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Transphobia rife among UK employers

34% of employers are “less likely” to hire someone if transgender and 43% admit to being unsure if they would recruit a transgender worker

A report by Crossland Employment Solicitors found that the retail sector has the highest proportion of businesses (47%) unlikely to employ a transgender person, followed by IT (45%), leisure and hospitality (35%) and manufacturing (34%).

The financial services industry was found to be most open to the idea of hiring transgender workers, but with still only a third (34%) agreeable to it, along with the legal sector (33%) and construction and engineering (25%).

Out of the third of employers that would consider recruiting a transgender person, just 8% think they should have the same rights to be hired for a job as everyone else. Additionally, few organisations feel their workplace is liberal enough to accommodate transgender workers, with only 4% of the 1,000 employers polled declaring their workplace culture diverse enough for transgender people to 'fit in'.

The report also found that 74% of employers have never knowingly worked with a transgender person – suggesting that most transgender workers do not disclose their status, perhaps for fear of condemnation. Previous research by Stonewall found that as many as 35% of LGBT workers hide their identity at work out of fear of discrimination.

Earlier this year the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called on the government to act on transphobia. The Equalities Act 2010 only protects transgender people who propose to, are undergoing or have undergone medical gender reassignment treatments and surgeries.

However, less than a quarter (23%) of employers polled by Crossland Employment Solicitors who are responsible for recruiting are aware of the laws protecting transgender workers. More than three-quarters (77%) were wrong when asked which transgender characteristics are protected by discrimination law. Employers in the tech sector fared worst, with 87% giving incorrect answers. This was followed by retail with 83%, and banking and construction and engineering with 80% each.

A third (31%) of all employers polled thought that all transgender workers are legally protected against discrimination – despite an equal number admitting that they would discriminate against transgender workers by not hiring them. Additionally 59% were against extending the Equality Act to protect all transgender people from discrimination. Only 9% believe the law needs to change.

The report also found a lack of trans-inclusive workplace policies among UK employers across all sectors, especially in the IT industry, with 88% of all employers and 93% in the tech sector admitting to not having any transgender-worker-specific policies. Just 3% of employers said they had an equal opportunities policy that openly encourages transgender people to apply for jobs.

Beverley Sunderland, managing director of Crossland Employment Solicitors, said that there must be policies in place that reflect the complexities of trans identities.

“Our findings reinforce what bodies such as ACAS and the Women and Equalities Select Committee have been highlighting to the government for years; trans identity is more complex than the law currently recognises," she said.

“What is clear is the need to change the law to protect not just those who are going through gender reassignment, but the wider transgender community such as non-binary workers. In 2016 the Women and Equalities Select Committee recommended amending the protected characteristic of gender reassignment in the Equalities Act 2010 to read ‘gender identity’, which was rejected by government.

"But if we’re to encourage businesses to build a trans-inclusive workplace then we need the backing of the law, together with greater support for employers to help understand the issues around transgender workers in the workplace. A business where everyone feels welcome and valued is by far a more productive one.”

The research by Crossland Employment Solicitors surveyed 1,000 employers involved in the overall company’s recruitment strategy (including business owners, MDs, CEOs and board directors), from a range of organisation sizes and from a mix of sectors.