Carolyn Weiss, founder and president of Transgender Business Services, could not have asked for a more supportive work environment when she began her gender transition process in 2011.
At that time, Weiss was working for the City of Los Angeles and her boss hired a trans woman who specialized in trans awareness training for businesses, in order to give Weiss the support she needed and help her colleagues understand what she was going through. The experience was invaluable, for both Weiss – who like any one going through the difficulties of a gender transition process, needed all the support she could get - and her team. It inspired Weiss to set up her own consulting practice to give businesses the tools they need to in turn support employees who are transitioning, and provide knowledge to their staff.
“I realized, from my own experience, that training staff is critical to anyone's transition in the workplace and I wanted to try doing it myself," she says.
She launched her company in March with the intent of providing in-person training to employees of small-to-mid-sized businesses and has been working with a range of companies to help their staff “understand what trans gender people are about by demystifying the issues surrounding gender transition and breaking down the barriers."
Weiss has also trained nursing students, worked with mental health professionals and is scheduled to do a training program at a high school in her area in January.
And just a day after she launched her business, a local company that produces and markets e-learning courses and webinars contacted Weiss, asking her to partner on a video based on her training program material.
“Our intent is to try to get that out into the marketplace nationwide and instead of helping a few dozen businesses a year, we could use it to help hundreds across the country provide their staff with the training they need," she says.
But even if Weiss is encouraged by the openness of businesses, both large and small, to support their transgender employees and educate their workforce on transgender issues, her own, positive experience may be a unique story.
Many transgender people have a tough time in the workplace, she says, and they're often up against strong discrimination. Because of this, many are reluctant and afraid to transition while working for fear of losing their standing or their jobs.
That's exactly what happened to Ann Thomas.
She began transitioning slowly in 2000 but immediately ran into problems at work.
“I was working on an organic farm, the company was very conservative and told me not to do it but I did and I lost my job," Thomas says.
On a personal level, too, things were very tough for Thomas.
“I dressed kind of female during the week but during the weekend, I would have to dress male to see my kids. After my wife died in an accident in 2009, I went back to dressing 100% as male because my daughter had just lost her mom - she was 16, it was very hard and I had not come out to her as yet. It was the worst time in my life, though, and I felt like dying."
Thomas stuck to the course, though, and was finally able to transition three years ago and pursue new opportunities. After appearing in episodes of Glee (she sang with the transgender chorus featured in the show) and Transparent, she realized how keen the entertainment industry is in featuring transgender talent. While agencies do represent transgender individuals, there was a need, she says, for a dedicated enterprise, and so she set up Transgender Talent.
Just like any business that's getting off the ground, Thomas launched hers on a shoestring budget. Crowdfunding helped a bit, but she's still working a day job and “I'm hoping that I can land some bigger gigs for people from bigger businesses that would pay more," she says. “Overall, though, I have a very optimistic outlook for trans people in the entertainment industry, even if it's going to take another 10 or 20 years to change the rest of the nation."
According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey carried out by National Center for Transgender Equality, transgender people are three times more likely to be unemployed than the general population. Survey participants also said they also experience higher-than-average rates of violence and psychological distress, which many in the community fear may increase during the administration of President-elect Donald Trump.
Still, things are changing and business owners like Weiss and Thomas are hopeful for a better future for their community.
“The only time I can see when being a trans business owner would have problems with clientele is when they advertise, as I have, as a transgender-owned business," Weiss says.
“For me, it defines who I am and the services I provide but that is actually pretty rare, as far as I know. I could own a nail salon and no one would know until they got to know me, and by that time I would hope that it wouldn't matter."
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.