Blog > Featured > Megan Key: Pioneering trans activist and role model

Megan Key: Pioneering trans activist and role model

The co-creator of TransWorkersUK and TransGirlsCan shares her work experiences and advice for trans employees.

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Megan Key is an inspirational role model for trans people. She has developed a number of national initiatives with the trans community, such as Transworkers UK, and continues to campaign for greater inclusion in the workforce.

Megan works as an equality manager at the National Probation Service and was a finalist at the Probation Champion of the Year 2015 awards for promoting trans awareness.

I’ve always been a strong, independent character

I’ve always been a strong, independent character even when I was young. I started stacking shelves when I was 12 years old because I wanted my own money and have worked since, nearly always as a leader in some way, it’s my personality. I like overcoming challenges, I like to be a decision maker and I like to make life easier for people.

I spent my twenties in retail and, later, at university as a mature student, leaving at 27 with a degree in graphic design. By 30, I realised I wanted to do a job that gave me more personal meaning so joined the Probation Service as a trainee probation officer in 2005, completing a second degree on the job.


I came out as trans to 2000 colleagues

I came out as trans to 2000 colleagues seven years after joining the Probation Service, the first (and only) in my region so it was a very public, scary yet ultimately, life affirming experience. It reminded me that when you fear the worst, it doesn’t usually happen and that we need to give people more credit.

Some of the people I least expected to show support were the first to approach me. In a wider sense, coping with a medical and social transition has helped build my resilience, focus and determination. Transitioning is a lengthy, time consuming, emotionally draining experience that requires commitment and the ability to deal with setbacks and delays.

It’s not down to luck that I haven’t experienced transphobia during my career

I have never experienced transphobia during my career. I don’t say that’s down to luck either. We had a diversity policy that was very clear regarding the code of conduct of staff and a policy specifically protecting transgender staff in the spirit of the Equality Act 2010.

If we had no policy, I may never have came out, because I was terrified of losing my job. I daren’t think what would have happened to me then.

Trans people are twice as likely to be unemployed than the general population and evidence of employment or volunteering is crucial to completing medical transition. Without being able to demonstrate assimilation in one’s acquired (or new) gender, we cannot get access to some medical interventions.

Of course, when I first transitioned, some people felt awkward, uncomfortable and couldn’t look me in the eye. They occasionally used my dead name (previous name). I dealt with it all with a sense of humour.

It’s crucial not to take it all so seriously or people will simply avoid you. I used to say ‘I’m just the same, but I have better dress sense now.’ We’d have a laugh.

One person used my dead name twice in separate meetings, so I took them aside and said an accident is fair enough, but on the third time I would take out a grievance against them for harassment. It never happened again.


There is a myth that accommodating trans people at work is difficult

Evidence shows that over 90% of trans people who transition at work perform the same or better. People who have already transitioned when they come for interview just want to get on and pay their bills like everyone else.

Believe me, when you’ve been in the spotlight for a while, you just want to blend in with everyone else and be respected for the person you are.

It’s really simple for me – authentic people are happier, more productive and more likely to stay with your organisation. I think there is a myth that accommodating trans people at work is difficult and it’s not.

There is plenty of straight forward guidance out there from GIRES, A:gender and Stonewall, for example, that help employers support us through transition. I am proof that if you do so, time off is minimal.

I had zero days off in 4 years because of my transition, in fact, I only had one week off for tonsillitis. I had time off for appointments, but I made the time up and my appraisals are consistently good.

We aren’t all visible. I wasn’t

Firstly, companies need a policy. This says to trans people “we see you, we will protect you”. It also tells colleagues that discrimination against trans staff is unacceptable.

Secondly, if your organisation or business, large or small, celebrates other aspects of diversity such as religion or race, ensure you do likewise for trans people (for example Trans Day of Visibility, LGBT History Month, Trans Day of Remembrance).

I’d also suggest, depending on your budget and sector, bringing in a trans group to train staff. It’s not enough to say “we’ve no trans people in our business so we don’t need to do it”, because how do you know?

We aren’t all visible. I wasn’t. If you have a HR department, Diversity lead or even a Manager who is a single point of contact for Diversity, ensure they are up to date with practice, law and terminology.

More employers recognise the value we bring

Lloyds Banking Group recently added gender reassignment surgery to their private health cover for staff, recognising the dire straits trans people currently face with NHS waiting lists.

Asda, who recently won Employer Of The Year at the National Transgender Awards, have made a video highlighting trans staff and have a successful LGBT network staff group that promotes trans lives.

Juno Roche and I run a Facebook group, Transworkers UK, where trans people contribute positive experiences and these range from British Airways, Travis Perkins, Civil Service, Police, teaching.

I do think that society is ready to accept us and more employers recognise the value we bring, so we will see more employers follow suit. I think I fear more for small businesses who feel they don’t have the resource to invest in trans inclusion, but as I said, it really is straight forward.

It is more about managing attitudes of staff and customers, but this is something that needs to be done to comply with Equalities law, so let’s get on with it.

It is crucial to have allies in the workplace

The laws are already there. The Equalities Act 2010 and the Gender Recognition Act 2004 provide protection for trans people at work.

The challenge is making sure they are abided by and enforced. Disclosing an individual’s former identity is an offence but it is rarely brought to Court. Often trans people are afraid to complain because they are fearful of losing their job, so it is crucial to have allies in the workplace.

The Women and Equalities Select Committee recently consulted with the trans community on a range of areas of our lives, including employment and the Government has published it’s response: the Trans Inquiry.


Be positive and focus on your talents through the recruitment process

My advice is to apply for jobs, lots of them. Expect some knock backs, expect unconscious bias and, yes, expect not to know sometimes if your trans status prevented you from getting a job.

But remember, there are employers who are inclusive, there are individuals conducting interviews who are understanding, honourable and frankly, want someone to come in and do the job.

So, keep applying, be positive and focus on your talents through the recruitment process. As part of your research for a position, check out their policies if you can around diversity.

The internet is a huge resource, do your detective work. If you plan on transitioning once you have been recruited, think carefully before sharing it at interview, the reality is that it might be seen as an issue.

More of us are in work, thriving and being visible

I think the future is bright. More and more of us are in work, thriving and being visible. As with society in general, fear of the unknown promotes ignorance and mistrust, but these days people are more comfortable with the concept of gender identity.

For the next generation it will be even easier I think as more young people identify as transgender. Gender identity and sexual orientation aren’t as big an issue for them and terms such as non-binary and gender fluid are becoming common in youth culture.

My advice to employers is this – research clearly shows that inclusive workplaces are more likely to be successful because they reflect society and their customer base. If you don’t snap up talented trans people for your business, your competitors will.

Are you a trans employee? Do you agree with what Megan had to say? Tell us your experiences in the comments section!

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1 Comment

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  1. Aleksandr Wednesday, 8 Feb, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    I am very glad that you all so good, I sometimes meet Trans people in the street or in public transport, treat them calmly, without any prejudice, if I had to work with them, not the usual nothing would have happened.
    To me, they are cute, like any people ……….. I do not understand the problem, I do not understand why some hate looking at is not like them!
    I am pleased to talked to someone from trans women, in my opinion this is very interesting, they contribute to the diversity of our world!

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