Dr. Jillian T. Weiss

Harvard Business Review weighs in on transgender workplace issues

Filed By Dr. Jillian T. Weiss | October 20, 2008 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Harvard Business Review, Harvard University, labor, managing, trans, trans workers, transgender, transgender employees, transgender workers, worker, workforce, workplace protections

Note: The Harvard Business Review blog is now up.

I remember reading in 1996 an advice book for transsexuals that read like Cassandra and Nostradamus reminiscing about the End of Days: "You're starting over as a woman, so you need to hide your past life as a man. Say goodbye to your career. Prepare to leave your job and find something with half the pay. Cut out half of the things on your resume, lest you be outed. Count yourself lucky not to be out on the street."

This is but a sample of the type of advice I received prior to my transition. It was right on the money.

It's still on the money. Most employers remain ignorant and/or somewhat hostile to policy changes for transgender workers. I have received hundreds of emails from transgender workers who are having difficulty getting their employers to treat them right. Nonetheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hundreds of leading companies have now put policies in place to address issues of gender identity in the workplace. And tomorrow, Harvard Business Review begins an in-depth examination of the topic.

First, HBR's blog is posting my brief discussion of the recent study by Schilt and Wiswall on the gender wage gap, using data about transgender workplace experiences, published in the Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy (recently discussed in Time Magazine and the New York Times blog). You can read the blog post and comments at blogs.harvardbusiness.org.

Bilerico editor Alex Blaze recently weighed in on the Schilt and Wiswall study with some incisive analysis. (There are also some good posts on Workplace Prof Blog, Examiner.com, and FairerScience.org

Second, HBR is publishing a case study in its December edition that will look at a hypothetical situation involving a transgender employee who is transitioning on the job. The case was written by Loren Gary of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and Brian Elliot. I was pleased to be able to assist in preparing the case. There are three commentators, all from high-profile companies (Raytheon, Prudential and Boeing), who have addressed issues of transition in the workplace. A link to the abbreviated interactive version of the Harvard Business Review case is available .

It's gratifying to see that the top business minds in the country understand that diversity leadership is not about "political correctness." Yes, it's the right thing to do, but it's also about competitiveness in the global marketplace.

[Note: If you'd like to read more on the Harvard Business Review case study, click here for the next post in this series at The Bilerico Project. ]

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On a related note, I was gratified to see what Martin Duberman, author of "stonewall" had to say recently about trans-discrimination:

"Duberman, on the other hand, continues to follow what’s happening in this country. He’s witnessed the LGBT community become increasingly accepted.

However, he acknowledges it’s only a “particular version.” When it comes to transgender persons, they are still on the outside looking in.

“They aren’t as accepted as a middle or upper-class white male who works on Wall St.,” Duberman says. “The closer you are to the mainstream norm in your behavior, speech and background, the more likely you are to be accepted. If you deviate too much, then I think you’re more likely to face prejudice and even physical brutality.” "
Find the link here:

It's nice to know Marty is still alive and well and fighting the good fight. He looks terrific in the photo with the article. I hope it isn't just from the files.

He'd be a great guest contributor, Bil. He's seen a lot of GLBT history up close and personally.

I've tried to reach him, Rory, but without success. I'd actually like him to become a regular contributor!

I don't know what you've tried to find him, but I bet Eric Marcus can.

It's great to see this subject addressed academically!

Everyday Transperson | October 30, 2008 8:32 PM

Dr. Weiss, great article, however the troubling issue still remains. Why do you and many "high profile" trans people in the professional A-list feel the need to constantly tell our stories for us ??

Do discrimination and exclusion stories concerning trans folks need to be told and investigated ?? ABSOLUTELY, however the way in which the trans "leadership" is currently going about it is in my experience doing more harm than good.

For example, no one ever addresses the popular trend these days of trans leaders censuring certain trans employee's stories because their story may damage a pre-existing corporate or political agenda. Yet it continues to occur and these corporations get off scott free, buy HRC off to get the 100% on the CEI index and the trans leaders involved continue to receive the corporate perks. The result, a story that was never exposed and covered- up by the celebrity a-list.

And how about this new wave of self-proclaimed trans "consultants", many of whom do not have any formal training or certification in corporate HR policy or Diversity Strategies, yet they have carte blanche authority to influence corporate officials (many of whom have never experienced trans folks before) to THEIR way of thinking as that they somehow are entitled speak for ALL of us. I have seen many cases and I was one of them where a trans "consultant" or "expert" came into a corporation, influenced corporate officials as to how ALL trans folks should transition in the workplace according to her agenda, received corporate perks as a thank you, all while the existing trans employees were ignored and excluded from addressing their views about their transitions and workplaces. And of course it doesn't stop there as these same "consultants" or "experts" are also self-proclaimed journalists as well and will see fit to censure and bash those same employees for speaking out in protest about it.

So Dr. Weiss, the people who need to tell their workplace stories are the people who experience them, not trans activists, lawyers, high profile trans professionals or anyone else they grease palms with. I find it completely appalling that I constantly see the same celebrity names involved in our workplaces, when in reality you are doing more harm than good.

Do we need change and education in our workplaces. ABSOLUTELY, but we can't do it as a trans community if there continues to be excessive high profile showboating at the expense of other trans folks not in the celebrity activist circle being excluded.

Please remember this post at the next Harvard meeting from an employee who was ruined at her job by high profile trans "spokespersons" / "consultants"

Thank you for your time

Dear Everyday: I think your point is an important one. I hope that I am not contributing to this problem, but I first would like to agree that it is a problem.

I also have talked to HR people who have hired gay or trans people as consultants who have little qualifications or expertise in how transgender issues play out in organizational environments. These HR people have received advice that may be applicable in one setting, such as a corporate office, but not in another, such as a manufacturing plant, or that may be applicable to one type of transgender identity, such as FTMs, but not others, such as MTFs.

There are so many things that can go wrong in giving advice. Sometimes it ignores the specific issues in certain regions of the country, or the race and class issues that are inevitably intertwined with heterosexism. Sometimes it ignores the legal system and the governmental record keeping and name change requirements.

Sometimes a person comes in to train co-workers and tells them that transgender people are mentally disabled, or have some kind of body fixation, or are all attracted to men, or forget to mention FTMs. Sometimes there is a circus-like atmosphere in the training sessions, and a few disruptive people shout out questions about perversions and bathroom rape and religious issues, and the trainer has a melt-down and the workplace environment is irretrievably poisoned.

This was my main motivation in writing my book on the subject - to give people an understanding of the types of things that need to be done organizationally to address the foreseeable needs and concerns of transgender employees. It's not simply a matter of good will, and I cringe whenever I hear people say that good will is all you need. The book's methods aren't perfect, but from the comments I have gotten I think it tends to dispel the romantic notion that addressing gender transition in the workplace is merely a matter of good will.

I'm curious to hear what went wrong in your particular situation. I'm sorry that happened, and I'm hoping that we can all learn from it and other similar situations. I have often included such stories on my blog at Transgender Workplace Diversity, and would not hesitate to include yours if you like.

Everyday Transperson | October 31, 2008 1:18 PM

Dr. Weiss,

Thank you for your comments and input to my original post. Before I continue, I wish to say that I very much appreciate this type of dialogue being opened in a manner which fosters the addressing of REAL issues facing transgender people in the workplace and where both debate and agreement may be exchanged in a healthy way.

Yes, non-credible, biased and in some cases even fraudulent training by some transgender people to train corporate HR departments is a very serious issue facing many transgender employees, however I feel that the duty lies within those other transgender educators who are approaching this issue in a fair way to help stop this practice from occurring from those who are engaging in it. As we know, however, this issue never seems to be addressed by anyone and the usual phrase in the community is "well that's just the way it is"....... or to people who protest this "you have anger issues"

But from my experience, there is much more to this issue than just inexperienced trainers. Unfortunately, GLBT political activism has crept its way into the corporate training room, many times disguised as "diversity training" or "trans 101 training" and these hidden training agendas often capture the attention of other devout corporate Gay and Lesbian "activists" and the next thing you know a mini corporate PAC has formed and if you disagree with them and their training agenda, WATCH OUT !!

In my case, I believe that a certain transgender political activist who self-appointed herself as a "consultant" used me for information to gain access to corporate HR officials so that she and a few local activist cronies of hers could have clandestine meetings with the HR department to influence them as to THEIR corporate and political trans agenda. I also believe that the common consensus was decided without my knowledge that if I didn't transition on the job in the way they dictated, then therefore I wasn't "one of them" (a true transgender person). And of course if I disagreed with them and exposed this corruption, then that was fine....... the solution was simple. They would conspire with the corporate GLBT sales and marketing department to "subtly" mention me around the local and national GLBT organizations so that my story got covered up "AT ALL COST" and that I kept my mouth shut to protect the company quarterly sales benchmark. Yes, the price I paid for transitioning in the workplace............. by my very own community I might add.

And just as an added bonus, the company is now major corporate "sponsors" of every politically based national GLBT organization, one of which this same activist / transgender "educator" was involved with. Quite a coincidence.....

So having experienced this type of corruption directly by this problematic issue, I strongly denounce any person who tries to educate based on the notion that they speak for ALL transgender people in the workplace, especially when they are trying to further their own personal corporate and political agendas and I fail to understand why other transgender "leaders" are not addressing this problem before more transgender employees are affected. Plain and simple, politics and corporate agendas need to be kept out of the diversity training classrooms !!!

Dr. Weiss, to gather more to my story and the parties involved, I would encourage you to visit another article written on Bilerico and scroll down to the final comments posted by "Guinea Pig" (a metaphor used by the company gay director of Corporate Citizenship and Co-chair of the company GLBT ERG to describe me as a transgender employee). Also, please note the debasing and outing comments I received as a result for telling my story.


Again, thank you for your comments and time in this discussion. I look forward to more dialogue on this important issue

Dear Everyday: This sounds like a very unsatisfactory situation for all involved. I am sorry to hear that you had such difficulties, and especially that it brought you into conflict with others who were trying to help. Unfortunately, politics is an aspect of everything involving human beings, and there especially are a lot of political sacred cows involved in transgender advocacy. Though I am not sure what happened here from the little I read, it sounds like you ran into a lot of opposition for your views on transgender issues.

I see a lesson here for those who would consult on transgender issues, myself included. It is important to be open to all viewpoints on the transgender spectrum, and I am particularly mindful that we do not all agree on the hows and whys of transgender identity. The role of a corporate consultant on these issues is not to tell the organization what to think about transgender people, but to advise HR that working with transgender employees requires above all flexibility in supporting each employee's particular transition. It's not my job to change the square pegs, but to widen those round holes. I think your story, unfortunate as it is, is a useful one to make the point that trying to fit transgender issues into a one-size-fits-all is not likely to work well.

Everyday Transperson | November 1, 2008 2:10 PM

Dr. Weiss, I have three important points that I'd like to raise concerning your observations if I may.

The first touches on your statement about my situation being "unsatisfactory" for ALL involved. Well, I suppose that the term "unsatisfactory" would indeed depend upon which side of the corporate,political and consultant table in which you sit, wouldn't it ?? From a business standpoint, it was COMPLETELY satisfactory for both the company and the trans consultants/activists.........

Think about it, the resignation of a "problematic" trans employee meant that the corporate HR managers could now rest at ease and no longer have to worry about dealing with a transitioning employee. The company GLBT sales and marketing department reps established a strong foothold in our community national non-profits as a result, and the trans "consultants" enjoyed corporate perks in exchange for protectionism of the company brand and successful "good will" advertising in the trans political circles. All in all it was a win / win situation that was completely satisfactory for THEM. Satisfactory for me as the trans employee ??? Well, I think not and I think my resignation after 21 years pretty much explains how UNsatisfied I was with how this situation was undertaken.............

Secondly, thank you for hearing and understanding the point I had made earlier about problematic "consultants" speaking for ALL transgender people. While I am happy that you agree, I would like to go a bit further on this topic.

Sure an important point was raised and a lesson or two may have been learned, but will I (or any other everyday trans person who raises a valid point) ever be recognized for our contribution in the corporate, "professional", consultant, A-list trans circle ?? Will ideas like mine and others who were hard earned ever get mentioned at an HRC Gala or an Out and Equal conference or in some GLBT publication ?? Under the current system, the answer is a clear NO. Someone else in the trans consultant/celebrity clique will always take the credit......... Again, a different trans perspective here.

Lastly, although we both agree on the problematic issue of transgender "sacred cow" advocates and consultants, I think it will be very difficult if next to impossible to get my point across at the number one corporate be-all-tell-all GLBT organization, Out and Equal. Having recently formed an "esteemed" transgender corporate advisory committee, chock full of corporate professionals, consultants, advocates, activists and any other A-list profession that you can think of, I really don't see any of them being open to such a different point of view.......... After all, why should they ?? The current closed system works for THEM so why would they venture to screw up a good thing which solely benefits THEM ??

And what another strange coincidence.... The very trans activist / consultant who I had mentioned in previous posts is a member of that committee and the company also mentioned previously is a major corporate "sponsor" for that organization. How "satisfactory"............ I thought it rather strange why Selisse Berry never returned my e-mail.

Here is a link to that committee. Please note the transgender corporate people who helped "revise" their company diversity policies for "others" after them to follow in their dictation.........

So Dr. Weiss, I really don't see the current trans leadership "system" changing for the better anytime soon until we perhaps see a more diverse panel of trans people sit on these committees rather than the current EXCLUSIVE trans corporate boys and girls only club.

Again, just a few thoughts from someone who has been harmed by our own trans "leaders". Yes they were trying to help all right. The question remains. Just WHO are they trying to help besides themselves !!

Thank you again for your thoughts.