On August 24, 2021 Pride at Work Canada presented Working While Trans – Thriving and Surviving. The panel was organized and moderated by Irfan Lakhani (he/him), Programs Assistant, Action Plans, at Pride at Work Canada. Here are some of the highlights:

Collage of screenshots with Irfan Lakhani and Connor Pion

Screenshots with the moderator Irfan Lakhani and the emcee Connor Pion.

Lakhani opened the conversation by first welcoming and introducing the panel of three inspiring thought-leaders:

  • Dani Gomez-Ortega (she/her), Senior Manager, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Loblaw Companies Limited
  • Karibu Ramos (they/them), Executive Director and Founder, Elevate Equity
  • Val Walls (they/them), Director Sales Effectiveness, Scotiabank
It is darn exhausting. Because it takes so much energy to walk the tightrope of what is acceptable. If every time you step out of your office, your cubicle, or step into the work world and you know that it is the first thing people are looking at in terms of the physicality versus just getting a sense of who this human being is, and having a heart-felt dialogue – that’s exhausting. …I think it takes courage to step up into one’s truth. I think it takes courage to stand up and be willing to be seen. And I think it takes courage to speak out and drive change.”
Val Walls 

Walls spoke to the numerous impacts and implications of concealing one’s identity and the ways in which covering prevents individuals from experiencing a sense of belonging – within the workplace and within their own sense of self. They also spoke to the burden of striving for acceptance and the weight and complexity of showing up as one’s authentic self; how this can impact one’s career growth and advancement as well as one’s wellbeing.

Collage with screenshots: Val Walls, Dani Gomez-Ortega and Karibu Ramos.

Our guest speakers Val Walls, Dani Gomez-Ortega and Karibu Ramos.

Gomez-Ortega provided an overview of the ways in which the kinds of discrimination trans and non-binary people face make their way into the workplace and how inclusion efforts need to recognize those impacts and implications. In response to Lakhani’s question on advice related to surviving and thriving in the workplace, Gomez-Oretga set the tone by sharing affirmations and encouragement for trans and non-binary jobseekers and employees at all stages of their journeys and in a diversity of contexts, stressing the validity of their experiences of either surviving or thriving. 

If you’re somebody that is watching right now, and you’re trying to survive, focus on that …We need you, so focus on surviving. You’re not alone, so just focus on that. So if you feel like you need to stay in the closet to survive, do it. The world is better with you here – regardless of whether you’re out or not. …Now, if you are in a place where you feel like there’s potential to thrive, honesty, the sky’s the limit, right?…Dream big, talk to people, raise your hand for different projects, apply to that promotion, be fearless because so many people have fought for so long for you to have that space where you can thrive, for the opportunity, so it is really up to you to honour them by taking that jump if it’s safe for you to do so.
Dani Gomez-Ortega

When asked by Lakhani to speak to some of the biases that the trans community faces in the workplace, Ramos emphasized the importance of recognizing the wide range of entry points into employment and the ways in which privilege or intersectional marginalizations impact access to the spaces and opportunities in which they can either survive or thrive. They offered some of the critical considerations that come up in their work such as; when and if some trans and non-binary people are able to thrive in certain workplaces or spaces, thinking through how it is that individual got there, what level of access they have, and the ways in which their intersections informed their opportunity, access, or experience.

The way that I approach our internal biases in this work through equity consulting is more so around standing in solidarity with folks who are different from us, and we can seek for similarities, we can seek for differences and we can find, again, multiple entry points of seeing each other, and honouring each other, but it can’t happen unless we look at that root of that pain, which is limiting to those of us that are oppressing and those of us that are being oppressed.
Karibu Ramos

All three speakers spoke to the roles and responsibilities of allyship and the importance of support and solidarity.  Walls spoke to the importance of allyship in driving action and creating impact within an organization. Gomez-Ortega highlighted the power of inclusion, and how being inclusive is more than just political correctness – that it has the potential to save lives. Ramos invited those of us who are wanting to take up our roles and responsibilities as allies, to learn into our courage and away from our fragilities so that we can do the deep, uncomfortable internal self-reflection work that is required to address and shift our internal bias. 

A few calls to action from the panel:

  • Recognize that inclusion saves lives – and that everyone at the organization has a role and responsibility to take up the work of diversity and inclusion in their workplace.
  • Respect pronouns.
  • Recognize and define the ways in which workplace harassment can be experienced by trans and non-binary employees specifically, and integrate these into your policies.
  • Ensure accessibility to gender-inclusive or single-stall washrooms (who doesn’t love a single stall washroom?)
  • Go beyond using the latest trending DEI buzzwords/terminology (many of which are co-opted and used out of context or as shields to avoid doing the hard or messy work) and do the hard and messy work – put the words into action – embody them
  • If you want to include trans and non-binary employees – reflect on why –  and know that you need to go above and beyond the basics such as:
    • Trans solidarity training beyond 101 – What about 201? 301?
    • Have a diverse team already in place
    • Build meaningful relationships within local 2SLGBTQ communities,
    • Hire trans & non-binary consultants and have all the policies procedures and facilities put in place before actioning trans inclusion in talent acquisition
  • Be a champion!!! Get your executives on board! Leverage this education into guidelines and policies – it’s not about being nice, it’s about saving lives!

Warning: Some of the content in this webinar can be activating or triggering. There is extensive mention of numerous forms of discrimination that trans and non-binary individuals can experience in the workplace throughout, and mention of suicide (from 0:46:00 to 0:47:15).