Blog > Debates > What’s it like to be a trans employee?

What’s it like to be a trans employee?

Paris Lees on workplace trans discrimination: There’s a lot of work to do.

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For International Transgender Day of Visibility, totaljobs surveyed trans workers from different industries across the UK. This survey was designed to gather information about the experiences of trans employees in the workplace.

The survey aims to build a picture of the HR provisions available for trans employees, the attitudes they encounter in the workplace, and their thoughts and feelings about current employment legislation.

Award-winning journalist and trans activist Paris Lees gives her reaction to the results. Read below the article for an infographic highlighting the survey’s key findings.


Totaljobs reveals that 60% of trans people have experienced discrimination at work. Does this shock you? It doesn’t shock me. In fact, I’m surprised it’s not more. And that’s a good sign. The fact that 29% of trans people don’t believe they’ve been discriminated against at work should be celebrated.

After all, it was only a few years ago that publicly identifying yourself as trans automatically made you a pariah. Still, in modern Britain, trans people are more likely to suffer discrimination in the workplace than not. So there’s a lot of work to do before everyone feels safe, valued and the best they can be.

The research echoes the discrimination trans people suffer in wider society. Being made to feel unsafe. Questioned. Rejected. These are all things that I and many other trans people have had to deal with when all we’ve ever wanted is to live our lives and be ourselves.

When I saw that 53% of trans people have felt the need to hide their trans status from colleagues, I couldn’t help but think about the years I wasted hiding. For a long time, I thought I had to be a boy. My family told me there was no other option.

As a teenager, I rebelled and transitioned, but I was still ashamed of being trans so when I went off to university – as a girl – I felt the need to hide again. I didn’t tell my new friends about my old life. My mental health deteriorated as paranoia, fear and shame took over.

More than one third of trans employees have quit their job due to discrimination

When I saw that 36% of trans people left a job because the environment was unwelcoming, I couldn’t help but think of my hometown and the life that, like many trans people, I was forced to leave behind due to other people’s bigotry.

Excluding people and making them feel unsafe and unwelcome because they happen to be different is classic discrimination. It happens in families, in communities and, sadly, as this research shows, in the workplace too.

When I saw that participants were made to feel excluded from gendered toilet facilities, I felt angry, but, again, not surprised.

As someone who has been using female toilets without problems for over ten years now, I can’t help but feel angry that some workers still feel pressured to use disabled facilities. Why would anyone tell a trans woman she shouldn’t use the ladies loos?

The implication is that other women may feel ‘uncomfortable’. That trans women are not ‘real’ women. That trans women are a potential threat to other women. This is pure prejudice.

There is zero evidence that any trans woman has ever harmed another woman in a female-only facility. If co-workers feel uncomfortable about a trans colleague using the ladies loos, that is their problem: and an imaginary one too.

It’s ‘not right’ for trans people to work with children

Even more disappointing, some participants were told that it wouldn’t be “right” for them to work with children. There can only be two possible reasons for saying this to someone.

The first is that you are worried the trans people may ‘corrupt’ children by there mere presence: that by simple existing, visibly, we may give children ‘ideas’.

This is nonsense. You can no more ‘turn’ a child trans than you can turn a child gay. And anyway, if a child grows up to be trans – so what? The other suggestion, of course, is that trans people pose a threat to children. Like the unfounded panic about toilets, this is disgusting prejudice based on fear and ignorance.

No wonder so many people feel the need to hide they are trans at work. If you are lucky enough to ‘pass’ – that is, other people cannot easily detect that you are trans – life, and work, is much easier.

You don’t have to deal with the constant questioning and accusations that oppress trans people and contribute to poor mental health.

And this, perhaps, reveals the most damning truth of all: you have to know someone is trans in order to discriminate against them for being trans. As the survey shows, for those who do not reveal they are trans, discrimination is not a problem.

They are simply left with the fear of being discovered instead. Those who are openly trans at work may lose friends, be passed over for promotion and even threatened with violence. As one participant notes: “Any time someone has known, they have used it to segregate, isolate and harass me”.

Being true to yourself is the only way to succeed in life and at work

I know from personal experience and through talking to many trans people – not to mention my gay and lesbian friends – that being true to yourself is the only way to succeed in life and at work. The real issue is how other people choose to react.

Many trans people are exceptionally skilled, highly intelligent and eager to work and supportive employers are wise. So I’m encouraged to see that many workplaces do recognise this.

That’s why I love this feedback from a worker who describes his workplace as very supportive:

The guys in the department held a boys night out to welcome me (a trans man) to their fold. It was beer, curry and impartment of essential man-knowledge they have learned over the years. Advice received prior to the beer was more useful than that received at the end of the night.

Unless trans people are given the jobs for which they are qualified, the chances are they will have financial, housing and family problems leading to mental problems, possibly suicide, and they may well become a burden on the state and NHS.

When we respect other people, celebrate them and make them feel included, we don’t just bring out the best in them – we bring out the best in ourselves.

What do you think about the survey findings and Paris’ article? Let us know your feedback by leaving a comment.

The infographic below highlights the key findings of the survey. For a full report inclusive of qualitative data click here.

Add this infographic to your website by copying and pasting the following embed code:

See the full survey results:

Read the report

Learn more about LGBT equality in the workplace:

Gender transitioning at work: your legal rights SJ Jacobs, policy researcher at Citizens Advice, explains the employment law around transitioning.

60% of trans employees have experienced workplace discrimination: Actress Rebecca Root, filmmaker Fox Fisher and politician Emily Brothers comment on the totaljobs survey.

Why it’s still not ‘Mission Accomplished’ for LGBT workers: Award-winning journalist Matthew Todd gives his verdict on the current situation facing LGBT employees.

5 ways you can be a better LGBT ally at work: Here’s what you can do to support your LGBT colleagues.

Megan Key: Pioneering trans activist and role model: The co-creator of TransWorkersUK and TransGirlsCan shares her work experiences and advice for trans employees.

Special thanks go to the advisory group who assisted in the creation of the report and infographic. The advisory group included:

Sophie Green, co-creator of TransGirlsCan
Jennie Kermode, chair of Trans Media Watch
Megan Key, co-creator of TransWorkersUK and TransGirlsCan
Juno Roche, co-creator of TransWorkersUK and Blair Peach Award winner
Lee Williscroft-Ferris, founder of The Queerness

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(All comments have to be approved before they appear)

  1. Joanne Mason Thursday, 31 Mar, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    It’s heartening to see that research is at last being done and some of the results are encouraging.
    As a transwoman yet to take that final step at work, I can relate to many of the findings.
    Paris Lees, as ever is succinct, erudite and gets right to the point.
    Excellent research and article.
    Thank you.

  2. Katherine Walker Thursday, 31 Mar, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    The stats are worrying, but it would be interesting to know how these have changed over the years.

    My employer was very supportive of me, but I am certain that some former employers would have been outright hostile, fear of which is certainly one factor (although small compared to family worries) that held me back. Even now I wouldn’t be surprised at adverse reactions in interviews for a new job.

  3. Faith Friday, 1 Apr, 2016 at 11:57 am

    I have recently transitioned at work and had amazing support from everyone from HR to colleagues. I do not feel I could have done this if I was not working in an inclusive, public body type organisation. I would never have done it at my previous employer. It is sad that many companies have such a lack of knowledge how to deal with the issues. I think it is less about discrimination and more about ignorance that turns to discrimination because they lack the understanding or tools to sort it out without any fuss. It is about visibility and awareness. Having the right HR folk to put the issues to the forefront and getting a trans policy in place before another person feels discriminated against.

  4. Anna Friday, 1 Apr, 2016 at 7:12 pm

    Since coming out as trans I’ve had one absolutely horrendous experience regarding trans discrimination with a particular employer… however on the faboulous side my last two employers (private and public sector) had been very supportive, with positive and robust trans policies.
    I have faith that’s things are changing for the better.. Information and insight challenge ignorance , promote change and support for trans people.

  5. Michelle Geoghegan Saturday, 2 Apr, 2016 at 11:16 pm

    I worked in broadcasting and when I came out I was made redundant. They claimed budget restraints even though I had been praised in my job as a male. I have struggled to find work over the last 5 years. Attending interviews only to be told I was unsuccessful or even worse that the post had gone and they were sorry to waste my time once I arrived for the interview. My CV is a good Cv but once through their doors things changed.
    My mental health has suffered and I have been on benefits since. My confidence has suffered and I don’t go out unless I have to. I live in an area where I have become known as trans and I have been beaten up over 20 times, hospitalised on 2 occasions. And I have been placed on a vulnerable persons list by the police (hate crime panel) who are trying to get me rehoused for my own safety. And now I have the embarrassment of having to go to a health assessment advisory appointment which I fear is going to be a forgone conclusion on the outcome and I live in fear of losing my benefits. I am not proud that I am on benefits.
    I try to get work on a freelance basis but on most occasions I have to present as a male or androgynous person. As when I have presented as a female I don’t get called back. The work is very intermittent and, and can’t earn enough to live on without benefits. I live a very lonely life. And I live ” under siege” conditions. My family has rejected me my son has rejected me and the friends I did have has rejected me. I have tried to take my own life in the past and feel so ashamed of doing that. As a 55 year old trans woman my life is over, lonely and I feel bitter everyday at being rejected to such a degree.
    I truly regret coming out and despair at what will become of me. I find everyday situations now extremely distressful and loath myself to a degree that is not healthy. I have tried to make like minded friends but my disability (mental health) has overcome me and I am constantly on alert when I do go out. I am constantly in fear when I go out even going to the supermarket. I have been asked to get off a bus as I was “upsetting ” his passengers. I have been smacked across the face by a pensioner and told by her ” I should have been put down at birth”. So I don’t use public transport if I can help it locally. Death is attractive to me which is a sad indictment on me, and I have even covered in “spit” by local school girls who found it very funny. I read and see on television how trans women are progressing but it seems to past me by with the widest of “berths”. Just walking past strangers in the high street fills me with dread and fear to the point where I hardy function. I hate this life I hate how pathetic I have become the the fear of attack is CONSTANTLY with me

  6. aimie pearson Thursday, 18 May, 2017 at 9:36 am

    this is silly people should be treated the same

  7. jessica Thursday, 18 May, 2017 at 9:39 am

    everyone should be treated the same

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