Transgender Workplace Diversity Network

Staying Employed IS the Issue that holds us back

I have transitioned over 19 years ago, and during that time, I've had several jobs. But never have I had so much trouble keeping work as I have in the last few years. My concern is that things have actually gotten worse for trans workers, not better.

I believe it is critical that trans workers be able to work; not just be able to obtain jobs, but also keep their employment - and in my experience there is little help for those who need help in keeping their jobs when employers decide to get rid of them.

There are two issues at play here:
1. Tactics used against workers to create hostile working conditions, which are employed to force trans workers out of their jobs.
2. Help available to trans workers when they under assault at work, which is the only way trans workers can confront employers when employers and their managers employ these tactics to drive someone out of the organization.

In this post, I am going to discuss the first issue: tactics used to create hostile working conditions. I will discuss other tactics, and support issues in a subsequent post, if there is interest.

Typical Tactics Employed to Drive Employees Out of an Organization:

1. Sexual/Gender remarks
These are obvious to most of us here, as I suspect we've all heard them. Pronoun disrespect, and various remarks like "fag", if you are a woman, calling you "man", if you're a man, calling you "girl", "he-she", etc, etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

BUT, these are easy to identify and even correct. It's the other, more subtle techniques that are truly scary, and much more difficult to confront employers over.

2. The Stress-Overload Technique
This technique is employed to stress out a worker by giving them unreasonable work tasks and/or unfair deadlines to assure a hostile work environment. This technique was recently employed against me by a recent employer.

Here's the background: The employer in question hires a highly skilled and technically experienced worker, a worker that has experience that directly maps to what the employer is currently working on. The employer either discovers, via the workers conversation with them, or they suspect the worker is trans.

Suddenly, the new employee is assigned to a technology that they have no experience in, and that typically takes years to master. Little training is provided. The employer then decides to force this new employee to perform at a masters level of skill despite the fact that they have only worked in the technology a few weeks. The employer even goes to the extreme of telling the new employee that they (the employee) can't tell others outside their immediate group that they don't have the experience or knowledge necessary to perform tasks requested. This means a comment like "I don't know the answer to your question, but I will find out the answer...." is NOT acceptable, and could be interpreted as an excuse to fire the employee for disobedience. The employer forces the new employee to misrepresent their knowledge and skills to others even within the organization they work for.

This puts the new employee in an impossible position, and that is the intent from the beginning.

But this is only one example of the stress-overload technique. There are many others. But before I give more examples, I want some feedback. Is there interest out there in discussing this topic? Are others interested in hearing about how these techniques are being used?

If there is interest, I can detail examples of tactics that are used in some other techniques listed below. I think trans workers must be aware that these techniques can and will be employed against them, and must be prepared to deal with them, however unpleasant it may be to be aware of these techniques.

3. The Lack of Work Technique
4. Blatant Sabotage

Views: 18

Comment by Maria on May 25, 2009 at 6:35pm
I am transsexual. I studied at top schools for my three graduate degrees, in science, engineering and business. I last worked in a business development role at a large corporation that supposedly supports transgender people. I had worked with the same corporation a few years ago. A top official, who was my former boss at the corporation recommended my name for interviews for the business development role. The corporation paid me a sign-on bonus to rejoin and also paid for my relocation across the world to come and work for them. I received a positive welcome.

The same week I joined my job, I began my transition process. I approached therapists and started to attend regular sessions. Three months later, I began hormone replacement therapy. The corporation's health insurance covered all medical expenses.

I did not exactly come out at work, but I did not attempt to hide the physical changes happening to me through hormones and other treatments. I looked androgynous even before hormones. I was already living passably in my desired gender outside of work. It did not take much HRT to arouse suspicion among my colleagues. Then someone saw me going into a gender counseling center in town. I explained when questioned at work by stating that I am a trans-ally. After that date, my colleagues included in their regular hallway discussions some topics about cross dressers and about transsexuals on Jerry Springer. These discussions never included direct questions to me, but they included jokes about transgender people at which all of them laughed. Things changed for me after that day.

I was forced to accept the work that my colleagues from marketing and engineering were supposed to do. The marketing person claimed that she is not technically qualified and hence I should do the entire marketing work assigned to her if the work contained anything even closely related to technical topics. The engineering person claimed that he was not qualified in business and hence I should take over his engineering work that may require any business decisions. I was also assigned the job of writing articles - technical, marketing, sales, web, and public relations. I was also assigned the job of organizing conferences, presenting topics, developing demonstrations, and meeting analysts, among other things. When I asked my boss about the tasks my colleagues were assigning to me, she said these tasks was part of my job description. She found one statement in my job description that states that I must "support" the team. She said that she interpreted all the tasks my colleagues assigned to me as "support activities". In addition, I was supposed to do my regular job of business development. I was also given an unrealistic deadline for my business development deliverable.

When I tried to reason with my boss, she said that I was exaggerating the amount of time it would take. She claimed it would take "a qualified person" only 20-30 hours a week to do all the work being assigned to me, and about 10-20 hours to do my business development work. In reality, it took me 90-95 hours each week over 5 months. I skipped meals and skipped sleep, skipped restroom breaks and skipped drinking water during work hours, traveled for work-related trips over the weekend and late nights, pondered business plans when I should have been sleeping, cut off regular contact with friends and family, and I still struggled to complete all the work.

Exactly 6 months after I joined on the job, I delivered the presentation for my business development work, demonstrating the potential of tripling the revenue for my team, with profits at 96% of revenue. I delivered that presentation 5 days before the unrealistic deadline date, that too with an exceptional presentation. I had also done the most significant work with marketing, engineering decisions, conferences, etc, the other work that was assigned to me. In fact, without my contribution, the existing products of the company would have failed.

However, I got no credit. My name was completely absent in the list of names being given credit for work done during that half fiscal year. My boss kept reminding me every week starting month #5 that I was not doing my job. My boss's boss would not look me in the eye even when he was talking to me, but he looked everyone else in the eye. There were cliques at work that made fun of me behind my back and spread the "news" that I was a ___ .

Then one day my boss indicated that she expected me to exaggerate marketing claims and deliver presentations to help short-term revenue growth. I objected. I said that I can help grow revenues without lying. She did not agree that exaggeration is improper.

Seven months after I had joined my job, I was laid off, citing business reasons related to the economic contraction. Out of approximately 600-700 people in the division, which is headed by the same person who had recommended my name to the corporation for interviewing 7 months earlier, I was the only one singled out to be laid off.

When I was still working, I was so busy I did not realize what they were doing to me. Working 95 hours a week is no joke! I also had appointments with doctors and therapists, and gender support group meetings to attend. I was desperate to hold on to my job to be able to afford gender transition. In addition, as a foreign citizen, I could not return home unemployed and half-transitioned. The corporation had paid for my green card application and I did not want to forfeit that application by quitting my job, primarily because I need my gender transition and I could not get it back in my home country. I had too much at stake due to gender. In addition, my boss warned me against leaving the corporation by telling me that if I quit I would need to return the sign-on bonus in full along with my relocation expenses. By the end of month #6 on the job, I was malnourished because I skipped meals and I was ill because I was sleep deprived (I would wake up with nightmares even if I tried to sleep). The HRT was also having unknown but serious side-effects on me. I also suffered from a serious health issue related to stress.

On the day they informed me about my lay off, I was already hospitalized for my stress-related health scare. For one week after that day, I was happy. I did not have to repay the corporation anything. I did not have to see their faces ever again. I could finally sleep! However, after that one week, I made the link to gender. I feel into depression with serious thoughts of suicide. Since then, I have recovered and moved on.

I realize that the techniques they used to get rid of me were so meticulous that I don't have written or documented evidence to prove that they were prejudiced against me for gender issues. At best, it's a "he said she said" that does not hold much weight in a court of law. At the same time, I ponder ... what else, other than their perspective about my gender, could have changed in just a few months after they spent tens of thousands and went through all that trouble to get me across the world to work for them.
Comment by Meagan on May 29, 2009 at 1:06pm
I'm very sorry to hear about your experience. But I think it is, unfortunately, typical of the sabotage that trans workers are forced to deal with when they try to work. This is really what my post is about, and I feel its very important that we acknowledge that this work sabotage exists and is common, and is widely, widely used against trans workers to force them out of their work. Thank you for sharing!
Comment by Stephanie Adams on May 30, 2009 at 5:50am
My experience is somewhat similar yet different. I was in upper management at the small company I work for. I told those who needed to know of my plans to transition, they were reluctantly supportive. As time grew closer to going fulltime I provided my boss of a firm date. Two weeks before I was to go ft he informs me he had hired someone to "help me out" this guy had an equivalent experience level to mine.

When the time came for me to transition things went very well, the company supported me fully with my boss telling everyone that if they had a problem with me then the problem was theirs not mine and they could either deal with it or find somewhere else to work. I was ecstatic things went so well.

Fast forward 3 months........Things started changing, I had installed every machine they have in the building and had been the direct manager over 3/4 of the employees and the go to person for setting up policy and any problems that needed to be solved. I found myself suddenly left out of decisions being made concerning my departments, being told what my boss and the new guy had decided needed to be done after the changes were already implemented. I was totally left out of the loop.

I have somewhat of a take charge and strong personality which worked to my advantage as a guy but as a woman it was very much an Achilles heel. I went from being the mechanical person to the creative person.......what used to be venting became whining......what used to taking charge became being a bitch.......what used to be used to be having a bad day became being hormonal.......the men treated me as if my IQ had dropped 30 points and the list goes on. I am still the same person I ever was, the only difference was in perception. Within 6 months I went from being upper management to being a regular employee with the guy they hired to "help me out" now in my old job. I was no longer part of the "boys club" and a woman shouldn't be doing things better than they can so they started taking credit for my ideas, working me 70/80 hrs a week (I'm salary so no OT) and telling me how lucky I am to be working for a company that would allow me to transition so I shouldn't complain.

That was and still is such a hard pill to swallow. I keep telling myself that at least I still have a job. I have 20 years of experience and very good name/reputation in my line of work that I lost when I transitioned, I am working hard to re establish all my contacts in the hopes that when the economy improves I can get back to the salary and job level I was at prior to transitioning.
Comment by Cheryl Cristello on June 1, 2009 at 10:56am
No matter our differences we have so very much in common.
I worked for a construction company for almost 29 years as a project manager. During that time my projects were all successful. Over the years I implemented new procedures which the company still uses. There was no one in the company that had my same skill set which I have, which is considerable as far as construction goes. I was a very dedicated, loyal, valued and respected employee.
When I met with company leaders almost two years ago to tell them that I had learned that I am transsexual and that I wanted to transition on the job, the president of the company told me, in front of the two vice presidents, that while he did not understand I would have the company's total support. I took them at their word.
As it turned out, I never really felt that I had the support of anyone other than a very few of my coworkers. My "strengths" no longer seemed to be viewed as such. I was told by one of the VP's that I had lost the respect of my coworkers. In some instances there was open rebellion of people who were supposed to be doing the work that I needed done. When I complained to upper management, they ignored the situation. I was gradually marginalized.
On the 17th of April of this year I was given the opportunity to resign because "work load was down and the company needed to reduce costs". I politely told then that I would not resign. At 2:30 I was fired and told that this was my last day. As I walked out the door that day, I could not help but be angry but I also felt a weight removed from my shoulders. No matter where I go or what job I get, I know that it will be where I am truly valued and appreciated.
In hind sight this appears to be the "Perfect Firing" considering the economy and lack of success in bidding on new work. Is it coincidence that I was the only employed fired?
Looking for a new position is stressful and discouraging. Yet I see the world as an absolutely beautiful, wonderful, amazing placed. I still feel that I have and am living a very blessed and charmed life. My past employer and my job simply did not and does not define who I am as a person or as an employee. Someone, somewhere will hire me and will find a very valuable employee when they do. My only regret - that I worked so much unpaid overtime and didn't take the time off which I had earned and deserved.
Comment by Meagan on June 1, 2009 at 3:52pm
To Stephanie:

The second tactic used against Trans workers, especially women, is "sour the milk". The intent is to discourage you by providing little work, or work that is less than what you previously have done, i.e., offering only clerical work to a PhD. Sure all work is valuable, but there are reasonable
expectations of duties and companies, eager to get rid of Trans women employees, often go out of their way to make sure they communicate to the worker "you're not valued here, and your contributions will always be limited". The concept of "sour the milk" is to sour the employee to the job and discourage them to quit. This tactic is what I believe has been used in your case.

I firmly believe that we need to name these tactics, be ready for them when they are deployed against us, and move forward in every way possible to let employers know that we know what they are doing, and that in many states, such behavior is illegal.

To Cheryl:

While I thank you for posting, and I think your situation was unpleasant and unfair, I, as a women with 18 years in the workplace, find that these discrimination tactics will never go away until we fight back against them. I stand by my statement that over the 18+ years I have been in the workforce things are worse, not better than they were, even just a few years ago. My concern is that so many trans women tend to want to not confront these difficult issues. From my point of view, that strategy is not working, and that's what my post is about.


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