Jade Pichette (they/them), Director of Programs at Pride at Work Canada, leading a roundtable discussion about accessibility during SPARK 2023.
Jade Pichette (they/them), Director of Programs at Pride at Work Canada, leading a roundtable discussion about accessibility during SPARK 2023. Credit: Pride at Work Canada Image Stock / Jenna Marie Wakani Credit: Pride at Work Canada Image Stock / Jenna Marie Wakani

From hiring and onboarding to career advancements, employers are lagging behind when it comes to creating inclusive workplaces for transgender workers. Transgender people have faced discrimination at all career stages—even right from the beginning.

“Trans people in Canada are a very educated group, but a very underemployed group,” Jade Pichette, director of programs at Pride at Work Canada (PAWC), said in an interview with rabble.ca.

“Trans, non-binary, two-spirit people are denied employment opportunities at three to five times the rate as cisgender people or non-trans people,” said Pichette.

Women and Gender Equality Canada found that 30 per cent of transgender women and 22 per cent of transgender men reported being denied employment opportunities because of their gender identity. 

“We really see this issue across Canada. It’s something that has resulted in trans communities being five times more likely to be below the low-income cutoff than their cisgender peers. The low-income cutoff, also known as the poverty line, in Canada is set to at a very low rate to begin with. The fact that we’re five times more likely [to be below the poverty line] is quite stark, despite being highly educated as a community,” Pichette said.

Even when trans, non-binary and queer people do get their foot in the door, opportunities for job advancement are less likely to be offered to them in comparison to their cisgender co-workers. About 57 per cent of 2SLGBTQIA+ employees do not disclose their gender identity at work to avoid repercussions and negative career impacts. 

Workplaces are more inclusive, yet still more work to be done

While progress is slow, there have been improvements. Maliyah Abenir, a fashion entrepreneur and visual merchandising representative, said that her experience as a trans woman in the workplace has overall been a positive one.

As the owner of two clothing brands, Averynth Canada and Homomilk Estudyo, Abenir said that in the fashion industry she is celebrated as a trans woman.

“You will see a lot of the people in the community, like gay people, trans people, lesbian people—everybody in the community can be found in the fashion world … But anything else like harassment, bullying and all those kinds of stuff, I barely meet those,” Abenir said.

“And I love being in the fashion industry because I can be myself,” Abenir added.

A couple years back Abenir recalled not seeing many transgender people in the industry.

“I was one of the first trans designers in Calgary and Alberta. And you didn’t see many trans girls in the past in the fashion shows, showcasing their designs. But now there’s a couple which is a great thing, you know?” Abenir said.

But Abenir recognized that not all industries or workplaces are accepting of transgender people and there is still work to be done in those sectors.

The 2019 study, Transitioning Employers: A survey of policies and practices for trans inclusive workplaces, surveyed 69 Canadian employers. According to the study, most organizations were implementing changes to align with the Canadian Human Rights Act, but 38 per cent of respondents still lacked clear gender identity and gender expression anti-discrimination policies.

This varied by industry. The education sector had the highest compliance rate of 80 percent while the public and health care sector were the lowest at 45 per cent.

Most of the company changes are basic accommodation practices. This includes policy on non-discrimination protections, health coverage to support employees who are transitioning, protocols for changes in name and identity markers, gender-inclusive facilities and dress codes.

But basic accommodations need to be followed by trans-inclusive practices.

“Fully inclusive practices that we encourage are things like executive leadership supports, employee resource groups, training on gender identity and gender expression, inclusive recruiting practices, [and] onboarding training with gender identity at the onset of working at an organization,” Pichette said.

Additionally, mentorship supports, allyship programs and ensuring that Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) managers have mandates to address trans and gender non-conforming staff.

International Transgender Day of Visibility

Whether it’s in or outside of the workplace, anti-trans discrimination remains pervasive. International Transgender Day of Visibility is about celebrating transgender people and bringing awareness to the discrimination they face.

“I was skeptical about the day because visibility is not necessarily something that has provided trans people safety—it’s something that is very complicated for communities,” Pichette said.

“But that being said, what is important right now is bringing to light the crisis that our community is facing—our community is under attack in a way that we have not seen in many years,” Pichette added.

Pichette said that labour unions can support transgender people in workplaces. They can help transition employers to be more inclusive by ensuring that gender identity and gender expression are explicitly included in policies and procedures, and host training workshops run trans labour leaders. But there’s also a larger role that unions can fulfill on a national stage to support trans people.

“Unions have a major role to play in workplaces because they can be the supporters of trans communities, or they can be our opponents … The third part that I see is unions having a stake in, is around the backlash that we’re seeing against our community,” Pichette said.

Anti-trans legislation was introduced across Canada, but labour organizations are speaking up. For instance, when Premier Danielle Smith announced policy around trans and 2SLGBTQIA+ youth in Alberta, labour unions spoke up against them.

“And so that type of work is really important right now—it’s pushing for the workplaces they represent to be more trans-inclusive. It’s training their membership and then it’s also getting active in these bigger fights,” Pichette said.

Kiah Lucero smiling and holding a camera.

Kiah Lucero

Kiah Lucero is a multimedia journalist based out of Calgary, Alta. Back in April 2020, she completed her Bachelor of Communication, majoring in journalism from Mount Royal University. Her published work...