This question comes from a colleague who runs the full service staffing firm 925Hire. 925Hire is unique because they focus exclusively on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. An awesome niche to serve (I may be biased)!
She saw this conundrum in a recent staffing magazine and wanted to hear my thoughts.
“I never, I repeat, NEVER thought that I would come across this issue in all my years of staffing but here I am and I haven’t the slightest what to do about it. I always told myself that it would not make a difference but now I am not so sure.
Yesterday I had an interview scheduled with Jasmine Delaney (name changed for anonymity). I had spoken to Jasmine on the phone and received her resume. I explained that I had a few openings in mind but the next step in this process was to have her come in to interview and get set up with the paperwork, that way I can begin to send her to clerical assignments that would best fit her experience.
She came in but she was a he dressed like a she. Silence. Awkward smile, then I pulled it together and treated her like an other applicant.
I think I held the interview with professionalism. We went through the typing test and personality test to have in the system. The employers I had in mind required it. I have some pretty laid back clients, some great people with a wonderful work environment but how do I know where Jasmine will fit in? I have no client that I know of who openly accepts transgender applicants.
There is no chance of Jasmine passing as a natural female. None.
I don’t want to discriminate but I don’t have any clients who wouldn’t laugh me out and call me up to ask me if this wasn’t a practical joke. At first I was thinking Jasmine would make a great internal receptionist but I know I would loose my job if I were to even suggest it now. What do I do? Where or how do I place a qualified office professional that happens to be transgender?
I’m at a complete loss. Have you ever heard of this and how staffing companies handle it? Are there transgender specific staffing agencies?
I asked at work and my boss may not be the best person to ask, her answer was beyond wrong.”
When I first read this question my first thought was wow this is a tricky one. I applaud this staffing professionals open-mindedness and desire to do the right thing. I’ve never found myself to be personally in this position but 5 things immediately popped in my head on how I would best navigate the situation.
#1 – I would take this opportunity to educate myself and those around me regarding laws specifically around transgender workplace protections. In a recent post I made reference to a couple of jarring statistics.
- There are 15 states where there are laws banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- There are 6 states where there are laws banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity.
- Then there is the rest of the country (in red below)
This means that there are 35 states in the United States that do not have laws banning job discrimination around gender identity.
This is a good time to explain the difference between transgender and gender identity. The American Psychological Association gives the following explanation. “Transgender is an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity, gender expression, or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth. Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or something else; gender expression refers to the way a person communicates gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice, or body characteristics. “Trans” is sometimes used as shorthand for “transgender.” While transgender is generally a good term to use, not everyone whose appearance or behavior is gender-nonconforming will identify as a transgender person.”
In short – just because someone is gender non-conforming does not mean they are transgender but regardless in 35 states there are no protections for either.
I would first advise this person to look into what their state laws look like. I am all for educating people so I would also suggest this be an opportune time to educate others in this staffing firm. It appears this persons boss isn’t this most open minded so dropping off some literature around this subject may be a good start. In a non-threatening way you can provide resources to those around you without putting them on the spot or making them feel defensive for particular views they may have. Whether you agree or disagree with their personal views or positions, the first step in educating is providing the right materials. The Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, Out & Equal and GLAAD all have great resources available.
#2 – My next recommendation would be to thoroughly review the listing of companies that you place candidates for. Find out what their policies are on LGBT workers, see if they have an employee resource group for their LGBT workforce and find out if they have specific diversity goals regarding the recruitment or retention of LGBT individuals. If you are already have clients with progressive policies I would talk with them first and see if they have open positions that Jasmine is qualified for. The best place to begin your research is with the Human Rights Campaign.
#3 – If you don’t make any headway with the aforementioned suggestions I would seek out an LGBT specific staffing firm. 925Hire.com is one that I am aware of and I imagine there may be others. If a resource like this exists you may want to take advantage of it. These companies are skilled at aiding LGBT clients and they likely have different relationships with potential employers around diversity needs.
#4 – I would certainly sympathize with Jasmine and explain to her that you are doing the best that you can do. In an ideal world if she’s a qualified candidate then her gender identity should be a non-issue, however we as a society aren’t quite there yet. Unfortunately, she may be familiar with this scenario already so by being honest with her and explaining the steps you are taking to help get her into the right position, she may find you to be an ally. Every marginalized group needs allies.
#5 – This may be the most important tip. I wouldn’t be so quick to underestimate your clients. You may find yourself surprised. If Jasmine is qualified for the job I would send her out to interview with every one that she is qualified for. You may think you are going to find a bigoted person on the other end who is going to immediately pick up the phone and think you are playing a joke, but you may not. You can’t cast assumptions on to people without first having a reason to believe so. If you’ve had this situation come up in the past and have sent a qualified transgender person to a client and they came back at you in a hostile or discriminating way – then so be it. Certainly do not refer Jasmine to them because you would be setting her up for failure. But if this situation hasn’t yet come up, try it out. If she’s qualified and the client on the other end is open minded you may end up realizing you never had a problem to begin with.
I’m a firm believer in honesty is the best policy. Sometimes when you are working for someone else or in a large company your hands are tied, but that’s no reason to continue the cycle of discrimination. I talk a lot about having internal champions in large companies – you know that one person who is willing to stick their neck out on the line for the greater good. These types of people are key to have around because they help continue to move things forward. You could be this person and advocate on behalf of the transgender community. Go ahead and try it, it’s incredibly rewarding to know you are making an impact, even if it is one person at a time.
What are your thoughts on this? Would you do things differently?