How To Make Your Startup Safe for Transgender People: An Open Source Guideline

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October 9th, 2019
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"I wanted to create something that I would make that space kinder to everyone, and reach across company boundaries to lay the groundwork for transgender and non-binary inclusion.
This story is part of our new 'What She Said' series with Femstreet. Our goal is to amplify the powerful voices of female founders, investors and operators with a startup story to tell. Have an idea for a story? Share it with us here.
For most people in tech, I am the first transgender woman they’ve ever met. I’m the first transgender person they’ve met full stop, and they’re often thrown by how to respond.
People have so many questions, and those questions can be exhausting, but I answer them. I know they’re asked with a good intention and they’re coming from good people.
For many trans people, the outlook is often quite bleak. We have high rates of unemployment, low salary growth, and huge levels of prejudice and discrimination. For many of the people I know, transitioning at work is such a non-option that they can only truly be themselves when they clock off. Tech is a more progressive space, generally, and it’s been very kind to me.
I wanted to create something that I would make that space kinder to everyone, and reach across company boundaries to lay the groundwork for transgender and non-binary inclusion. Although it’s a short piece, it took weeks to reach a point where I was happy with it. I spoke with other trans and non-binary people working in tech, and sought their feedback to make sure that there would be more than one voice speaking through it. After all, my voice is never the only voice that should be heard.
This piece started out as a policy for transgender inclusion. I drew from a range of documents from human rights and transgender organizations, technology companies like Mozilla and Atlassian, and institutions such as LaTrobe University. Much of the content has been taken from these documents, remixed and re-written to make them suitable for startups and technology companies today. I used a curation plus creation approach, because it mattered to me that I was building on what had come before (and was working elsewhere).
If you’re committed to making your own company a safe place for transgender and non-binary people, feel free to copy and use this piece as your first inclusion policy. And trust me — even just having it in place would make a measurable difference in how free your staff feels to be themselves.

Who We Are: A Transgender Primer

“Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender identity is a person's internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or boy or girl.) For some people, their gender identity does not fit neatly into those two choices. For transgender people, the sex they were assigned at birth and their own internal gender identity do not match.
People in the transgender community may describe themselves using one (or more) of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, and non-binary. Always use the term used by the person.
Trying to change a person's gender identity is like trying to change a person's sexual orientation — it doesn't work. So most transgender people seek to bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identity. This is called transition.
As part of the transition process, many transgender people are prescribed hormones by their doctors to change their bodies. Some undergo surgeries as well. But not all transgender people can or will take those steps, and it's important to know that being transgender is not dependent upon medical procedures.
Sexual orientation describes a person's enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person (for example: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual), while gender identity describes a person's, internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman, or someone outside of the gender binary.
Simply put: sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to and fall in love with; gender identity is about who you are.
Like everyone else, transgender people have a sexual orientation. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer. For example, a person who transitions from male to female and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a straight woman. A person who transitions from female to male and is attracted solely to men would typically identify as a gay man.”


Some of the terms I use, and some of the terms that you’ll hear more and more if you look into transgender rights and gender diversity, might not be terms whose meaning you’ve examined on a deeper level. In this context, it’s useful to question and relearn some of them!
Affirmed gender: the gender that an individual has identified with that is different to their ascribed gender group at birth.
Sex: refers to standard biological ascriptions, of male, female, intersex or other.
Transitioning: refers to the process where a transgender person commences living permanently as a member of another gender group.
Transgender (Trans): refers to a person whose gender identity is different from that ascribed to them in the past, typically at birth, including non-binary people who live or identify without an ascribed gender.

The Policy

Our Promise

1. We commit to making our workplace a safe place for transgender and non-binary people to work and to live as their authentic selves, without judgement, without discrimination and without limits. We understand that employment and workplace safety and security are major challenges to transgender and non-binary people as they begin their journeys and live publicly post-transition, and we believe in supporting them as co-workers, employees and people.
2. We reject any notion that transgender people are a burden on our team, or that transgender people should limit their existence for others’ comfort. Being transgender doesn’t make anyone any less of a “culture fit,” but rejecting transgender people does. We understand that popular arguments against transgender inclusion and transgender rights are often predicated on the idea that transgender people are a burden to others and that burden is going to hold back productivity and achievement. We refuse to accept that idea, and instead will recognize transgender and non-binary people as assets, not liabilities.

We Are All Responsible

Remember this. All investors, staff, contractors, agents, official visitors, and other individuals performing services/work for and on behalf of our organization are responsible for transgender inclusion. Trans policy also applies to staff behavior towards external people. Everyone at every level is responsible for including, supporting and accepting transgender and non-binary people.

Recognize Transgender Rights

All staff, contractors, agents, official visitors, and other individuals performing services/work for and on behalf of our organization have a right to be treated equally.
We recognize and uphold every person’s gender identity and their lawful right to live free from discrimination on the basis of that identity, extending to their identification with a gender other than that ascribed to them in the past. That may (or may not) include their adoption of gender characteristics or lifestyle culturally ascribed to another group, including personal presentation. It may (or may not) include interventions to alter physical characteristics.
We value diversity and are committed to providing a safe, supportive and respectful environment. We will not tolerate inappropriate behavior towards staff, contractors or visitors based on their gender identity.
Workplace Entitlements
Staff are entitled to enjoy a workplace free from unacceptable behavior including discrimination, harassment, bullying, victimisation, violence and other forms of unacceptable behavior.
Staff are entitled to use toilets and other facilities that are appropriate to their affirmed gender without harassment or rejection.
Staff are entitled to alter email addresses, usernames, etc. in line with their affirmed gender, pronouns and name.
Staff are entitled to be referred to with their chosen pronouns and name.
We expect all staff:
  • To treat others with dignity, courtesy and respect, regardless of gender identity
  • To respect the privacy and confidentiality of transgender (trans) and non-binary people
  • To raise a complaint when they believe they have witnessed/experienced unacceptable behavior

Basic Rules

Workplace Behavior
We are committed to providing an inclusive environment for all staff.
We value diversity among our staff and will not tolerate discrimination against employees based on their gender identity.
Behavior relating to discrimination, harassment, bullying, victimisation, vilification and violence is not tolerated or accepted at our organisation.
Examples of discrimination based on gender identity may include (but are not limited to):
  • Deliberately using incorrect names or pronouns (such as ‘he’ instead of ‘she’)
  • Denying someone training and promotion opportunities because of their gender identity or changing the nature of someone’s job, such as taking someone off customer service duties, because of their gender identity
  • Ridiculing or ignoring someone because of their gender identity
Some transgender and non-binary people prefer only a few people know they are about to begin their transition and wish to quietly blend in as members of their new gender after their transition. Others are committed to educating the people about transitioning and may be eager to answer questions and talk openly about being transgender long after their transition. Staff must respect privacy and confidentiality in relation to trans people.
Transgender Workplace Transition Plan
We will develop a workplace transition plan in consultation with transitioning staff if the staff member wishes to do so. The content of the plan should be determined through discussions between the manager and the transitioning staff member and any other support people the transitioning staff member would like to include.
Transition plans will include information relating to when the change will occur and what the transition involves (for example name change and the use of toilets/facilities).
The aim of a transition plan is to ensure transitioning staff are treated with respect and dignity, that any concerns from staff are addressed, and that the workplace remains free from inappropriate workplace behaviors such as discrimination.
Trans staff who elect to disclose information to their colleagues should discuss their options and wishes with their manager.
Name and Pronoun
It is important that trans people be treated with respect and therefore be addressed according to their preferred names and pronouns. If a trans staff member has changed their legal name, organization records can be changed while the person is an employee of the organization. A trans staff member may change their preferred name at any time during their employment.
In everyday written and oral communication, the new name and pronoun should be used by all staff members when the individual is ready.
A request for identification should only be made for business purposes and in line with other requests to staff for identification.
Toilet Facilities
Trans people are entitled to use toilets and other facilities that are appropriate to their affirmed gender.
Dress Code
A trans person is permitted to dress consistently with their affirmed gender identity. It is expected that Staff in transition will comply with rules for the wearing of uniforms, merchandise and branded clothing and protective gear.
All job advertisements will afford equal employment opportunities to trans people. Transgender candidates will not be viewed differently from any other candidates. Job descriptions will openly state their support of gender diverse applicants.

In Conclusion

The fact is, transgender and non-binary people are an amazing asset to your startup. We bring creativity, empathy, empowerment, confidence and understanding that can help everyone to be their true selves. We demonstrate courage and stand up proudly every single day. That’s why I want to encourage you to examine your workplace, and take the necessary steps to adopt this policy and make the world a little safer for transgender people.
When you put in the time to make your home a home for everyone, it becomes more welcoming, it becomes more kind, and it becomes more authentic. I think that’s a remarkably beautiful thing, and I want to see it happen more and more.
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Danny Acton
You’re a startup founder or manager in the midst of the hiring process, and the candidate sitting in front of you identifies as transgender and here you can view information on your brain on birth control. They've done a great job telling you about their skills, experiences, and career goals — now what?