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Transphobia rife among UK employers as 1 in 3 won't hire a transgender person

Our shocking new report reveals a strong prejudice among UK employers towards transgender workers with 1 in 3 employers admitting they are ‘less likely’ to hire a transgender person and nearly half (43%) unsure if they would recruit a transgender worker.

The survey identified the retail sector as having the highest number (47%) of businesses unlikely to employ a transgender person, followed by IT (45%), leisure and hospitality (35%) and manufacturing (34%). The financial services industry is most open to the idea of hiring transgender workers but with only a third (34%) agreeable to the idea, along with the legal sector (33%) and construction and engineering (25%).Just 3% of the 1,000 employers polled from a cross section of industries, have an equal opportunities policy that openly welcomes transgender people to apply for jobs, and out of the third of employers that would consider hiring a transgender person, just 8% think they should have the same rights to be hired for a job as everyone else. Few feel their workplace is liberal enough to tolerate transgender workers, with only 4% declaring their workplace culture diverse enough for transgender people to ‘fit in’.

Our findings come amidst recent reports by Stonewall, revealing how half of transgender workers hide their identity at work for fear of discrimination. In fact, we also found that a staggering 74% of employers have never knowingly worked with a transgender person – implying that most transgender workers do not reveal their true gender identity for fear of condemnation.

Ignorance of the law 

Earlier this year the Equality and Human Rights Commission called upon government to act on transgender discrimination. There is widespread confusion, for instance the Equality Act 2010 protects transsexuals which the law defines as 'transgender people who propose to, are undergoing or have undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person's sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.) against discrimination'. This gives the impression that only those going through a medical process are protected but as the guidance to the Equality Act makes clear, ‘to be protected from gender reassignment discrimination, you do not need to have undergone any specific treatment or surgery to change from your birth sex to your preferred gender. This is because changing your physiological or other gender attributes is a personal process rather than a medical one’. But does this definition extend to those who are non-binary or inter-sex?

Yet, less than a quarter (23%) of the employers polled by us, who are responsible for recruiting staff, are aware of the laws protecting transgender workers.

Over three-quarters (77%) of employers polled were wrong when asked which transgender characteristics are protected against discrimination. Employers in the tech sector were the worst for knowing the law, with 87% giving incorrect answers followed by retail with 83% and banking, and construction and engineering with 80%.

A third of all employers polled thought that all transgender workers are legally protected against discrimination - despite an equal number admitting that they would discriminate against transgender workers by not hiring them – and a staggering 59% are against the law extending to protect all types of transgender people from discrimination such as non-binary people. Only 9% believe the law needs to change.

Both ACAS and the Women & Equalities Select Committee have called for the protected characteristic of 'gender reassignment ' to be changed to 'gender identity'. That said, only 9% of the 1000 employers surveyed across a wide range of businesses answered yes to the question ‘Should all transgender people, whether they’ve undergone medical gender reassignment or not, be protected under the law against discrimination?’

Lack of zero-tolerance policy on transphobic bullying

Our analysis also found a serious lack of trans-inclusive workplace policies among UK employers across all sectors and especially in the IT sector: 88% of all employers and 93% in the tech sector admitted to not having any policies specific for transgender workers.

  • A mere 2% of employers offer a transitioning at work policy to support staff intending to go through gender transition.
  • Only 3% have an official support system for workers wishing to disclose their transgender status.
  • Just 12% have a zero-tolerance policy on transphobic bullying and harassment in the workplace.
  • Only 2% have gender neutral toilets.
  • An overwhelming 88% of employers disagree that public and work places should have unisex lavatories to accommodate transgender people.

Transphobia outside the workplace

Transphobia extends beyond the workplace. More than half (51%) think Women’s Aid the UK domestic violence charity, is wrong to consider lifting its ban on transgender women working in their refuges. Over a third (37%) feel transgender women should not have a choice to take hormone therapy so they can potentially breastfeed their baby after the first recorded case of its kind was published February this year. And, nearly a quarter (23%) think that the Labour Party was wrong to open its all-women shortlists to self-identifying transgender women.

Commenting on the findings our MD, Beverley Sunderland, said:

‘Our findings reinforce what bodies such as ACAS and the Women and Equalities Select Committee have been highlighting to the government for years; trans-identity is more complex than the law currently recognises.

What’s most worrying is the high percentage of employers that are biased against transgender workers from the recruitment stage and beyond. And not just in one sector, but a prejudiced attitude that is found throughout both shop floor and management, in particular in the retail and tech sectors. Whether this reflects a lack of understanding or simply a fear of a potential discrimination claim, is not evident.

What is clear is the need to change the law to extend further than 'gender reassignment', but to make it clear that the wider transgender community is protected such as non-binary workers. In 2016 The Women and Equalities Select Committee recommended amending the protected characteristic of gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 to read “gender identity” which was rejected by government. But if we’re to encourage businesses to build a trans-inclusive workplace then we need the backing of the law together with greater support for employers to help understand the issues around transgender workers in the workplace. A business where everyone feels welcome and valued is by far a more productive one’.