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Open culture key to transgender inclusivity

The right culture backed up with practical advice is key to creating a transgender-inclusive workplace

A culture that welcomes questions is critical to creating a transgender-inclusive working environment, according to diversity and inclusion manager at Asda Hayley Parker.

Combining this with practical guidance on supporting someone transitioning has been the key to creating a workplace recognised on Stonewall's Top 100 LGBT Employers List 2016 and shortlisted for British LGBT Employer of the Year at the British LGBT Awards 2016, she said.

Such a culture of openness is achieved at the recruitment stage by identifying people with ‘the Asda personality', explained Parker. “Laid over everything we do is ‘it’s all about attitude',” she said. “So I think when it comes to those conversations we have a bunch of colleagues more than willing to ask questions.

“It’s built into the culture not to shy away from things… It’s not just the right thing to do; it creates a more effective workplace - that’s going to save you money down the line,” she added regarding the commercial benefits of empowering people to respectfully challenge each other in strategy meetings for example.

Colleagues will have concerns around saying and doing the wrong thing when it comes to transgender employees, said Parker. So practical guidance (in the form of a transgender policy and toolkit featuring FAQs and a glossary of terms) is also crucial.

“There are tiny noticeable things that make a massive difference. We say: ‘if you use the right pronouns that’s going to make someone feel incredible',” said Parker, adding the examples of ensuring name badges are changed, that people have the right uniforms, and checking whether staff might be more comfortable working away from the checkouts for a period of time.

Regarding the retailer’s wider LGBT-inclusive activities, Parker advised that organisations should be discerning about which events they participate in, choosing those aligned culturally with the organisation and what it’s trying to achieve in this area.

“Pride for example isn’t as politicised as it used to be, which is fine, but you go to events and people don’t even know what they’re for,” she said. “We were at Birmingham Pride recently and someone we spoke to said: ‘this is Birmingham festival!’”

Employers should avoid generic presences at LGBT events, which they haven’t fully thought through, and which might be perceived as paying lip service or “pink-washing", said Parker.

Examples of Asda's departure from such an approach include hosting a family area at Leeds Pride. “We set up a ‘dry area', which fits much more with Asda’s brand," said Parker. "We’re not a very boozy brand, we're more about families. And this allowed us to connect with people in a much more meaningful way.”

The retailer also regularly partners with national transgender event Sparkle, but in a deliberately low-key way, Parker explained. “We just have a little gazebo at the back,” she said, adding that such events are an opportunity for geographically disparate Asda transgender colleagues and transgender allies to meet.

“One of the key takeaways wasn’t about what we promoted externally, but the inspiration and momentum staff came back from the day with… By the end we were coming away with an action plan around next steps,” said Parker.

Asda’s initiatives to ensure transgender employees feel more comfortable and included at work have included a ‘Getting to know you’ video. The programme was spurred by an engagement survey in 2014 that found transgender employees were the least satisfied and engaged group. Engagement among this group had doubled by 2015's survey.