Hiring Diversely Pt. 3: Events and Travel

One of my favorite things about working in coffee is that if you’re lucky, you get to travel a lot for work. I just got back from a very enriching weekend in Seattle for Expo, but I also travel to Durham for a company conference at least once a year, and many companies send employees to competition, origin, and/or on sales or training trips across the country or world. Since many aspects of travel require a legal name, it may require some amount of delicacy and infrastructure to make sure that your queer and trans employees can enjoy these same benefits without interruption.

Creating Name Tags

If you’re sending an employee to an event where they’ll need a name tag, you’re going to want to get their name right. There are a few right ways to do this, but first I want to tell you the wrong way.

Please do not send out an email saying that anyone whose name differs from their legal name should respond. This method of collecting data forces trans and queer people in your company to specifically get in touch and let you know that their names differ from their legal names. While that may not seem like such a big deal to cis folk, be aware that trans and queer folk deal with this disparity ALL the time. As a supportive employer, you can give your trans and queer employees a better experience than they have with banks, airlines, and cable companies with just a little effort.

Now that we’ve talked about what not to do, I’m going to talk about how you can gracefully get correct name tags to your queer and trans employees.

If you already have some of the infrastructure built out from earlier posts, you already have all of your employees’ preferred names in their hiring paperwork, and the first way to get their name right is to just use that. You can go through all of your new-hire packets and use everyone’s preferred name. If you take the time to do this, you should take an extra moment to make this an official list of all your employees whose preferred names differ from their legal names, and then apply it whenever you need it. You can keep it up to date with new hires and also any current employees who transition or change their names.

The second way to handle this situation is to make a sign-up spreadsheet where every employee fills out the name they live by. A sign-up spreadsheet is effective and simple, but the list approach I recommended based off your new employee paperwork will come in handy if you have the time to make it.

Booking Hotels

While making name tags is a relatively easy situation where employees can use whatever name they want, there are some situations where they will be required to use their legal names, including hotels and flights. These situations require more delicacy.

First, what not to do. If you’re in a situation where you know employees are required to use their legal name, like a hotel, please do not create a sign-up spreadsheet with mandatory legal name. That forces employees to either make their legal name public, or privately email you and ask what other option they have. This contributes to the constant fatigue of self-outing and being an exception.

If you do want to use a sign-up spreadsheet, you should include a specific rider that if someone’s legal name differs from their name, they should email privately and you’ll book their room under their legal name, but then you will also call the hotel and let them know the employee’s preferred name and make sure they use it.

You can also do the above, but rather than using the rider that employees should email you privately, you can go ahead and use your intake paperwork (or that list you made from it), book under legal names, then call ahead and make sure the hotel knows what’s up. If you’re prepared to do this, you can let all your employees know to sign the sheet using their preferred names, and that you have a list of those whose legal names differ and will be making the necessary arrangements. If you do that, you can give yourself a pat on the back. You beat the level.

Booking Flights

When booking a flight, your employee will have to use their legal name. The way to make sure this is not an unpleasant situation is to either let the employee select and book their own flight on the company card, or to select the flight for them but then let them book it themself on the company card. Very simple, but 100% better than having them sit next to the computer and out their legal name to anyone in earshot.

TSA Pre-check

Lots of cisgender people don’t know this, but because of the way body scanning technology works, trans people get an aggressive pat-down every time they go through airport security.

The generic scans are gendered male or female, and since they are designed to look for cis bodies, trans people look like they have things under their clothes that they “shouldn’t.” At that point, airport security will select someone of the same gender to pat the person down.

This whole situation is difficult because there are many moments where someone transphobic or generally creepy can choose to exploit the situation. I’ve seen agents call over a manager to make a big deal about not knowing which gender of officer to use, and since many transgender people have an inaccurate gender marker on their license, agents often choose the wrong gender of officer for the pat-down. Also, officers can make the pat-down as invasive and aggressive as they want, so it’s often a matter of luck of the draw.

Luckily, there’s a solution, but it’s not free. TSA Pre-check is a system where you pay a fee of (currently) $85 and get a background check that clears you for reduced security in most airports for 5 years. If you have pre-check, you’ll be able to keep your shoes and jacket on and go through a metal detector instead of a body scanner, so your body will at no point be under scrutiny for looking “different” than it should.

Pre-check solves the problem of invasive pat-downs and interrogations so well that I would definitely recommend it for any trans person who travels even once or twice a year, but since trans people as a demographic also have a lot of hidden expenses regarding healthcare, they might not be prime candidates for being able to pay for pre-check themselves without assistance. Employers, even those of modest means, have a slew of ways that they could potentially make it easier for employees obtain pre-check clearance. At the very least, make sure employees know about pre-check as an option, and make sure they can get the time off they need for an appointment. Going further, if employees need a cash advance on their paycheck to be able to afford it, that’s generally doable for most companies. Even further, if you have the ability to reimburse any part of the cost, or better yet, all of it, you can set up a system where employees can apply for you to subsidize or reimburse their expenses.

Note: Trans employees are not the only ones getting aggressive treatment at the airport; their aggressive treatment is just the type I’m most knowledgeable about. When you create and implement a pre-check subsidy policy, make it inclusive to employees with disabilities, employees of color, and elderly employees.

Also note: pre-check is a solution for some, but not for everyone. It requires legal status in the US and a relatively clean criminal record, so make sure not to be too aggressive in thinking of it as a solution to the problem of airport harassment.

Selecting for travel

The roster of employees you select to represent you at coffee events says a lot about your company, and it’s important to make sure that you don’t unconsciously discriminate when selecting these people. There are many ways to unconsciously discriminate against femme/queer/poc/pwd employees when selecting for events (*note: all of the following section also apply to promoting employees).

The first, most obvious way is to say that those employees just don’t seem like the right fit, or that it’s just not their time, or that you don’t think they’ll enjoy it. These are vague and actually just code that you don’t want these employees to represent you, and at that point you might want to consider why. You can then think about whether your reasons include unconscious biases about those employees that may not be based on behavior or performance.

A related secondary category of discrimination involves those groups of employees not being selected because someone feels that they either haven’t been with the company long enough, or are needed to work shifts during that period. Again, it is really important that if you’re lucky enough to have diverse perspectives and motivated people in your company, you should really think about retaining those people by moving aside obstacles to their success in your company. They’re motivated, they’re excited, and you want to take that energy and allow it to better your company.

A third group of reasons includes those groups of employees either not being placed high enough in the company or not being salaried. These are self-reinforcing problems, so if you let them be an excuse to hold employees back, these employees will never end up getting promoted or salaried.

If you treat your staff well they’ll make you look good

Treat your diverse staff well, and then enjoy the benefits of letting them represent you. The experience and skill sets they bring to your company should be rewarded, and once you have a diverse, happy staff, you have no reason not to send them to educational and networking events where they can be their best selves and showcase your company. If you have a really impressive infrastructure for queer inclusion, you might even end up attracting new high-level employee through these events from queer people whose companies are not as inclusive.