- Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m a Director and Co-Founder of Trans*formation, which is a growing organisation working to drive visibility, equality and support for transgender people across the UK and international workplace. Outside of this (and in my day job), I’m a Principle Researcher in a global recruitment firm called Harvey Nash, and I work with organisations in the Higher Education sector to find senior talent. In terms of my personal life, I’m also transgender - I made the conscious decision to be ‘out’ about my status as a transgender man, as I saw the positive impact it could have as part of my role in Trans*formation. A personal and professional goal of mine is to work to break down some of the stereotypes we still continue to hold in society around transgender people, which are largely inaccurate (at best) – and transphobic at worst. I came out and transitioned in 2011 after completing my Master’s degree in Critical Methodologies at King’s College London, and so being able to use my identity as a transgender man to do something good for the trans community, and to work to radically improve the shocking statistics around trans unemployment, feels really rewarding.
- Tell me a little about Trans*formation. What sort of work do you do as an individual and as an organization?
Wow, where to start? Trans*formation was founded in September 2014 and so we’re rapidly approaching our 3rd birthday. Looking back over the three years of our existence I’m really amazed at what we’ve achieved in such a short space of time. Our aim is simple:
To eradicate the discrimination of transgender and non-binary people in the UK within 10 years
To ensure the levels of unemployment, self-harm, suicide and homelessness are equal to or better than the national average
To create an environment where Trans* people are valued for their authenticity and journey in the workplace
On the latter point, we do this by working with organisations, large and small, from a range of different business sectors, to help them to understand the importance of creating inclusive places of work for transgender people. Groups of people we often speak with are shocked and appalled by the statistics: transgender people are disproportionately more likely to experience poverty, unemployment, mental health issues and suicidal thoughts than the general population. Around 40% of trans people report that they have attempted suicide at some point in their lives, and according to a recent US poll, over a third of transgender people are living in poverty. The unemployment rate for transgender people currently stands at three times higher than the national average. We think this is unacceptable. As well as being able to pay the bills, a job is important to one’s sense of purpose, achievement and self-confidence in the world, and particularly in relation to trans people, stable employment can also mean re-entry back into society and freedom to express who are, and be accepted as this. Unfortunately, lots of trans and non-binary people are further discriminated in their places of work, and so we see Trans*formation as a way in which we can ensure that organisations are supportive to the rights of transgender employees. We’ve worked closely with Stonewall in putting together Workplace Inclusion Guides for Trans People, we’ve got Lloyds Banking Group, BNP Paribas and Moody’s Corporation on board as our Corporate Development Partners, we’ve just hired 3 additional Directors to help us in our governance, and we’ll be applying for charitable status soon. All in all I feel very proud to be a part of such a wonderful initiative.
- What are some steps people can take to help move the conversation forward within businesses and in their daily lives?
As a manager, key decision-maker or Chief Executive, I’d say the first thing to do is to educate your organisation on transgender issues, outside of the common ‘LGBT’ umbrella term, which now encompasses many different categories across gender and sexuality, but can sometimes fail to acknowledge the difference and specificity of trans by lumping it in with sexuality. One of the many things we do at Trans*formation, particularly with organisations who might be new to some of the issues around transgender, is to come in and provide an introductory session on some of the key issues in thinking about transgender – such as what gender identity actually is (clue: it’s not your sexuality… or even your biological makeup!), and how as an organisation you can ensure your workplace is more inclusive and appealing for trans people to join. We also provide advice on how you can work with HR to ensure your policies are inclusive for trans employees are inclusive and up-to-date, how you can ensure your insurance and health cover is inclusive for trans people (most companies’ still aren’t), and how you can develop a culture of role models and allies in your company for trans and non-binary people. And, if you happen to be lucky enough to have a trans person working for you, the key thing is to understand how open this person is to discussing their experiences (if at all), and how to ask the right questions which demonstrate support and openness, rather than being intrusive, curious or sensationalising this person’s experiences. You wouldn’t believe some of the questions we hear!
- Feminism has a pretty checkered history when it comes to transgender rights. How can feminists and feminist organizations do better when it comes to supporting the trans community?
Yes it does, and as a self-acclaimed feminist I’ve found some strands of feminism, particularly some of the more radical and lesbian feminism of the 90s and early 2000’s, to be really difficult to reconcile with transgender issues and my own identity. I read a lot of feminism during my Master’s degree before I transitioned in 2011, and have to say a lot of it was very difficult and challenging to read in trying to align it with how I felt. There are still some strands of feminist thought and feminist philosophy that believe that transgender men, like me, are reinforcing patriarchal norms and gender stereotypes by transitioning, and that, equally, transgender women are ‘colonising’ women’s bodies… It all feels very outdated now and generally speaking I think feminism today has a much more mutually beneficial relationship with trans rights, where both have mutually evolved as disciplines and have become much more compatible as disciplines. Feminism is essentially about gender equality, not female supremacy, and equally, trans rights work to ensure that transgender people have the same human rights as cisgender people, and so when you think of it in those basic terms I think there’s a lot of commonality there. Both feminists and the trans community need to realise that we can move things forward much quicker politically if we work together to think about what gender equality means in broader terms.
- Do you have any upcoming projects or events you can share with us?
Yes, and most likely more than I can remember! We have our 3rd birthday coming up in September, which is kindly being hosted by Norton Rose Fulbright, the global law firm (our previous ones were very kindly hosted by Ernst & Young and Deloitte). We’re really busy with lots of sessions with organisations across the corporate sectors, consulting with them on their trans policies, and are working closely on potential future collaborative opportunities with organisations such as Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence. We’ve recently hired our first paid employee, who has been working with us on a contract basis to help us grow and scale, and assist us with things like the development of our website. My Co-Director, Emma Cusdin, who is also HR Director at Aviva Investors, is soon to be flying out to Moody’s Corporation in New York, to deliver some of our corporate training for their core division. Over the past 12 months we’ve worked with over 35 different organisations, including Reed Smith, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, the list goes on. We’re really busy and it’s fantastic to see the real appetite for trans inclusion in the business world.