In the 2021 Census, one in 300 people in Canada aged 15 and older identified as transgender and non-binary. Despite the increased visibility of gender-diverse people in Canada, we continue to be underrepresented in the fields of career and workforce development.
Career professionals are on the front lines of helping people find employment, address workplace challenges and raise awareness of their rights. They provide a supportive space for jobseekers to reflect on their employment needs, wants and options. Gender-diverse jobseekers commonly encounter significant challenges with accessing services, finding employment and thriving in the workplace. Career professionals are well-positioned to assist transgender and non-binary individuals with navigating the world of work.
Transgender and non-binary people deserve access to career services that affirm their identity. This article highlights five ways career professionals can work toward creating a safer space for their gender-diverse clients.
Career professionals seeking to learn more may also be interested in this CareerWise article on “Resources to support the career development of transgender people.”
1. Learn about the common employment experiences, needs and rights of transgender and non-binary people
To best serve gender-diverse clients, it is important to understand their experiences during the job search and in the workplace. Make sure to regularly consult research and seek training in providing affirming services.
It is also helpful to explore the needs and common barriers gender-diverse clients may experience within the context of your practice. For example, career professionals working at a transitional shelter may work with particularly vulnerable transgender and non-binary clients. A lack of parental support and acceptance often increases the risk of homelessness among gender-diverse people. In 2018, 2SLGBTQ+ Canadians were twice as likely to experience some type of homelessness or housing insecurity, and one-third of 2SLGBTQ+ youth (ages 15-24) were living outside of their parents’ homes.
Having a deeper understanding of the social, economic and health challenges facing transgender and non-binary people can strengthen your ability to empathize with your clients, stress the importance of creating a gender-affirming space, and prepare you for potential resources and supports your clients may seek.
2. Remember to apply a client-centred approach
Client-centred career counselling allows the client to lead the conversation and identify their own career choices. The role of the career professional is to encourage the client to reflect on their wants, needs and values.
With this, it is important to refrain from giving advice on how a client should present themselves during the job search process or in the workplace. Doing so could subject your client to your unchecked implicit biases or could put your client at risk of unsafe conditions. To further explain, it is not appropriate to advise all gender-diverse clients to hide experiences that could out them on a resume or interview, such as work experience at a Pride community centre. Nor is it appropriate to advise all gender-diverse clients to come out to an employer. Instead, a career professional should facilitate a space for the client to conduct a risk assessment and identify for themselves what they are comfortable with.
3. Evaluate the documents and resources you use in your practice
Ensure all the documents and resources you assign to your clients are equally engaging and reflective of all users. Intake forums, applications and assessment questions that fail to reflect gender-diverse identities can signal to clients that your services are not safe. As a result, gender-diverse clients may not feel comfortable confiding in you or using your services. Below are three considerations to get you started:
- Intake forms: Include optional, open-ended spaces for your clients to state their pronouns, gender and the name by which they want to be referred. It is important to incorporate all of the pronouns the client lists when you are speaking to them or referring to them in reports. Also, acknowledge that the gender marker or the name your client specifies may not match the information listed on their legal documentation or your organization’s roster.
- Assessment tools: Mindfully select and interpret career assessment tools. Tools tend to be normed on binary gender groups and have gendered occupational associations. Be sure to review any questionnaires included in the tool and to not reinforce gender biases in your interpretation.
- Resources: Ensure any resources you assign or provide to your clients incorporate inclusive and accurate language on gender diversity.
4. Honour the intersecting influences of your clients’ lives
Acknowledge the experiences and needs of diverse transgender and non-binary people. Considerations of intersecting influences may include but are not limited to: ethnicity, ability, economic status, age, religion and life experiences. Building an affirming space also means committing to values of anti-racism and anti-oppression, decolonizing the frameworks you operate under and providing accessible services.
5. Embrace lifelong learning
This article is not meant to be an exhaustive list; your work to create an affirming space does not end after applying a few of the steps listed in this article. Building your capacity to cultivate a safer space for all your clients involves a continual process of openness, self-reflection and action.
Making the time to learn about the needs, rights and experiences of gender-diverse people will enrich your professional work. Honouring your clients’ experiences and coming from an informed place fosters trust and strengthens your ability to genuinely support your clients. If you are interested in learning more about providing gender-affirming career services, I invite you to visit the Queering Careers Directory.