4 Job Search Tips for Transgender and Non-Binary People
Updated April 20, 2023
The job search process can be stressful on its own, but often, gender-diverse, transgender and non-binary people experience additional barriers and stressors due to discrimination. In a survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 47% of respondents said they had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion because of being transgender or gender non-conforming. Managing emotions like fear and safety can also pose significant challenges during the job search.
These obstacles can be particularly concerning for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). 20% of Black transgender respondents reported experiencing unemployment—twice the rate among all Black people in the United States. Black transgender women are also significantly more likely to experience unemployment or be fired as a byproduct of racism, sexism, misogynoir and transphobia.
In this article, we sit down with Slay Latham, Employer Engagement Coordinator at the SF LGBT Center to explore challenges faced by transgender and non-binary people in the job search with tips to address issues around gender identity in a professional setting.
Finding work outside of the LGBTQIA+ community
In consultations with gender-expansive people at the SF LGBT Center, Latham often hears about the challenges of finding employment with LGBTQIA+ welcoming employers outside of the community. It’s common to gain professional experience by working within the LGBTQIA+ community, but looking for work in this space exclusively can create a limited scope of employment opportunities. A “welcoming” or affirming environment can mean different things to people, but it might refer to a company that provides medical coverage, an open dress code or a diverse staff that includes other transgender and non-binary people.
Pro tip: While it can be difficult to know what the company culture will be like before you enter the workplace, the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index is a great place to start. Here, you can find a list of employers that create LGBTQIA+ inclusive environments.
Employers that receive a 100% score on the index prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation, provide equivalent same-and-different-sex medical and soft benefits, provide LGBTQIA+ internal training and best practices and are involved or engaged in the broader LGBTQIA+ community. Visit the CEI report for a full list of companies that received a 100% rating.
Read more: How To Find an LGBTQIA+ Friendly Workplace
Deciding which name to include on a resume
As a transgender person, you may have a different name than the one assigned to you at birth. It’s possible that you’ve been able to legally change your name, or you may be in a situation where your name doesn’t match legal forms such as your driver’s license and social security card. If the latter is true for you, you might be uncertain about whether you should include your legal name on your job application documents.
Pro tip: Your resume and cover letter are not legal documents, so you should include the name or nickname that you would like to go by at work—even if it is not the name you'll use on your legal documents. Your legal name should be used on legal documents like those for pre-employment background checks, employment eligibility verification such as I-9 Forms and documents related to health insurance.
If you’ve decided to change your name legally but don’t know how, the Transgender Law Center’s State-by-State Overview for changing gender markers on birth certificates is a great place to start. The National Center for Transgender Equality also has useful resources to help you learn more about the name change process in each state.
Setting expectations for pronouns
As a transgender or gender-nonconforming individual, you may prefer to use pronouns like "he/him/his," "she/her/hers," "they/them/theirs" or "ze/hir." While this choice might be a central part of your identity, it can still be difficult to know when and how to set the expectation for preferred pronouns in the job application process.
Latham often addresses concerns clients have about putting pronouns on their resumes and how this might affect their application. Their clients often recount feelings of extreme stress and anxiety about being misgendered.
Pro tip: To reinforce your pronouns, consider adding them across all of your job application documents including below your name on your resume and in your cover letter in parentheses after your name and email signature. Latham often reminds clients that, “if someone doesn’t want to interview you or hire you because of your pronouns, it’s better to know that before you get further along in the application process.”
In a professional interview, it’s usually best to assume that misgendering is a mistake and not done purposefully. If this happens in your interview, here’s a simple tactic you can take to be an advocate for yourself in a professional way and get the interview back on track:
Politely correct the interviewer immediately after the wrong pronoun is used by saying something like, “Actually, it’s Ms. not Mr.” or “Actually, I use he/him pronouns.” Offer a kind smile and move forward with the interview.
In reality, the interviewer may be embarrassed by their mistake, so the goal is to correct the situation quickly, allow an apology and shift the focus back to showcasing your relevant experience and skills.
Encountering mistreatment in the workplace
Experiencing mistreatment at work was reported by 90% of National Transgender Discrimination Survey respondents. This includes harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job or feeling forced to take actions like hiding their identity to avoid it.
Latham says, “Misgendering is a form of violence. The average person doesn’t know how harmful being misgendered is to a transgender or non-binary person, and it can be a common occurrence in the workplace.”
Pro tip: Choosing how to respond to microaggression in the workplace can be a difficult decision. In A Guide to Handle Microaggressions, psychologist Dr. Kevin Nadal describes a process to decide how to react to a microaggression, starting by asking yourself three questions:
Did this microaggression really occur?
Should I respond to this microaggression?
How should I respond to this microaggression?
If you decide that a microaggression did occur and should be addressed assertively, here are some steps you can take to address the situation directly, calmly and professionally:
1. Consider taking time to collect your thoughts before addressing the individual
Think about whether it would be more helpful to talk to them in person or write them an email.
2. Let the individual know what was said, how and why it hurt you
Instead of making attacking statements about who you think the other person is because of their comments, like saying, “You are transphobic,” try focusing on the impact of their words by saying “I felt offended by what you said because…” Addressing the behavior and not the perpetrator may lead to a more productive conversation.
3. Calmly address the perpetrator with “I” statements
For example, you might start by explaining how the incident made you feel: “When you said this, I felt hurt,” followed by an educating statement: “This hurt me because… .” Doing so can help the other party understand how their microaggression has affected you in a clear and straightforward way.
4. Review your company’s code of conduct
The microaggression could violate how your company requires employees to conduct themselves on a day-to-day basis. If you suspect the microaggression violates your company’s policy, consider reaching out to your HR department and allow them to guide you through the situation.
5. Seek support
After experiencing a microaggression, consider reaching out to a trusted co-worker, loved one or mental health professional to process the experience. If the microaggression occurred in the workplace, consider seeking practical support like reporting the incident to your company’s human resources department. In doing so, Dr. Nadal explains, “individuals may avoid accumulating negative and detrimental feelings, which may affect their mental health.”
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