Venture Out Profile: Kai Scott On Trans Consulting And How To Make Your Workplace More Inclusive

Kai is a principal partner at TransFocus, a strategy and impact firm focused on unlocking gender assumptions that undermine wellbeing, efficiency, and team cohesion. He combines his technical skills developed from over 10 years as a social scientist with his lived experiences as a trans man to create innovative tools and solutions that address points of exclusion for transgender employees and customers.

VO: What was the path that brought you to TransFocus Consulting?

KS: I started as part of task force that developed 77 measures for the Vancouver Park Board to make recreational programs, spaces, and systems more inclusive of transgender people. The recommendations passed with unanimous support in April 2014 and has been in implementation ever since.

When we presented this model to other municipalities and organizations, we heard from them how relieved, interested, and in need of support they were, so we decided to start a consulting practice that allowed us to share our practical experiences and insights from implementation on a full time basis. We are a strategy and impact firm that identifies and applies tailored solutions to issues of gender diversity within organizations.

VO: High level, what does your job look like on a daily or weekly basis?

KS: Our work spans many different private and public sectors, including tech, education, municipalities, health, hospitality, and finance (to name a few). We equip, relieve, and ready leaders in companies wanting to ensure transgender people feel welcome and belong in their organizations.

In any given week, we could be undertaking multi-stakeholder consultation to surface issues and options related to expanded gender categories on forms. Or, we could be conducting discovery and strategy sessions with senior management in companies that want to fill the gaps in their systems, practices, and spaces to better accommodate transgender people. We also could be developing a company’s detailed guidelines on supporting an employee to transition their gender on the job, or doing a tour of washrooms to determine the options, access, distribution, and signage.

VO: What challenges/issues do trans people commonly encounter in the workplace?

KS: There are a whole range of challenges that trans people face in the workplace. These include persistent issues such as avoiding washrooms, being misgendered based on one’s appearance, or asking for help where there are gaps in services and supports. There are also severe examples of challenges, including being physically assaulted or fired for being transgender. These are detailed in important and thorough studies of transgender people, including the TransPulse Study in Ontario as well as the comprehensive survey of 27,000 transgender people in the United States conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality. The stats for transgender people on their social and health outcomes are staggering, often multiple times worse than provincial or national averages. These are further compounded when combined with other forms of marginalization, such as race and ethnicity.

At TransFocus, we have identified 5 key areas where issues and challenges are lurking, which are common to all companies across diverse sectors and industries, including tech. These area include human resources, washrooms, gender data, programs and services, and communications. This prism allows us to quickly and effectively identify issues to address and resolve them as a way to improve the current conditions for transgender people in our workplaces.

VO: What are three things managers or those in leadership positions can do to make their teams / workplaces more inclusive for people who identify as trans?

KS: Ongoing and visible support for transgender employee from managers and other leaders is key. For starters, here are three straightforward actions managers can take right away with no or relatively low budgets:

1. Model inclusive language: Managers can make exchange of pronouns common practice by including it as part of regular introductions at meetings or gatherings with voluntary sharing of pronouns. Managers can also use inclusive language, such as “good morning, everyone” instead of “ladies and gentlemen” or “ma’am” or “sir.”

2. Change signage: Remove washroom signage with gender symbols and replace with signage that has function-based icons (i.e., toilet or shower). This indicates what amenities are in a washroom rather than reinforcing gender stereotypes of who should be in a washroom.

3. Check benefits: Review your health care benefits plan to ensure it covers trans-specific surgeries and procedures. While provinces cover the major top and lower surgeries, they often do not cover smaller procedures or support such as hormone replacement therapy, laser hair removal, facial feminization, and voice therapy. These can be included in an employer’s extended health care benefits plan and communicated during the recruiting and onboarding processes.

VO: What is one piece of advice you have for trans people just starting out in their careers in tech or entrepreneurship?

KS: As a trans person, you are a gift to the organizations where you work. This may sound different from what some parts of society are saying about us; that we are a burden, to be feared, or this mysterious “other.” But our experiences (including our struggles) have given us a unique lens that has and will transform how we encounter each other and how business is done. You are an integral part of the current paradigm shift.

So, I encourage transgender people starting their careers to keep speaking and showing up, even if it’s scary or seems off the beaten track. Everyone benefits from this diversity of perspective and insights. We need you. When you show up as your full self and contribute your insights, #WeAllWin.

VO: What impact (if any) has your LGBTQA+ identity had on your career?

KS: As a trans man, my identity is foundational to this line of work. I have a particular lens and experience that allows me to make unlikely connections, ask insightful questions that surface blindspots, and have an intrinsic knowing that there are alternate and mutually beneficial ways of achieving desired outcomes. I leverage the strength and courage it took me to override who everyone insisted I was (i.e., a woman) to follow the quiet voice inside me that told me who I really am (i.e., a man, irrespective of how I was born).

VO: Why get involved with the Venture Out Conference?

KS: I am interested in sharing and connecting with other LGBTQA+ people and forward-thinking companies that are ready to take the next step in their journey towards greater inclusion of transgender employees and customers.

I’m also really excited and encouraged by the attention and care the organizers of this conference have paid to transgender issues and needs, including in the details and logistics of the conference. Together, we reviewed collection of gender on the registration forms, washrooms options and signage, as well as communications such as introductions and pronouns on name tags to make this conference more comfortable and easy for transgender participants.

I hope other conferences are inspired by Venture Out’s commendable efforts and actions. And we acknowledge that these are only a beginning and want to hear from transgender participants if there are areas for improvement and expansion on this great start.

VO: What will you be doing at the Venture Out Conference?

KS: I will be presenting at a workshop during the conference called “Dispelling Myths and Incorporating Gender Diversity in the Tech Industry.” My co-presenter, Max Denley, and I will be defining key terms, concepts, issues, and challenges facing transgender people in the workplace. We will also provide examples of best practices related to gender diversity, including policies, data, communications, benefits, washrooms, and gendered programs.

The goal of the workshop is to educate, raise awareness, and inspire confidence and ideas in HR specialists and leaders at companies to take bold and exciting next steps in transgender inclusion.

VO: Anything else that you’d like to highlight?

KS: We have found time and time again that when we design systems, practices, and spaces that include transgender people, there is an unexpected broader benefit to others in the organization. For example, having a single-occupancy washroom is not only important for transgender people (especially those who do not identify as either a man or woman), it also helps people with disabilities who have an attendant, mixed gender families or groups, and people who have greater need for privacy. So while our focus of solutions is on transgender people, these have a beneficial ripple effect that extends far beyond transgender issues and needs.

VO: Thank you so much, and we look forward to seeing you at the conference!

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