It's a wishy washy Monday morning in September. The sun's nowhere to be seen, the rain's pounding on the window and you cannot stand its syncopated musicality. Yet you've been offered the chance of a job as a Trainee Finance Assistant, something you've wanted to do since you graduated from your Accounting Technician (AAT) course. You get dressed up to the nines, choose your favourite pair of cat earrings and get on the bus, making sure you time to spare to exchange necessary pleasantries with the Receptionist and impress the boss. When they come out the office and meet you they seem to give you the "Straight up and down glare", usher you in and desperately try not to refer to your state of dress until midway through the interview until they ask the uncomfortable question: "Are you transgender?" You offer an appropriate response affirming that you are indeed trans and then going onto explain how far through the transition stage you are and whether you'd need time off for attending the GP surgery/hospital for treatment. Everything seems to have gone well and so you go home thinking you've nailed the questions and impressed on experience. Then you get the dreaded phone call- "You're not deemed a suitable fit for the organisation". I.e. you, as a person, do not fit what they are looking for, even if you had impressed on paper. You then question where you went wrong, whether you had answered a question incorrectly or not studied the right qualifications for the role. However, when this keeps happening every time you attend an interview for a private or public sector job, you begin to think "Are they not interested in hiring me because I am transgender? Should I dress differently to the interview?" So what can a trans person expect to do to increase their chances of finding employment, particularly within the private sector?
- Trans candidates need to realise it is not their fault that they are facing discrimination from recruitment managers/ owners in private sector businesses. Usually speaking, most of these people will have had very little formal training in HR or recruitment and selection theory so may not be aware of specific discrimination legislation and regulations that govern the recruitment and selection process. Therefore I believe it is incumbent on the candidate to know their rights as guaranteed under current law.
- First and foremost, trans people should be aware that if you are currently going through gender reassignment surgery or express an intention to do so, it could be seen as a form of direct discrimination if an employer turns around to you and says they "wouldn't hire you if you chose to go through gender reassignment surgery"; it is not a good enough reason for choosing not to hire someone. "Gender reassignment" is one of the nine protected characteristics named under the Equality Act (2010) and therefore, if it can be proved an employer explicitly didn't select you based solely on either a perception you are going through gender reassignment surgery (direct discrimination by perception) or because you have stated explicitly you are going through gender reassignment surgery (direct discrimination), an employer can be taken to an Employment Tribunal (EAT). At the EAT the burden of proof will be on the employer to show they haven't discriminated on the grounds of the protected characteristic. If they explicitly made a statement against your trans identity at the interview and it has been recorded, then it will be relatively simple for the judge to award damages in your favour on the basis of discriminatory recruitment and selection practices.
- If you have chosen not to go through gender reassignment surgery, you are still protected by the Equality Act. A person doesn't need to be registered with a GP or going through any medical treatment to be covered by the protected characteristic (apparently but may be hard to prove!) So it is perfectly acceptable to ask an employer to provide evidence of selection material after a rejection letter if necessary to check whether they have made comments regarding your dress/mannerisms against their job description, person specification checklist or interview question recording forms.(They have to keep certain data records relating to recruitment and selection for at least 6 months as advised by ACAS in case of a discrimination challenge). These may provide examples of selection bias and provide suitable evidence of direct/indirect discrimination because it might indicate whether they would have accepted you wishing to undergo gender reassignment surgery whilst employed at their firm.
- If an employer discriminates against you by rejecting you on the basis of your age and you are trans, remember that it is unlawful less it can be objectively justified; an employer would be unlikely to win a Tribunal case if they rejected you for a Finance Assistant role because they feel that you would be unable to keep up with updating client accounts, especially if they employ Finance Assistants who are around the same age or older than you!
- Employers are more than entitled to look at your social media accounts when considering whether you will be a "cultural fit" (suitable) for the company but they are not allowed to use this unlawfully to discriminate against you. If they see on Twitter for example that you are a trans activist and going through gender reassignment surgery, they are not allowed to use this one fact unfairly to write you off before or after an interview. As ACAS says on its website page Social Media and Recruitment: "Employers could face an employment tribunal hearing if they refused to interview or offer a job to someone based on a judgement they made through looking at the candidate's social media profile and then discriminating against them because of a protected characteristic belonging to the candidate which they noticed on the site."
- Some Job Centre advisors tell trans applicants to "dress modestly" when attending an office based formal interview. But what constitutes "modest dress"? I usually say that if you see what your potential female or male peers/friends are wearing to the office then you will be within the realms of acceptability. A trans man will usually be fine in a suit or shirt and tie or v neck jumper and trousers combination but it is more tricky for trans women. Wearing a skirt prior to transition may lead to the recruitment officer questioning whether it may offend coworkers. However wearing a midi length dress in muted with leggings/tights underneath would solve the "see through" genitals problem. Failing that, wearing a silk shirt and trousers with flat shoes would be appropriate. If the employer doesn't accept you in this state of modest dress then I question whether they're willing to take you on in the first place. You should wear what you feel comfortable in but take notice of office trends and you can never go far wrong.
- I always believe being open and honest is important during an interview. It's not essential that you disclose your wish to transition or that you are going through the transition process already but if you are dressed in clothing associated with the opposite gender it may be difficult to ignore. At least you will be letting the employer concerned know "where the land lies". They may wish to address whether you need time off to attend Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) or GP appointments and whether you'd be prepared to cover these using allotted holiday time as much as possible to reduce absentee hours. If you give the impression that you're prepared to do this it shows that you are not expecting to be treated as a special case per se; they may be more sympathetic if they choose to hire you when you do need more time off to recover. Be prepared to answer any "silly questions" the employer may have about your trans status; most of the time they are just intrigued/curious, especially if it is the first time they have met a trans person in the flesh! A common definition to have handy is that of Gender Reassignment Surgery: Gender reassignment is a personal, social, and sometimes medical process by which a person's gender appears to others to have changed. Anyone who proposes to, starts or has completed a process to change his or her gender is protected from discrimination under the Equality Act. A person does not need to be undergoing medical supervision to be protected. So, for example, a woman who decides to live as a man without undergoing any medical procedures would be covered.
- I ask what the company's Equality and Diversity policies are; this is to see whether they understand the need to treat all employees with dignity and respect. If they mention they have employed trans people in the past it generally bodes well for the rest of the interview as they will have already experienced some of the adaptations needed to accommodate a trans person in the office. If not, I ask them whether they have met a trans person or dealt with a trans client or have associations with LGBTQIA based charities. It sounds a bit nosey but it is classed as building rapport with an employer and does get them to open up a little about their feelings towards trans people generally. I can usually tell by voice tone and body language what their generic response is. Remember that you have a say in whether you wish to be employed by the firm. If you feel uncomfortable around the boss/recruitment manager, chances are that type of office environment may not be for you. Just remember not to sass them whilst you are on the premises and not write a damning review until the selection/rejection process is complete.
- Be careful which references you choose to give to an employer, particularly if they are character based. Character references are usually acceptable from teachers, university tutors, a charity organisation you may have worked with or a client you had helped out. So there are plenty to choose from! Equally it would be potentially unwise to give a reference from an former employer who didn't accept your gender identity or had implicitly shown an inkling for intolerance, as they are more likely to give you a bad reference even though this is now discouraged. However for younger trans workers this may be difficult as they may have only had 1/2 employers in the past and potential employers are now keen to have knowledge of any gaps in your employment (it's usually better if you are honest and open about those gaps on your CV or explain them further at interview). If you are given a bad reference (you can check when you are employed with a new employer but can't ask your previous employer for the reference), you can take them to court and ask for damages because your previous employer has given you a misleading reference. The employer then has to prove the reference was justified by providing appropriate documentation (such as warning letters). Workers then have to prove whether they suffered a loss -e.g., a job offer was terminated as a result of the reference being given. If the employer cannot provide sufficient evidence or the evidence shows a bias towards transphobia and the worker can prove they suffered a loss, then damages will be awarded. Remember that people. If you feel you have been discriminated against on the basis of a bad reference, you can contact your local Citizens' Advice Bureau for help and support. Some employers may only give a brief reference " job title, salary and when the worker was employed" but this may sway the potential employer into believing you had not performed particularly well whilst employed previously. You have to provide references (usually 2) but remember to think about the references you give!