“Turn to the person next to you,” said Michaela Mendelson, founder of Trans Can Work, CEO of Pollo West Corp and a transgender woman. “Tell them your preferred pronouns and share the earliest memory you have of thinking about gender in your life.”
This quick audience exercise kicked off a courageous conversation organized by Amgen’s PRIDE Employee Resource Group at Amgen’s headquarters in Thousand Oaks, Calif. It only took a few seconds, but the results were educational. Some in attendance realized they had never needed to think deeply about gender because the world largely mirrors how they feel, while others who identify as transgender or gender fluid may have wrestled with what gender means about their identity from a young age.
The need to consider that our colleagues all have their own unique life experiences was a key message of the event, called “A Brave New World: Transgender and Gender Diversity in the Workplace.” The panel discussion underscored the positive benefits of building a workplace culture that is open and accessible to all people, including those who identify as LGBTQ, and the panelists offered advice for developing a diverse, welcoming and empathetic workplace.
Along with Mendelson, the panel featured Celia Daniels, a gender-fluid Fortune 500 management consultant and transgender activist, and Gordon Stewart, an Amgen VP and long-time LGBTQ activist. Andrea Cubitt, vice president of aTyr Pharma, Inc. and transgender woman, joined the panelists at a reception following the panel.
Like 83% of Fortune 500 companies, Amgen includes transgender staff in its non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies. Amgen also offers comprehensive health benefits that cover both mental and physical health for transgender staff, including hormone treatments and gender reassignment surgery for those who choose those options to transition.
Benefits and non-discrimination policies are important to ensure that there’s a level playing field during hiring and in the workplace, and in 2018 Amgen scored 100% on the Corporate Equality Index (CEI) administered by the Human Rights Campaign.
The panelists agreed that corporate policies are a good start, but it’s also important to look at how a workplace’s culture affects individuals. A diverse and inclusive workplace culture embraces the power of belonging, creating an environment where all employees are treated fairly, and everyone recognizes and leverages the positive benefits of diversity.
Three things companies can do to make workplaces more inclusive:
- Use Preferred Pronouns: People who are transgender have a gender identity that is different than their biological gender. A biological male who identifies as female may prefer feminine pronouns (she, her, hers), a biological female who identifies as male may prefer masculine pronouns (he, him, his), and others may not identify as either, preferring gender-neutral pronouns (they, them, theirs). A company culture where everyone feels comfortable sharing and using their preferred pronouns can demonstrate a commitment to workplace inclusion.
- Educate Managers and Staff: “How coworkers treat someone who is transgender when they come out can be one of the most important moments in that person’s life,” Mendelson said. Managers should have clear guidelines in place for supporting a transitioning staff member, and all staff should get diversity training that discusses transgender inclusion and how to talk with coworkers respectfully about gender identity.
- Provide Gender-Neutral Bathrooms: Imagine feeling uncomfortable, threatened or unsafe about going to the bathroom while you’re at work — maybe even afraid to use the bathroom altogether. The availability of gender-neutral bathrooms communicates that transgender staff have the right to use the bathroom of their choice without fear or discomfort. Amgen offices in the United States (Thousand Oaks, San Francisco, Rhode Island and Massachusetts) have gender-neutral restrooms in public areas (like lobbies).