March 19, 2015

Technology: A Pipeline to Employment for the Transgender Community

When merely existing brings on ridicule, harassment, discrimination, and violence, all of which starts in the home for most transgender people, where do you turn? For some, the Internet has been the only place to find information, community, and work. Our identities as we express them are violently rejected by family, society, and those in positions of power who have the ability to offer opportunities for us to grow personally and professionally in safe environments.

Instead, there is ignorance and Injustice at Every Turn for trans people, especially trans people of color. A survey taken by the National LGBTQ Task Force in 2014 reveals devastating statistics, of which employment strikes one of the most crippling blows to the sustainability of trans lives. Where can you turn when no one will hire you, and the only skills you have are survival skills that don’t always translate in the job market? Thankfully, technology and telecommuting as a power couple are birthing new opportunities for trans people who find themselves on the outside looking in to the window of opportunity.

Over the years, I’ve worked with transgender, gender non-conforming, and cisgender job seekers who are looking to re-discover their value in the job market. These coaching & training sessions provided me with a very intimate and multi-dimensional view into what keeps someone from breaking into the employment pipeline. Job seekers I work with are typically dealing with internal barriers, external barriers, or both, mostly resulting from our culture’s constant marginalization of those we fail to find value in.

Redefining Human Resources

“Human resources” has become a sterile term. It’s a place you go in your best attire to leave a good impression on those who have the power to hire you into an organization. But do the people in power have the vision to recognize untapped human resources? Redefining human resources includes rediscovering our humanity. Companies are realizing their social impact and are starting to take some responsibility for improving the communities they serve. These are companies that make clear statements that diversity and inclusion are a valued and intrinsic part of their ecosystem. Everyone starts somewhere. Everyone has something to offer the collective, and it should be the goal of human resources to discover the wealth in people waiting to be discovered.

But, how do you discover new talent without tokenizing your diversity recruit and without developing a hero complex? It feels great to know that the work you are doing is reaching diverse communities, but the greatest results in human development come when people feel they did it themselves and had a major part to play in their success and development. Don’t take that away from them.

Weight, Worth & Value

In the workforce, we tend to place more weight, worth, and value on things like a formal education, background, physical ability and appearance, and industry experience, among many other factors. When it comes to being trans and gender non-conforming, value is sometimes placed on things that are not available to many of us. On top of it all, how well we “pass” and conform to society’s gender norms also plays a role in what opportunities we are given.
Businesses that rely on an element of prestige or exclusivity for their brand image, for instance, might balk at putting a non-passing trans person as the first face or voice their customers hear. How much of an emphasis has been placed on the value of education, when you’re fighting to survive? Families in survival mode may not focus on education, while they are struggling to handle other crises. There is this sense of trying to find stability in systems that offer false senses of security.

Empowerment

What does empowerment truly look like for the trans community? Many nonprofit organizations are providing direct services to trans people, with a focus on trans people of color (TPOC), but many programs only end up rendering the people to be even more powerless as they begin to rely on the support services for survival and are not given tools for sustainability. Adding further to systemic inequities, there are often no TPOC in positions that have decision-making authority. Empowerment in these types of programs means transferring decision-making authority and more responsibility to trans individuals who reflect the lived experiences of those you wish to serve.

Introducing A New Pipeline

Plan for Development

Many organizations are quick to call themselves allies and trans-friendly without any accountability. In theory, their policies are trans inclusive, but without actual trans people working in the company, who can really say how inclusive these policies actually are?

Before jumping into investing the time, energy, and money into an individual’s development, a successful support strategy must be implemented to ensure maximum retention rates. People who come from the most marginalized corners of our community will need additional support in order to make it through the pipeline. Partnering with nonprofit organizations can provide supplemental support, such as transit cards and mental health services, to be able to show up for the opportunity and to get home safely.

1. Recruitment 
This is where the pipeline begins. Actively seeking out diversity means going into the diverse communities instead of expecting them to come to you. Hold introductory events that increase awareness and participation in science & technology-based learning with real world application and appeal. Also, one is the loneliest number. When hiring trans & gender non-conforming workers, don’t stop at just one. Being the only trans person on the job can be isolating and challenging when it comes to navigating workplace culture.

2. Assessment 
Take it from American Idol judges: Discovering talent can be extremely difficult, especially when you’re dealing with a group of people who might lack the vocational maturity to assess their own strengths and weaknesses and to discern when an opportunity is the right opportunity for them. An assessment is not a judgement, but rather a three-dimensional look at an individual’s capacity and ability to learn. It takes the right eye to spot talent, drive, and to estimate one’s capacity for learning and mentorship. Does your assessment take into account varying levels of ability and capacity in workers? There are many people who are hard workers, but when it comes to training materials, they learn better hands-on, or visually with video trainings.

3. Training
So much training is available online for low to no cost. Any organization can turn to platforms like Lynda.com to train their staff to have the skills desired. You can create a playlist of courses from business communication to using advance software, or learning to program.

Don’t just discover new talent—invest in building your pipeline to support talent and ensure mutual success.

Angelica Ross
Over the span of 10+ years, Angelica Ross built a creative design business that began in the margins of society, outside the formal education system. Angelica is now the Executive Director and CEO of TransTech Social Enterprises, an apprenticeship program that aims to empower, educate and employ the trans community through the use of technology while promoting innovation, independence and entrepreneurship. Miss Ross also continues her work with the National Gay and Lesbian Task force as a faculty member for the national Trans Leadership Academy. Visit MissRoss.com and TransTechSocial.org for more information.