Trans Inclusion, Visibility and Understanding in the Workplace
Following on from their first interview, our Diversity and Inclusion Manager Tzeitel Degiovanni speaks to Tate Smith - Junior Legal Support Secretary at Clifford Chance and Lead on Arcus - the firm's LGBT+ network - Education and Awareness Pillar. As the firm's first openly trans person, Tate helped to re-draft the 2019 Trans Policy and has hosted two Lunch & Learn sessions on what it’s like to be both gay and transgender. He has featured in interviews by Global Butterflies, Legal Week, Mygwork, and now DiverseJobsMatter. In this piece, Tzeitel and Tate speak specifically about the newly-energized focus on Diversity and Inclusion efforts, and where they are missing the mark on trans issues.
In most spaces, but especially in corporate and workplaces, we don’t see enough trans men or women. Not in the media, in marketing, in the board-room, in decision-making, and so we don’t see or hear about their experiences. What are your thoughts on this?
I don’t think there’s enough visibility for trans people across the board, completely. Especially within professional workplaces. Panels have become the only thing where I see trans people, but where I do see these trans panels or anything similar, I see a lot more trans women and little to no trans men. And it’s not great to see because I think it’s a reflection of what the general public think of as trans, because when we think of transgender we stereotypically think of a 6 foot bony-looking man playing dress-up, wearing women’s clothing… we don’t think that being a trans man is a thing, we think that they’re just lesbians or tomboys. So there’s not enough visibility at all and where there is, it's kind of up-and-coming. So I really think that workplaces and the media can do a much bigger and better job of making sure they’ve got trans role models and they’re telling people’s stories and that they’re telling them in the right way as well. It’s important that it’s not just coming from a cis-male voice; it needs to be a very unbiased, open conversation and very educational which de-bunks common myths.
There’s a lot of dialogue around the medical/hormone aspect of the transition and a lot of people are speaking from grossly misinformed positions, including some HR departments. I know you had an incredibly difficult experience in a previous place of work regarding this…
Yeah, I mean the place I was at before was awful. I remember being in a meeting with the HR representative after I had come out at work and said that I would be transitioning, and she told me that if I wanted to move to another room, to be away from other people, I could. And I remember thinking “what on earth?”, I just couldn’t believe what they were saying or suggesting was real. Because it wasn’t for my benefit, it was because they “didn’t know” what would happen once I started taking testosterone. It’s interesting the way that everyone said they were so behind me, but the reason they were so behind me is because I was a token for them. Because it was interesting, because they now know a trans person. It was exotic for them, a ‘nice change to the group’, and that was just so disappointing.
Based on that experience, what are your opinions now on applying to companies and perhaps not being sure what their culture or protocol or policies are going to be like. In terms of the recruitment process, how do you think recruiters as well as companies can ensure candidates are making informed choices and are kept safe?
Yeah, so I am personally not working anywhere that hasn’t got a trans policy. That is just the no.1 thing for me, and is a total deal-breaker. I wouldn’t be going into an interview or into a company’s workplace unless I know I can be kept safe. And that’s a very unfortunate thing for me to have to say as a trans person, because I actually have to think firstly about my own safety. So whilst everyone else is thinking ‘is this job right for me?’ and ‘is it going to pay me what I want?’, I’m thinking ‘Am I going to be protected from harassment and bullying?’. So that’s a really big thing.
But I am also attracted to workplaces that have won awards for their diversity and inclusion and have demonstrated their D&I work, and its not just a little paragraph on their website. It’s about actionable things, like seeing that you’ve done pro bono, volunteering work, that you’re helping the trans community, you’re helping the wider LGBT+ community – you’re going out there and actively helping and you’re showing that those people are also within your firm.
So policy, awards, demonstrable work, and videos from senior leaders. It is so powerful when a CEO does a video for LGBT history month or they put out a statement about what is happening in the government on trans rights. Something like that. If you don’t demonstrate that you have an inclusive culture, and I don’t hear it firsthand from your employees either through word of mouth or webinars, videos or panels, then I don’t want to work for you. That’s my attitude.
Absolutely. It’s the actionable things that companies need to be doing. Not just lip-service in social media posts
Literally – I know when a company is talking the talk and not walking the walk. We can all say “yeah we’re respective of trans people” or “yeah we don’t have a problem with gay people” or “Black Lives Matter”, post a black square for a day and then delete it a couple months after. But actually demonstrating your commitment to the community and employees are completely different things. So having networks, for example, is essential. If you haven’t got a trans policy, or an LGBT+ network or affinity networks for women, ethnic minorities, or a diversity network – I don’t want to work for you. Because that just shows to me that you don’t care. How are we supposed to connect with other people like us without those groups? Companies can say x amount of people work in their firm who are trans or LGBT – but then they haven’t got networks to bring all those people together for mutual support and also to create education and awareness.
This is why I love Clifford Chance so much, because they get it so right. They’ve got the networks, the diversity data, the massive catalogue of pro-bono work, which is amazing in itself. Then we have statements from senior people, we have inclusion reports, we’re the first major city law firm that established Partner LGBT+ targets, and they consulted the LGBT+ Network on this specifically. They also they have a D&I Committee which is headed-up by a cisgender man, so we’ve got such a strong sense of allyship here, it’s incredible. I really think people could take a lot of notes from Clifford Chance. Whenever I speak at undergraduate law events and meet people from other firms I asked them about their LGBT work and it’s just not the same.
I think a lot of people underestimate how much having an integrated culture of diversity and inclusion effects people’s real, everyday lives
Clifford Chance are the reason I’m living life as my authentic self. When I joined I wasn’t even out and I didn’t even want to come out, I just wanted people to accept me. But it was when I got involved with the LGBT+ network and realized that I am actually in a really powerful position here within this fantastic law firm to be the first openly trans person. I thought about how many people I could inspire, and it just started off like that. Now I’m doing all these panels and interviews for organisations like Legal Week and it's incredible.
Its incredible what happens when a company not only creates an environment where you feel comfortable being yourself, but where that self is also celebrated. What is your advice for companies who are now reflecting internally and realizing they’re not doing that and want to create a trans policy?
Consult real trans people. I don’t think you can write up anything about trans people if you are cisgender. If you haven’t consulted with trans people then the policy is just for show. I know Global Butterflies are the first people that some companies speak to, but also you need to speak to trans people within your organisation and then people at Global Butterflies can help with formally putting a policy together. It’s really not that difficult. Once you speak to trans people, you realise that we just want to be heard, visible and protected. And we don’t want to be your token person to discuss gender at the coffee area. We want to be protected from discrimination and harassment and bullying, and we want to be able to dress the way we choose. There’s so much to think about but really what it all comes down to is:
I think the gender-neutrality of bathrooms is such a sticking point for so many, which makes the response (or lack of) from employers in regard to this that much more important
Unfortunately it is a fact of life for lots of trans women that when they enter a single-sex space they are thought of as predators. For trans men like me, going into the bathroom is a bit daunting, yes, but men don’t talk to each other in there. They go in, they do their business, they get out. For women, it sometimes become a more social experience. And it only takes one ignorant person who doesn’t know much about trans people to say “oh my god there’s a man in here” and cause a complaint. And in that moment they are reducing someone to their genitals and stopping them from entering a ‘single-sex’ space just because of what they think is between their legs rather than what they identify as. Now what is important when that happens is how an organizsation is going to react to that, but also how are they going to promote education and awareness so that doesn’t keep happening. So diversity, LGBT+ training, normalizsing pronouns and just making sure that transphobia is not tolerated is paramount. One of the key starting points is familiarizing yourself with what transphobia is and looks like and then educating the wider company. It sounds like a lot but really it does come down to the simple things and you’ll understand that when you’ve consulted with trans people.
Absolutely. I think a lot of people have the attitude that because it doesn’t affect them, and they think only a small minority of the population is trans, it’s not a big deal and not worth them doing something about…
Definitely. Which is why the new UK 2021 census is so great. So even though we won’t know exactly how many people identify as trans or non-binary because there are some people who still won’t be open on their form, we’re going to get a much better idea of how many trans people there are living in this country. We know they are currently 1% of the population, which is already a lot of people. So when you think of the context of workplaces, that’s a handful or so of people who are working around you that actually identify as trans or non-binary or non-gendered. I don’t think people actually realise how many trans people there are. Even myself, I know a handful of people at Clifford Chance but I watched a webinar for another law firm and there were four people. But we just don’t realise how ‘normal’ or common this is.
Do you think that Trans and LGBT+ issues have fallen through the cracks of recent Diversity and Inclusion initiatives?
It’s definitely falling through the cracks. The stuff that I’m speaking on is brilliant, but that’s because I’m speaking on it and there is a trans voice present. But for the most part, a lot of LGBT+ panels, events, articles, the whole lot – is predominantly white, cis, able-bodied gay men. I don’t see enough people of colour or any ethnic minorities in these spaces at all. And they do exist – so why aren’t they being represented? It really frustrates me that this is the picture we are seeing of LGBT+ when it’s so much more rich and colorful than that. To a straight cisperson who is logging onto a webinar and is maybe wanting to learn more and take an interest, they’re being given an extremely narrow representation of what it means to be LGBT+. You can’t have a panel made up of white people, that is not representative of the community. Also, the two biggest issues within our communities is biphobia and transphobia, so if you don’t have an LGBT+ panel representing those people you’re missing the ‘B’ and the ‘T’.
You’re absolutely right. And its also important to acknowledge that it is a lot harder to come out as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender as a person of colour living in the UK. The cultural experience is not the same, especially not when they’re also facing racial/ethnic discrimination.
Exactly – and it's going to end up becoming a vicious cycle because they won’t want to come out or feel inspired to come out as they’re not seeing people like them. They’re not being represented and so ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ needs to look at itself to see whether it really is being diverse and inclusive.
What do you think companies can and should be doing to represent and platform transness in ways that aren’t tokenistic? From my experience of reading about trans experiences or seeing trans visibility in the media, I find that the narrative is often bleak and portrays violence, rather than celebrating the positives too, and the nuance.
It’s so difficult because everything could be perceived as tokenistic, especially from the outside. I think it's all in the action, action speaks louder than words and louder than small paragraphs on a website. I think its all about hearing from real life trans people, their positive experiences at a firm, talking about the positive aspects of their transition as well as the negative ones. Changing the narrative and making sure the narrative isn’t all sad and depressive and angry. I mean many aspects of our transition are incredibly hard and it is incredibly hard being trans – I used to wake up every day and wish I had been born a boy. But I’ve sort of pushed that back into my head now because I have plenty of great things to be getting on with, and I have a lot of positive aspects of my transition and this is one of them. Being able to speak on panels and get my top surgery, really big stuff like that. I think it really all comes down to capturing the right, positive things, being a genuine ally, and being open and honest about what more companies can do. Let’s not beat around the bush, we’ve all got a lot to do to further trans rights and its going to be a collective effort, its not just on one community or one workplace or just on the government, its on society as a whole. It wasn’t just workplaces or the government who were leading and changing gay rights, it was the people. Unfortunately the picture in the UK looks really bleak because it feels like every week its something new with trans rights being rolled back, so we’ve got a lot to do.
How was your experience with Owen Reed and being placed at Clifford Chance by Anna and her team?
When I have been in contact with them especially this year, Anna and Lauren have been superb. They’ve been very very respectful of me, and Anna has been so great. I think them getting involved with this just demonstrates how much they care about diversity and inclusion. And it was never even a question of ‘Oh but you’re a legal secretary and a guy?’ or ‘oh that’s a bit weird’ – none of that. Nothing has ever been said about my transness apart from when I brought it up on my own terms. It’s been a really positive experience.