I am a PR professional specializing in transgender awareness and inclusion… six years ago I knew nothing about gender diversity.
While trans people appear to be all over the news in 2022, when I came into this arena, they weren’t really on people’s radar – aside from the odd sensationalist piece running in more salacious media. So when a client approached me for some PR support with a new service, providing gender-affirming hormones and counseling to the trans community, I jumped at the chance to learn as much as I could.
With 15 years of experience under my belt, it didn’t really cross my mind to worry about my lack of trans-specific insight. I had managed the communications for an airline, men’s and women’s grooming, utilities, aggregates, roofing and cladding – campaigns upon which I had embarked with only limited knowledge.
I trusted that my comms skills would help me to navigate the classic hurdles we would likely face along the way. And it’s fair to say that we faced some interesting challenges:
- How do we communicate with our stakeholders in a way which is authentic and inclusive?
- How do we minimize concern when our infrastructure is interrupted due to a technical or supply issue?
- How do we keep our team members engaged?
- How do we demonstrate our legitimacy and credentials?
- How do we respond to negative media attention?
Stakeholder engagement, crisis and issues management, reputation management, community engagement, media relations, internal communications – bread and butter to any seasoned PR professional.
As awareness around the service grew, our focus became very clear; while we had the comms expertise, our progress would be limited without first-hand insights and experience. We were a trans-focused service being led by a non-trans team. So we employed people from the community, trans and non-binary team members, parents of trans youth, and other allies passionate about making a difference.
This was key to our success and as we expanded our knowledge became far deeper and richer. We were walking the talk, employing those that we were actively seeking to support. The more trans people joined the company, the more I learned the importance of the role I had to play as an ally. I was listening to the first-hand experiences of others and then using my comms skills to amplify their voices, highlight their concerns, and give them a platform. I also learned that, while empathy is crucial, as a non-trans person you can never truly know what it feels like to be gender variant.
This learning now informs the work we do through TransMission PR, a communications consultancy specializing in transgender awareness and inclusion, and with D&I topping the agenda, there has never been a better time for companies to upskill in this area.
Why Trans Awareness Is So Important
Diversity and Inclusion is an excellent example of inside-out reputation management. Indeed, committing to LGBT+ equality is a powerful signal to stakeholders that a company cares about doing what is right. In today’s society, where brands are increasingly held accountable for their stance on the political and social issues faced by today’s consumers, it’s no longer enough to offer a great service or deliver a great product. You have to stand for something.
Research shows that companies in which diversity is explicitly promoted (regardless of the nature of that diversity) have higher rates of employee retention and satisfaction, factors known to be directly connected to productivity, which has a positive impact on the bottom line. In other words, it is not only better for the workforce to be part of a company that embraces diversity, embracing diversity pays dividends.
While being LGBT-friendly is good for business, there is also the important consideration of the damage that can be done by failing to support diversity in the workplace. This is something the British automotive manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover learned the hard way in 2020, when it was ordered to pay £180,000 to a genderfluid engineer after what has been described as a “relentless campaign of harassment”.
And that’s just the headline cost, throw in legal fees and the cost to repair the damage to the company’s reputation and we are talking serious money. Furthermore, now that there is a precedent, it’s safe to say companies can expect more of the same if they fail to support their trans colleagues.
But where do companies even begin and how can they navigate a territory which is seemingly so contentious? This is where public relations practitioners can really lead the charge but first, they must get comfortable in their own understanding of gender diversity.
- Trans people (which includes those who identify as non-binary) represent an estimated one percent of the population, though given the variation with which people experience their gender, the exact figure is impossible to pinpoint.
- Trans inclusion and awareness begins with the basic understanding that, just as certain questions would be considered invasive if they were asked of a non-trans colleague, the same rules apply for trans colleagues. It’s important to master the basics.
- There are some excellent books available. A great place to start is Shon Faye’s The Transgender Issue, which provides invaluable insight into the lives of trans people. For a shorter read, try Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read In the Media
- It’s important to be aware that news items about the community are rarely balanced. Be aware of this when reading the news and approach it with a degree of skepticism.
- Ask yourself some key questions: Who is writing this? Why? How are they sourcing their information? Have they included any trans perspectives, or exclusively cisgender (non-trans) ones? How would it feel to read this if I was trans, or if my partner, child or friend was trans?
Talk and Listen to Trans People
- There are excellent podcasts available that provide invaluable insight into the challenges trans people face. Check out How to Be a Girl by the amazing Marlo Mack.
- Follow trans accounts and creators on social media. Twitter tends to be a tinder box for trans issues, so opt for Instagram and LinkedIn instead if you are starting out.
- Be active in your allyship, speak up and step in when faced with transphobic rhetoric, and encourage others to learn more and educate themselves before passing flippant, hurtful comments.
The truth is that for the majority there is an overwhelming “live and let live” approach to gender diverse people so lean into your inclusivity and really own it. Talk to your client and help them to explore their position, work through any areas of confusion or lack of understanding. Help them to articulate their allyship, how that might look and what it will translate to in terms of action as part of the wider D&I strategy. Help them to see the “business case” for trans inclusivity.
Importantly, don’t be tempted to just “stick a rainbow flag on it”. Audiences are becoming savvy to the notion of rainbow-washing and Pride tokenism is increasingly being called out. Instead, approach trans inclusion in an authentic, meaningful, and accountable way.
Five Ways to Help Your Client to Be More Inclusive of Gender Minorities:
- Examine your client’s existing communications, are they trans-inclusive?
- Make your campaigns inclusive all year round.
- Help your client to understand the importance of getting communications expertise on trans inclusion and awareness. They must not rely on trans employees to educate non-trans team members, that is not their job.
- When developing supportive initiatives, consider how they can have a lasting positive impact on trans and wider LGB+ communities.
- Make it easy for personnel to include their pronouns on their signature, and only if they wish to do so.
By its very nature, diversity and inclusion cannot be selective. Use your communications expertise to up-skill in this important area and your clients – and the trans community – will thank you for it.