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June 22, 2011Some people consider transgender issues provocative or uncomfortable—at Catalyst we consider them squarely in the domain of women and work.

In recognition of LGBT Pride Month, on June 14, Catalyst hosted a webinar to examine the challenges transgender people face in the workplace. As a group within the LGBT community, transgender women face unique barriers, and they’re part of a group that’s typically left out of the conversation.

But only by discussing—and exposing—the stereotypes that transgender women face, can we educate and mitigate the barriers. So we took this opportunity to shine a light on this topic.

An umbrella term, the word “transgender”—or “trans,” for short—refers to people who identify with the characteristics, roles, behaviors, or desires of a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth. Transgender people helped spark the 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, a watershed moment in the history of the LGBT-rights movement. But more than 40 years later, transgender people continue to seek acceptance in society and the workplace.

According to a recent survey of transgender people by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality:

90% reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination on the job or took actions like hiding who they are to avoid it.

47% experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion.

26% reported that they had lost a job due to being trans or gender non-conforming.

Participants in the recent Catalyst webinar addressed some of these inequities.

“When I was male, I was headhunted constantly. When I transitioned, job opportunities for me evaporated,” said Maggie Stumpp, Chief Investment Officer at Quantitative Management Associates. Maggie blamed the drop-off in calls from headhunters on a pervasive anti-trans stereotype that trans people act out, overact gender roles, and are thus too risky to put into direct contact with clients.

“Some companies are afraid of exposing trans people to customers,” she said. Her company is not one of them. Maggie interacts with many customers face-to-face as she manages equity portfolios for institutional investors and large mutual fund clients. “The biggest myth is that somehow trans will embarrass the firm. And I challenge that.”

Despite 40-plus years of advocacy, transgender people are still not afforded the same legal rights as others. In Canada, a long-overdue federal trans-rights bill is snaking its way through Parliament, and in the United States protection is piecemeal and on a state-by-state basis. But while the law slowly evolves to protect the rights of trans individuals, a cultural shift is needed too.

According to webinar participant Brent Chamberlain, Executive Director at Pride at Work Canada and recent guest-blogger at Catalyst CanCon, a workplace advocate or champion for trans employees makes a difference. “They can be a role model and can be someone trans people can talk to, and other people can ask questions,” said Brent.

Asking questions and engaging in a conversation is one key to breaking down barriers between trans employees and their colleagues. “I wish people asked me more questions at work,” said Tamsyn Waterhouse, a software engineer at Google who also participated in the webinar. Employers, she added, should “give people the opportunity to ask questions.”

“Identifying as trans is part of who I am, but first I am a human, then a woman, then trans, then a software engineer,” said Tamsyn.

A few minutes of conversation can open a window of understanding and mutual respect. Start now—take pride in your actions.