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Elevating Transgender Inclusion in the Workplace — with Eva Echo

Eva Echo (She/they) Activist | Educator | Public Speaker | Writer

In EDI, our work often focuses on fighting for social justice and elevating the voices of the most marginalized people. The statistics and personal experiences told today continuously point to the fact that the transgender community is one of the most marginalized communities.

So, to help us elucidate ways to elevate transgender inclusion in the workplace, we recently spoke with Eva Echo. Eva is a highly respected activist, writer, and public speaker with a passionate focus on transgender rights and mental health. Eva is well-known for their courageous legal action against NHS England in the High Court, challenging the unlawful waiting times for trans patients. Eva was the worthy recipient of the DIVA Award for “Unsung Hero of the Year 2022” and was named on the prestigious DIVA Power List. Recently, Eva was honoured with Trans In The City's “Trans Community Champion” award for 2022. In addition to their activism, Eva is an accomplished leader, serving as the Director of Innovation at Birmingham Pride and Trans In The City. They also play a vital role on the Crown Prosecution Service’s hate crime panel. Eva is passionate about workplace allyship, intersectionality, and mental health, and has a wealth of knowledge on language and terminology, identity, trans rights and healthcare. Their inspiring voice has helped to create change and build more inclusive communities.

Keep reading for some key insights from Eva.

How did you get started as an activist?

I came out as trans about six years ago at the age of 37. Previously, I had been a drummer and hated performing every night because I was acutely aware that the audience was seeing a version of me that I had carefully crafted — but it wasn’t the real me. Originally, I thought that I would transition and then go back to being a musician. However, I started to blog about my experiences and talk to other people, and I realized I wasn’t alone.

I spoke with so many people who had similar struggles to my own. Therefore, I wanted to do something bigger than myself. I wanted to step up and help others where no one else was helping. So, I never set out to become an activist. Instead, I was drawn to it because I was in the privileged position to make change and dedicate time to charity work, speaking, and organizing. If somebody needed help, I’d put my hand up to help out.

How do you feel about the state of transgender inclusion in the workplace in the UK?

It is great to see some gender diversity inclusion efforts in the workplace in the UK, such as the normalization of the use of pronouns. However, I believe we are only scratching the surface and need to do more. For example, a recent study found that 1 in 3 employers wouldn’t hire an openly out transgender person in the workplace because of how they feared it would disrupt their company culture.

Generally, most trans people do not want to be out at work if they don’t need to be. There are a lot of misgendering, transphobia, and microaggressions that are pervasive throughout work culture. We spend so much of our life at work and our colleagues are like our work family, so it is important to improve visibility and inclusion so that people feel more comfortable and confident.

When people talk about trans inclusion, they might jump to implementing policies and requirements. However, workplaces do not have to make massive policy changes or throw anything in anyone’s face to be effective. Some of the most effective inclusion efforts are subtle and can even help other employees who aren’t trans themselves. For example, providing gender-neutral toilets can be a positive change. If an organization cannot provide gender-neutral toilets, then simply providing sanitary towel bins in all restrooms can make a significant positive difference.

Effective transgender inclusion initiatives should also be evidence-based and should consult transgender employees. There are a lot of false narratives and anti-trans articles in the media, so workplaces need to cut through the noise and actually get to know their employees and their needs.

I can understand how being out as trans can look strange to someone else, because you have to physically challenge the perception of everyone you interact with. It forces people to think about their own identity and perspectives because it challenges many societal constructs around gender. So, employers need to support trans people and promote an open dialogue within their company culture that normalizes trans people, challenges false narratives, and supports all employees, instead of simply trying to impose policy changes without being clear on their ‘why.’

How can you have an effective dialogue with people who have opposing polarized views?

First of all, it is important to recognize when the people on the other side of the dialogue are not willing to learn. There are some people who are set in their ways and just want to talk about their point of view. In those engagements, it is important to just walk away because there is no value to be had if they are not having an open dialogue.

However, there is a lot of potential value in having a discussion with someone who wants to learn and have an open dialogue. In these situations, it is critical to provide space for both sides to talk, be heard, and have equal time. Allow for people to express their viewpoint, have disagreements, and to ask questions. The key is that the conversation remains open minded to change and that the end result is a way to move forward. Every conversation should move the issue forward in some way.

Support your dialogue with the facts and figures. For example, look to other countries where they have successfully passed pro-trans legislation that has allowed trans people to move forward without incident.

Everyone is entitled to their right to free speech. However, it is important to remember that free speech should never cross the line so it impacts someone else and could potentially cause harm. When we allow certain words or ideas to be expressed, those words can turn into violence and hate crimes.

Whose role is it to push the movement forward?

It is everyone’s role to support trans people and push for positive change. Everyone should allow people to ask questions, allow people to talk about their lived experiences, and share about themselves. The workplace is a great place to get so many different groups of people together in a room that is a safe place to talk about issues and work through them together. With conversation and support, it is more possible to move forward.

For comparison, I like to think about how tattoos in the workplace are more normalized now. About 1 in 4 people have tattoos and there is more visibility in the workplace today. It has become much more normalized, and people can openly display and discuss their tattoos.

How can trans inclusion be implemented more in workplace culture and in corporate leadership teams?

Policies can be great, but they can often feel like rules rather than a part of culture. People hate being told what to do and can backlash against policy changes. They might not like how it feels like trans people are getting ‘special treatment’ from leadership and it can become very divisive. For example, a company can allow employees to put their pronouns in their email signature but not require it. Furthermore, companies should focus on incorporating the ‘why’ into their culture. Why do we need to include trans people more?

In this way, work culture is quite stale and has not changed in decades. If a company focuses on attracting gender-diverse people to work in their organization, promoting the idea that they hire capable people for the job, and nurturing their workplace family as whole, then they will empower more people from diverse background and normalize gender diversity in the workplace.

So, start with the culture first. Once an organization has created a culture that is inclusive and supportive, they should not face as much resistance when they focus on putting gender-diverse people in leadership roles.

Practical advice and key takeaways for elevating transgender inclusion in the workplace

Communication is key. Always be talking to your colleagues and ask them what they need. Do anything you can to keep the dialogue open. Even if they don’t know what they need or don’t feel comfortable discussing it right away, they’ll know that you are there to support them when they are ready. Also, if you hear someone reciting a false narrative or making a microaggression to a colleague, challenge it and put an end to it. Educate yourself on the issues so that you can come prepared with the facts, educate your colleagues, and be a strong ally. Speak up for the community and engage with community members through social media, EDI presentations, and other avenues you have access to. Be clear on your ‘why,’ be confident and empowered to step up and make change and allow people to be heard in the workplace.

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