Over 25% of transgender people have lost a position due to discrimination, and over 75% have experienced some form of discrimination in the work place. These figures are even higher in transgender people of color, and prejudice takes place in a variety of ways, from refusal to hire, to harassment, to privacy violations, to violence. Transphobia is something all trans people face on a regular basis, and when it is part of workplace culture, it can take a significant toll on mental health.
Although many instances of discrimination against trans people at work are overt acts of discrimination, some of the problem comes from misinformation and a lack of training in employers to handle critical issues with sensitivity. British transgender activist Jane Fae has said that employees are frequently told to use bathrooms which don’t match their gender identity, an issue with some employers navigate by asking them to instead use the disabled bathroom. The problem with this, she says, is that it works to make trans employees even more marginalized.
Similar problems include employers enforcing a gender binary dress code and using staff photos that trans employees are uncomfortable with in promotional material. Often the ‘fixes’ to these problems are offensive, and can make trans staff feel isolated and excluded. Over time, this institutional discrimination can take its toll on an individual’s mental health, and many trans employees feel forced to keep their gender identity a secret.
Increased Chance Of Physical Injury
Issues like these in workplace culture can have a serious impact on an employee’s mental health and body image. Almost 50% of individuals who identify as transgender experience depression or anxiety, a figure that a 2016 study published in The Lancet shows can largely be attributed to stigma, discrimination and regular abuse. As if mental illness wasn’t enough, in the workplace, this can have ramifications on physical health and increase the chance of injury. For example, FVF Law states that a large portion of trucking accidents are caused by unsafe driving, as a trans driver experiencing workplace prejudice is at high risk of being distracted or experiencing fatigue on the road due to the discrimination they receive at work. Their mental health is certainly at risk, but so too is their life as they handle their daily drives.
Impact Of Discrimination On Mental Health
A 2016 report by The American Psychological Association noted that facing discrimination can result in “a heightened state of vigilance and changes in behavior, which in itself can trigger stress responses.” This is to say that simply the anticipation of prejudice is enough to cause stress. Stigma can also cause marginalized individuals to steer away from social encounters and engage in risk-taking behaviors, further increasing their risk of mental health issues. Furthermore, many trans people have experienced prejudice in the healthcare system, making them potentially less likely to seek help for their mental health.
Routine discrimination can pose a host of problems for a trans employee navigating a work environment. While individual acts of overt discrimination certainly have a large part to play in this, workplace culture is also a huge problem. Unless a workplace is an inclusive environment where the concerns of transgender employees are handled sensitively and without prejudice, institutional discrimination can have a long-lasting impact on an individual’s mental and physical health.