Flowing It Down...

It’s always interesting when my experience of the working world ties up so closely with the work I’m doing with T&Coffee. About 14 years ago, I took the opportunity to turn away from the stability of regular employment and joined the ranks of the small business owners.


Honestly, it’s been amazing. I’ve had the chance to work with huge range of businesses, see some incredible innovations and build some fantastic relationships with people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. It hasn’t been without it’s challenges however…


On top of all the usual stresses of running a business and trying to keep food on the table, I had one stress most small business owners will never have to experience. Yup, you guessed it, I had to transition whilst maintaining my business.



Now, ok, transitioning at work is not a unique thing to me but, the challenges were somewhat different to somebody in a full-time role with a supportive HR department (and sick/ holiday pay)


For instance, there was no chance of a "one hit coming out" as I see some of my clients only once each year. The ability to take a few weeks away from work and return to an office of people who had briefed on my transition, pronouns and the proper etiquette was simply not there. I'm not complaining though. If anything, it has helped me to see a problem...


The bulk of my client base are Small to Medium Businesses (SME’s) with less than 50 employees. In fact, I work with a few “Micro Businesses” which have fewer than 5 staff. I very quickly came to realise that I was, in most cases, the first Trans person these businesses had worked with.


The physical scale of these organisations has never called for them to look at considering gender identity as part of their equality policies, with many not even having such a policy formally established. Now I’ve never been shy about just getting on with being my authentic self but, at the start of 2019 there were 5.82 million small businesses (with 0 to 49 employees), 99.3% of the total business. SMEs account for 99.9% of the business population (5.9 million businesses) (Source FSB.org)


So if we take the government estimate of between 200,000-500,000 Trans people in the UK (Source: Gov.uk) we can assume that the number of trans people are working in that SME market is pretty high…


So what though..? It’s good to have a job right..?


Well, yeah, sort of… When it starts to get more worrying is when we look at the statistic that 55% of trans people have experienced negative comments or behaviour at work. (Source: FRA LGBT Survey – 2012) So we’re talking about a market where most trans people work and a very high rate of negative behaviour…



It all changes though when we look at the other end of the employment market, with some of the top companies in the world. Not only do we start to see effective policies being used a rolled out but, we see things like LGBT+ positive networks, well-structured HR Support and even private health options that cover medical transition! It’s frankly a different world to what the bulk of trans people will experience in their workplace…


So why the huge gap? Well, the obvious answer is financial. A business of 5 people quite possibly hasn’t got the money to implement a fully covering private health plan. To a degree, this is fair enough. It’s not something we can fix all that easily. Cost however doesn’t stop a business of any size from developing (and actually supporting) a meaningful inclusion policy. Cost doesn’t prevent a small business from taking the time to read up and educate themselves in issues impact the trans community and potentially their staff. My experience with the SME market is that there is simply a lack of awareness. It’s never been a direct issue for them so, they don’t have any awareness of it. Until it’s too late...


This we can fix!


When we look at recent changes in legislation or regulation, we see a pattern of how certain requirements “Flow Down” supply chains, to eventually encourage (or force) smaller organisations to take note. A good recent example of this was with the updated Modern Slavery Act. We can all agree slavery is bad right! Until recently however, it was only big manufacturing business or multinationals that were actively managing policies for prevention of slavery in their suppliers. When things changed though, those big companies started to request policies from further down their supply chains. This built a new awareness of not just the issues but, policies become a prerequisite for running a business.


The question is, why can’t we start to push big companies to make the same requests for policies in relation to Diversity & Inclusion? Sure, we see equality policies but, they are still rarely trans inclusive and seldom even mention Gender Identity. These things should be specified right the way along the supply chain, to force people to start paying attention.


Recently T&Coffee were lucky enough to be involved in a seismic event called Trans in The City, where 22 of the country’s biggest companies came together. A key part of this event was to get as many of the 65 participating organisations to agree to the Trans in The City Charter – a commitment ensuring their organisations are fully committed to advocating equality. What an incredible opportunity to get some “buy in” at the top.



Now though, we need to look at how we flow that amazing commitment down to the 99.9% of businesses for whom the bulk of us work. So what can we do? One thing some of us can do is start to ask at our workplaces, our suppliers or our clients “do we have a Diversity & Inclusion Policy?” If you find they have, brilliant, have a look and see if it’s working. If not, well it’s a good way to open the conversation without diving straight into the Trans Rights issue.


Another thing any of us can do is to simply take the time to read up a bit on trans experiences. There are literally thousands of blogs, vlogs and websites dedicated to people’s journeys. It doesn’t cost anything but a little time to get an idea of what life is like for trans people in various situations.


I know all this sounds a bit “atictivisty” but, with a bit more pressure from the top down, a little bit of a nudge from within and simply taking the time to understand the problem, we can bring this topic to the table. Awareness is the key here. Keep the conversation going and people will catch up eventually.

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