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Journey of a Transgender Professional: Reflections on Recruitment

Category: Blogger's Corner, diversity, career, transgender

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I write this article from the perspective of a woman who recently completed her gender transition from male to female.  I had to leave my previous employer in order to transition and am currently rebuilding my career.  Although writing from a candidate’s perspective, I have recruited staff in various countries around the world and have perspectives from both sides. This is a sister article to the Journey of a Transgender Professional – Elise.

Recruitment Experiences

Most of the permanent roles throughout my career have been achieved through direct recruitment by employers, personal reference and internal promotion. While I do have experiences with executive search firms, numerous examples (from finance & accounting) have led me to conclude the following characteristics:

  • Recruitment is excessively sector-driven with reluctance to propose candidates from business sectors different from the client’s.
  • Reluctance to propose candidates who are, at the time, unemployed;
  • Lack of meaningful feedback, if any;
  • Reluctance to meet candidates until shortlisted from database search/job application.

In informal conversation recently with an executive search consultant, I learned that despite lots of great assets on my CV, the fact that I had been unemployed for a period of time is why I was not being selected by recruiters for interview, which confirmed my own perception, however illogical the practice which one would hardly describe as ‘inclusive’.

When someone is unemployed, it should not be assumed that they have lost the ability to fulfill a job as they had done before, or that they had to leave their previous employment for negative reasons.  Unemployment extends for people more as a result of weaknesses in recruitment market dynamics than any lack of opportunities, job skills and abilities.  Furthermore, people take career breaks for all sorts of reasons and mostly for very positive ones that enhance their skill set.  Many transsexual men and women have to leave employment in order to complete gender transition, and so for recruiters who support transgender people within diversity principles, they should appreciate this aspect and not then discriminate against us on the grounds of unemployment status.

Why is there also a propensity to place candidates in locations, roles and sectors that match precisely with what they were doing previously or currently? Is it a function of not looking further back than 5 years in a candidate’s CV?   I have recruited financial teams in the UK, Middle East and Far East and often became frustrated when specifying the candidate profile to some consultants who wanted a long checklist of tasks and skills to ‘search’ for, most of which were simply a given at that level.  I had to explain that the personal attributes of the candidates were more important for the role than the sector that candidates were currently working in.  I have worked very successfully in a diversity of sectors during my career and I think that recruiters need to be much more open-minded in this aspect of search and selection.

Diversity of thought and perspective comes from difference not sameness.  I well understand that finance needs are different between macro-sectors such as Oil & Gas, Financial Services etc.  But it’s often taken too literally and inhibits innovation and growth.  Carolyn McCall at easyJet and Harriet Green at Thomas Cook came from entirely different sectors before implementing turnaround strategies at both companies, the latter getting the role by directly contacting the Chairman!

Transgender and Recruitment

For people who are transgender and wish to transition, the options for employment will depend on individual circumstances but would generally include:

  1. Remain in current employment, do not reveal one’s transgender status or gender dysphoria and delay transition until one is in an environment that will facilitate it; this however can compound the stresses in a variety of ways that are unimaginable to the wider population and can lead to very negative outcomes all round.
  2. Leave the organisation and transition with the intention to resume one’s career thereafter. This can mean starting a new business or seeking a job with a new employer. The former requires courage and enterprise at the best of times, and for transsexual people it can be doubly so, yet ultimately very satisfying. The latter exposes one to some of the characteristics of recruitment market dynamics (to be polite) – in other words discrimination, continued unemployment or at best a role that greatly undervalues the employee.
  3. Approach the current employer and agree a plan to transition while remaining in the current role; this retains the skills and experience of the employee within the organisation and will likely enhance the contribution that the individual makes as well as leading to the best possible employment outcome for the employee personally.

Obviously option 3 is the one which can work best for all concerned, but requires a strong and demonstrable commitment by the employer to a culture of diversity and inclusion.  Option 1 shouldn’t really be an option at all, and option 2 should only be a last resort, though I suspect is the most common option taken.

Aspects to be Aware Of

Some highlights in connection with recruiting transsexual men and women:

  • I have closed down my former LinkedIn profile and established a new one under my new name with my career history fully represented, and connections established from current business activities. I didn’t formally inform previous employers (or hundreds of contacts) about my transition and only told a select few former colleagues with whom I remain in practical contact. Our LinkedIn profiles may therefore be seen to contain inconsistencies by uninformed viewers but shouldn’t be misconstrued as suggesting anything negative.
  • With respect to contacting references, this may need to be carried out by referring to the former identity in which the role was performed and should be agreed with the candidate. It is a criminal offence for anyone acquiring information about a person’s gender recognition history in an ‘official capacity’ (e.g. in recruitment) to disclose it to a third party, without the consent of the person to whom the information relates
  • I frequently encounter misconceptions about the transgender community and transsexual men and women in particular, and it’s rare to come across people who have an accurate understanding of what it involves. If a recruiter subscribes to promoting diversity and includes the transgender community within that definition, then they need to put in the time and effort to truly understand what it means and recognise the specific attributes that would be attractive to employers.
  • The process of formal name/identity change took me about a year and I ended up with some 50 organisations – such as life insurance, pensions, title deeds, tax, banks, credit agencies, qualifications and degree certificates etc – each of which had a different response and often unique bureaucratic protocol to go through to make the changes. If recruiting someone who is in transition, it could be that some elements of their formal identity are not yet congruent and are also ‘in transition’.

Given that recruiters rarely meet candidates and rely on the CVs in their database, then I don’t quite see how they can appreciate the particular qualities and strengths of diverse candidates, or how they identify and ‘promote’ us.  My experience is that the diversity narrative on some executive search websites doesn’t quite match with reality.

If promoting specialism in diversity, recruiters need to better articulate how they define and identify diverse candidates and what they do to support us in the recruitment process.  I appreciate that recruitment is client-driven but the diversity they are talking about is that of the candidates and employees!!  I have seen different recruiters list a variety of 9, 12 and 14 classifications of diversity (protected characteristics) and a job advert that even had an entire paragraph with 17 personal descriptions that were ‘not discriminated against’ and which clearly just had political correctness as its purpose. As a candidate, I am reluctant to approach a search consultant, to whom I may have to reveal my gender history for reference purposes, unless they can demonstrate that they have, or are keen to obtain, an accurate understanding of transgender and transitioning, as the track record is not good.

In Summary:

  • Recruiters and employers should invest time to meet with and properly understand transsexuals and the transgender spectrum and not rely on misleading media stereotypes and misconceptions. Appreciate their strengths rather than assume weaknesses.
  • Diversity in employment leads to diversity of perspective and thought, and is proven to benefit organisations strategically and financially. The principle of diversity and inclusion should extend to people who are, e.g. unemployed, or from different business sectors, and not be limited to the various ‘protected characteristic’ groups. Diversity of thought would benefit recruitment processes too!
  • Many forward thinking employers have established internal forums for diverse employees to network and share experiences, and these are proving to be great engines for enlightenment and change. Recruiters could establish similar forums for diverse candidates that would facilitate networking and allow recruiters to obtain better face to face interaction that would improve their knowledge and understanding of their diverse candidate portfolio.

Being gender dysphoric is not something we choose for ourselves – it is part of who we are from the beginning.  Dealing with it requires enormous courage and commitment on a challenging and unique personal journey.  One of our biggest challenges though is maintaining our careers and employment through the process.  Employers and recruiters could do much more to ensure the continuity in employment that is as important to us as anyone else; and which should be equally important to employers who would not only retain valuable resources that they would otherwise lose, but would enhance the benefits that everyone achieves from a diverse workforce.

The views expressed here are my own, through my experience of recruitment, and to give some perspectives and suggestions.  Since I present completely and in public as female and only disclose my gender history as may be necessary, I have written this article under a pseudonym, Elise, though the circumstances are accurate.  If you wish to discuss any aspect of what I have written, I am happy to do that, so please contact Diversity Jobs who will put us in touch.

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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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