Transgender awareness in the workplace: Don't assume there will be resistance
By Lenore MacAdam
Earlier this year, my firm’s LGBTQ Employee Resource Group launched a transgender awareness initiative. This series of posts is intended to talk about the journey and generate discussion about transgender awareness in corporate Canada.
One of the first conversations I had about this initiative was with a senior partner in our Calgary office, whom I’d just met. I was apprehensive about bringing it up, and I was wrong. I’ll never forget how I felt when he paused after my introduction, and I self-righteously expected a speech about “picking our battles” or some other resistance, and instead he told me a story about a transgender man he’d known in his past who’d had a terrible time going through his transition. He said that he would be happy to do anything he could to prevent that from happening to another human being.
I was happy to say the least, and yet it took me some time to stop anticipating negativity. Transgender awareness is a very new topic in my firm, and in this day and age of internet trolls and “haters”, it wasn’t easy for me, at first, to assume the best of people.
The problem with assuming resistance
Of course we will all meet resistance from time to time. However, when I approach conversations anticipating resistance, it does damage in a variety of ways:
- I’m not as open in my demeanour, which makes it hard for the other person to be at ease.
- I get pre-emptively defensive, for example, saying things such as “I know what you’re probably thinking”, which can shut down productive dialogue.
- When resistance does come, I run the risk of making too much of it, or assuming it’s meant to be negative when in fact it may just be a question.
In fact we’re lucky when people who disagree do so directly. Assuming the best makes it easier to listen to resistance with an open mind and not jump to judgement or close yourself off.
Raising social awareness within an organization takes time and energy that is usually in addition to your regular job. I’ve learned not to waste my energy assuming the worst.
Are you working on transgender awareness in your organization? I’d love to hear from you!