those who are not transgender. They provide an enhanced definition of what it means to be a human being. The ever-present bathroom issue, therefore, is not about creating new rules about who can use which bathroom. It’s about redefining what it means to have the privilege of walking down the hall and entering the bathroom of preference without even thinking about it. And then letting the team talk about that for as long as it takes to recalibrate.
Finally, I’m always on-call to these teams after my sessions. Occasionally, I’ll find that the honeymoon period of acceptance wears off, and someone goes back to an old tried-and-true set of privileged behaviors that run counter to my training, and I’m happy to create a continuity of learning for that team. It’s always about relationships; my relationship to them, and their relationships with each other. I never forget that.