TECH DIVERSITY

Transgender in tech: 5 things tech companies should know about hiring and working with trans people. 

Posted October 11th, 2016

For National Coming Out Day, tech incubator Capital Factory hosted a panel discussion Tuesday afternoon called "Transgender in Tech." The idea was to talk about transgender issues in the workplace, dissecting everything from gender-neutral bathrooms to proper pronouns.

Panelists included Heather Brunner, the CEO of WP Engine, Seth List, the Director of Sales for Student Loan Genius, and Amie Freetly, a software developer at Moovel

It was moderated by Eugene Sepulveda, the CEO of the Entrepreneurs Foundation. 

The 512tech team live-tweeted the entire event and we've collected some of the top takeaways below:

Hiring trans men or women will help your business

Brunner, who said having a diverse workforce is a top priority for her company, stressed that it is important to create an "accepting environment" where people feel comfortable working without negative distractions. 

And she said it's important not just because it's the right thing to do, but it also gives them a leg up in recruiting because they will be able to hire the trans men and women who don't feel comfortable working at less-welcoming companies. "Allowing all people to be themselves is good for business," Brunner said. 

Bathrooms are a big deal - here's why

List urged employers to install gender-neutral bathrooms whenever possible. 

He and Freetly explained that it not only helps prevent potentially dangerous or embarrassing situations, but it also is better for people who don't identify as either gender. 

"It's also important for folks transitioning early on," Freetly explained, saying she used to have her wife go with her when she used the bathroom in public places to assure people that it was OK for her to be there. 

List said he sometimes has a friend accompany him to the bathroom at a bar that doesn't have stall doors in their bathrooms so that he wouldn't be exposed as trans. In Texas, he said, that could get your "(butt) kicked."

Adopt transgender-friendly policies

Some companies have taken the step to formally adopt "gender identity" as part of their diversity policies. But List and Freetly also urged simple changes -- such as on the application form, ask not only what someone's legal name is, but also how they prefer to be addressed.

It might also be a good idea to tell applicants what your policies and resources are regarding transgendered workers, they said. 

Employers should be mindful of including in their health insurance policies coverage for medical care for trans men and women, the panelists said, otherwise the hormones and other medical procedures have to be paid for out-of-pocket. 

Sepulveda said his insurance broker said it doesn't cost extra to add this coverage to an employer's health insurance policy.

Confused about someone's gender identity? Just ask

Sometimes you honestly can't tell what someone's gender is, or which gender they identify with. Freetly said the right thing to do is just ask. "It's a really simple thing to say 'How should I refer to you?'" Freetly said. 

She said some companies interviewing her called her by the wrong pronoun or Freetly could tell they were uncomfortable in her presence. But at Moovel she said they simply asked her directly, and "it was a welcoming atmosphere after that."

Proper pronouns are important.

Every time someone calls her the wrong pronoun, Freetly said it "chips away at my mental health a little bit." It's really important to refer to someone by the gender they identify with, she said.  

List said it's natural to slip up from time to time - even his own mother does. He will usually correct someone right away. Freetly suggested that if you're the person who realizes that you are using the wrong pronoun, quickly acknowledge, correct it and move on. 

For employers it's important to establish an environment where the wrong pronoun is immediately corrected, an audience member suggested, so as not to establish a situation where that employee feels discriminated against, which could bring a host of legal problems. 

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