An umbrella term for cases in which gender does not align with societal expectations regarding the sex assigned at birth

People have differing language to describe who they are and how they want to label their identities. The terms below are frequently used, but we acknowledge that these and other definitions are constantly evolving. Further, it’s important to note that individuals know their own identity best and should always be consulted about how they’d like to be referred to. (For more, see the Human Rights Campaign’s glossary of terms.)

Gender Expression

The ways in which people-trans or not-choose to convey their gender identity through dress, verbal communication styles, and other outward behavior.


A gender identity and expression that are not tied to a traditional male/female view of the gender spectrum. Those who identify as genderqueer may identify as men or women, as neither, or as some combination of the two.


Some people who fall under the umbrella decide to transition; others do not, because they don’t define themselves according to the traditional male-female binary or because they have a more fluid view of their identity over time.


A gender identity that does not align with the sex assigned at birth. For example, a transgender woman is someone whose sex assigned at birth was male.

Despite the good intentions of many cisgender employees, however, trans people may not always want others to represent their interests, especially when those others lack in-depth knowledge of the various issues, challenges, and nuances surrounding their work and life experiences. And research suggests that employees who possess a “savior mentality” (that is, are motivated by a desire to be perceived as good people) may end up doing more harm than good. Accordingly, HR practitioners should train employees to appropriately ask whether trans colleagues prefer to speak up for themselves. (If they wish to be, trans employees should be involved in this training.) The simple act of consulting before taking action gives a trans person agency and autonomy in deciding how the situation should be handled.

4. Utilize Interventions to Build Resiliency

Research also supports the idea that trans individuals can benefit from interventions to help them manage their stress. In a recent two-week experience sampling study of ours, we found evidence to suggest that mindfulness-a state of nonjudgmental attention to present-moment experiences-can insulate trans employees from emotional exhaustion the day after experiencing a stigmatizing event at work. This effect was explained by a reduction in defensive, distrustful patterns of thinking such as hypervigilance and rumination.

Unfortunately, it’s not realistic to assume that prejudice toward trans employees will be eliminated quickly and easily through workplace initiatives. Such changes take time. And although the main goal of employers should be to root out prejudice at a structural level through formal diversity policies and practices, it’s also important to offer tools-such as mindfulness training, cognitive behavioral training, and self-compassion training-for reducing the harmful outcomes that stigma creates in marginalized populations.


Only when people feel totally authentic and connected with their organizations can they achieve their full potential at work. Trans employees are no exception. Yet few companies have succeeded in creating an inclusive work environment for people who don’t identify with societal gender norms. We hope that the research and the proactive steps we’ve outlined will help change that. Employers that get this right aren’t just being savvy from a business standpoint. They are also crafting a corporate legacy-one in which human dignity is prioritized and doing the right thing by employees is regarded as fundamental to success.

The Roots of Stigma and Discrimination

In another study, this one involving 165 trans employees from various industries and occupations in North America, we replicated those results and extended them to other outcomes, including diminished job satisfaction and a greater desire to quit. One trans woman, an educator, who felt deeply unsupported by the administration after she reported being harassed, told us, “Students were being removed from my class, rumors were spread about me, and it just wasn’t a great place to be working anymore.” Another trans woman, who worked in retail, recalled that her direct supervisor joked about trans individuals and that customers would tell her not to bring her “lifestyle” into the workplace. As a result, she said, “I’m constantly aware of who is around me at all times. And when I’m around other people, it makes me very unsettled.” A trans man in the business sector echoed this intense sense of distress: “Most of my stress that comes from work is related to just anxiety and worry [about interactions with coworkers], just constantly wondering about things that have happened and what might happen.”

At the global level, laws regarding gender expression vary widely. Many countries, including the United Kingdom, Spain, and South Africa, have trans-specific antidiscrimination protections. However, being trans is punishable by law in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Malaysia. In many other countries, as in the United States, being trans is neither punishable nor protected, leaving oft-discriminated-against trans people in a state of uncertainty regarding their status as equal citizens under the law. When doing business in a global environment, it is vital to be mindful of how protections may vary and what this may mean for the safety and well-being of trans employees. Even when operating within intolerant cultural contexts, it is important to practice inclusivity consistently.

Employers can address this issue in several ways. First, they can keep records of employees’ chosen names and correct pronouns; this helps ensure that whenever possible, appropriate terms will be used for personnel and administrative purposes, such as directories, email addresses, and business cards. Second, encourage all employees to use name badges and email signatures that include their desired names and correct pronouns; this enables people to learn those names and pronouns and cultivates awareness of the varying gender identities that colleagues s, onboarding initiatives, and employee handbook content to make clear that proper pronoun usage is part of creating an environment in which all employees feel valued and respected. Goldman Sachs, for example, recently launched an internal campaign to make employees more aware of the importance of pronouns and to encourage them to proactively share their pronouns with colleagues.

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