Cartoon of workmates standing in front of a desk whispering

New study shows two-thirds of trans employees in the UK hide their identity at work

New research suggests discrimination against trans people in the workplace is increasing. Stylist deciphers the worrying findings from a study conducted by TotalJobs and YouGov. 

The proportion of trans people who have had to hide their identity at work has risen from 52% to 65% in the last five years, according to new research from Totaljobs and YouGov.

The Totaljobs Trans Employee Experiences Survey, completed by 400 trans employees in the UK this February, also showed a 7% increase in the number of those who have quit because of an unwelcoming workplace, and found that over a third of trans employees have experienced workplace discrimination in the last five years.

Jaimie, 44, from North Wales, had one such experience when she applied for work in a bridal shop in Manchester three years ago – a role she was amply qualified for and suited to, having completed fashion college in Amsterdam. After disclosing her trans identity on a covering letter, she was originally invited for an interview, only to be faced with hostility when she called for directions on the day. 

Almost immediately, says Jaimie, the woman who answered the phone told her: “We can’t have men working in the shop,” and suggested that she would “perv on” women shopping and make them uncomfortable.

“I was gobsmacked at her response,” says Jaimie. “This interaction left me not wanting to explain I was trans as I knew it wouldn’t make a difference. I felt second rate and disappointed.”

“It still took me a good while to find a good job where I got hired on the first or second interview,” Jaimie continues. “I don’t like to think it’s transphobia but perhaps it was [as] I only ever applied for jobs where I was 100% confident I matched the criteria.”

Over half (56%) of those surveyed shared Jaimie’s sense that it was harder to find employment because of who they are, with 50% of all those surveyed admitting to hiding their true selves when applying for roles. 

cartoon of person sitting in front of Trans flag
Two-thirds of trans employees in the UK hide their identity at work

And even when trans people secure employment, their experience continues to be shaped by their trans identity: a quarter of all respondents reported being socially excluded by colleagues, while three-quarters said their workplace does not offer information on trans issues or gender neutral facilities. And 27% reported being deadnamed – addressed by the name they were assigned at birth despite having changed it to better match their identity.

A third said they were not aware of how to report discrimination, and around the same proportion of respondents said they wouldn’t report transphobic behaviour when it did happen. Only 33% of trans workers were aware that their employers had dedicated anti-trans discrimination policies in place.

Lee Clatworthy, spokesperson for trans equality charity Sparkle, who have partnered with Totaljobs to advise employers on trans-inclusive workplaces, says there are simple steps organisations can take to begin to address some of these problems. 

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“We would recommend de-gendering the language on forms and throughout recruitment processes,” says Clatworthy. “Having one single point of contact for all candidates, who is trained to be sensitive to the barriers that trans and gender diverse candidates may face, also helps to build the trust from trans employees that they’ll be welcomed in the organisation.”

A shift to working from home during the pandemic has provided some respite for trans employees, the research suggests: 31% of respondents said they felt more confident in themselves, and 20% said home working had removed the microaggressions they typically experience at work. Almost 10% said they believed their colleagues had been more supportive than usual during this time.

But, as Jon Wilson, CEO of Totaljobs, highlights, this is not a solution to the enduring and worsening situation trans employees find themselves in in workplaces across the country. 

‘‘Having a situation where any employee feels that they have to hide who they are in the workplace, or even decide to leave a role as a consequence of not feeling accepted, is simply wrong,” says Wilson. “As employers, we need to ask serious questions as to what we can do to improve this state of affairs and ensure we’re championing a culture that is inclusive of trans individuals, to ensure they have happier, healthier working lives.”

Amid the survey’s worrying findings, though, there are some glimmers of hope. The percentage of respondents who said colleagues had reacted negatively to them coming out has fallen to 5%, from 10% in 2016. And 43% of all respondents said they felt that acceptance and understanding of trans employees in the workplace had improved over the last five years.

And after her previous experiences of discrimination and hostility while looking for work, Jaimie has thankfully managed to find employment in a supportive and inclusive environment, in a role providing customer care over the phone.

“My colleagues in my current job have been nothing but supportive of me,” she says. “They always address me by the correct pronouns and have respected me and used them from the moment I started my transition.”

Illustrations: Fox Fisher illustrations for Totaljobs Trans Employee Experiences Survey

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