Image of the transgender flag with blue, pink and white horizontal stripes waving.

Trans and gender nonconforming inclusion at work

How to address hate and harm through systemic change

Ellen K. Pao
Project Include
Published in
6 min readMar 31, 2023


Image of the gender nonconforming flag with black, magenta, white and yellow stripes waving

Today, on Trans Day of Visibility, Project Include centers and focuses on the trans and gender nonconforming community — specifically on how to build workplaces that are inclusive of trans and gender nonconforming people. It is an area of deep concern for us, as we recognize that transphobia and the exclusion of gender nonconforming people is a serious long-standing problem, one made worse by the politicization of trans and gender nonbinary rights as states introduce bills designed to curtail and strip away rights.

Just in 2023 so far, almost 500 anti-trans bills have been introduced, with 23 passed.

Some may be surprised to learn that these anti-trans bills are spread across 47 states; transphobia is country-wide. Numbers should not matter, as everyone should be treated fairly, but it is particularly sad that transphobia has had a huge effect on so many people.

1.6 million trans people and 1.2 million gender nonconforming people live in the United States

We also want to emphasize that while transphobia may be in the news more these days, it has long been a problem in our society. Many groups have been advocating for solutions, and we include a partial list in the “Resources” section of our report. We also interviewed 20 workers who are trans and/or gender nonconforming and experts who have been advising companies and other organizations on how to build workplaces that do not further harm and marginalize people in their communities.

We described many of the obstacles and harm experienced by trans and gender nonconforming people, which are often nuanced. For example, some mentioned their discomfort at being assigned to a “women lite” ERGs in what felt like an afterthought and was marginalizing, while another felt excluded when they wanted to participate in a “woman and nonbinary” ERG. We also describe TERF battles and how they weaponize language and behavior in insidious and harmful ways. And we provide descriptions of 17 forms of harmful behavior, why each is harmful, and alternatives when possible.

Table with two columns: Harmful behavior and Why it is harmful. Alt text doesn’t allow full copy. The four examples cover deadnames, gender expression, neopronouns and bringing up transgender identity in irrelevant ways.
Four of the 17 types of harmful behavior we describe

It is time to take action and make our workplaces less unsafe and harmful, and we provide detailed recommendations on why and how to address problems with solutions to foster gender-expansive inclusion.

Some of our recommendations are not new, most are common sense and not expensive, and many are nuanced.

Trans and gender nonconforming people are part of the workforce. Here’s how to include them:

  1. Make (trans and gender nonconforming) inclusive cultures. Understand your cultural gaps and set standards of behavior and consequences that are clearly communicated from day one. Empower employees to correct mistakes in a meaningful way that results in a return to business.
  2. Prioritize executive representation and buy-in. Representation alone is not enough. Training from the board and CEO level will help leaders set the tone for the whole company.
  3. Require managers to proactively support trans and gender nonconforming staff. Again, training will help prepare managers to lead by example and provide clear guidance to teams on gender-affirming culture and harassment, including how to handle it. Help managers by providing clear policies and guidance on how to support team members who come out or request assistance with gender expression and inclusion at work. Managers can have better conversations that may be new to them if they are prepared and aware in advance.
  4. Set expectations for behavior. Every employee deserves to be respected and not harmed because of their identity. We list 17 types of harmful behavior that you can anticipate and address proactively to prevent from occurring in your workplace. Many are inappropriate for the workplace for any employee, and some, especially repeated behavior, can be harassment. Provide multiple ways to report problems, and clearly communicate the reporting process.
  5. Enable straight-forward self-identification for all staff. People should be able to choose their name and gender, and to change it at any time, and changes should not require a reason. Companies should enable it easily with a single ticket to update all instances across all company systems, and provide instructions on how to change it across external systems (e.g., 401(k)s and health providers). Former staff should be able to make changes easily as well.
  6. Provide accessible, gender-appropriate restrooms for all employees and visitors. We almost all use restrooms that are gender-neutral regularly, often at our or someone else’s home or on an airplane. Instead of gendering bathrooms, consider providing information on what fixtures are available. Aim for one on every floor within a reasonable distance for every employee.
  7. Provide evidence-based, regular trans- and gender-inclusive training. Training should describe expectations of behavior, goals for working relationships and an inclusive culture. Training should cover executives and managers, and especially for first-time managers and managers of teams that include trans or gender nonconforming people. Training should be specific for trans and gender nonconforming issues, and part of the overall training curriculum.
  8. Value contributions to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Treat it as all other work. Budget funds and staffing time. Compensate contributors, and add a DEI lens to work plans. If a person is asked to perform specific work tied to their being trans or gender nonconforming, “no” should be respected as an answer.
  9. Use and support ERGs to cultivate internal networks. ERGs need to be valued and respected by executives and managers to be effective. ERG work should be funded and recognized in work plans, evaluations, performance reviews and promotions. Fund specific ERGs and encourage collaboration between ERGs.
  10. Ensure benefits are trans- and gender-inclusive. People will often decide whether to join a company based on these benefits, so clearly communicate what you provide during the hiring process. They should be comprehensive and they should be easy to access; often benefits are listed as available but end up being rejected in practice.
  11. Leverage HR for administrative support. HR should help navigate medical and administrative logistics in accessing benefits, especially when staff transition at work.
  12. Collect and act on survey data about trans and gender nonconforming experiences. Understand the scope of representation and need. Build in privacy protections with anonymity and security plus limited access to data. Be thoughtful in designing a survey, and allow options for adding categories and for declining to share.

We follow our core values: Include everyone through an intersectional lens, apply a comprehensive approach, and adopt metrics for accountability. None of our recommendations is particularly unreasonable or expensive to implement, other than the mental and cultural shifts that are required to treat everyone fairly at work. These shifts require a systemic approach as well as clear expectations for behavior and accountability for failures. Our recommendations will help companies be more inclusive generally because solving problems for marginalized communities helps everyone.

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and given resources and infrastructure that allow them to do their best work.

This report is third in a series on fixing serious workplace culture problems. We focus on systemic inequities in tech that permeate every part of a worker’s experience, and in each report we focus on a different group that has specific needs. Over time, we hope the changes we recommend become standard in companies and the next wave of changes no longer have to solve existentialist problems.

Read our report here.

Finally, every day should recognize the trans and gender nonconforming people in our community and treat them with respect and dignity.

Thank you to all who worked on or were interviewed or surveyed for this report, including many who opted to remain anonymous. Your experiences and perspectives will drive changes that mean many more people will not have to have those experiences.

Lydia Fernandez, McKensie Mack and Ellen Pao

Cover page of report with title “Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Inclusion in the Workplace: What companies need to know and do” with Project Include logo and dated March 2023.
Read the full report here.



Ellen K. Pao
Project Include

Co-Founder and CEO of Project Include. Author of Reset. Angel investor.