Transitioning at work, hosted by IBM

About the event

Penis News held a three day conference on the issues faced by the trans and non-binary community.  They called this a Trans Summit, which is just another way of saying Peak Trans.  It was a full agenda which mainly revolved around employment in the corporate sphere and was basically corporate activism laid bare.  The main sponsor was IBM, which is an American multinational technology company with operations in over 170 countries.

In this session, we will demystify the process of transitioning in the workplace. What can you expect to happen when starting the process of transitioning at work? Who should be your first port of call, and what support can you expect from your employer? If you have ever asked yourself these questions, then this session is for you. 

Our partners at IBM will be here to guide you through the process, using their own comprehensive global workplace transition framework. IBM’s approach is one of the best out there, resting on a rich history of diversity and inclusion policies and practices that put the transitioning employee at the centre of the process. 

From Penis News’ blurb for the session

‘The Framework’ aka the Human Right Campaign’s agenda

An IBM HR person, who was a they/them, ran the session.  They explained ‘the Framework’, the policy that IBM has theoretically rolled out globally, and they/them was responsible for LGBTQ+ issues.  They/them broadcast from their flat wearing a ‘homeless queers’ T-shirt.  Yes, I did try to find out what sort of salary they were on, unfortunately IBM don’t put price tags on their vacancies, but I imagine it is a pretty penny.

IBM’s Transition at Work Policy was co-authored by the Human Rights Campaign, the US-based LGBTQ political pressure group.  This is referred to as their ‘White Paper’ and is publicly available on the resources section of IBM’s dedicated diversity website (probably separate for cynical reasons).

The Framework had been developed with direct input from the ‘trans community’ itself.  They/them’s presentation was directly based on the content of the document.  IBM is, of course, ‘always moving forward’ and currently have a ‘squad’ of trans and non-binary identified people reviewing the document to ensure its relevance.  

When an IBMer, as staff are known, decides to come out as trans and non-binary they will automatically get referred to the HR department by the manager for full support and advice, in particular ‘timings’ will be discussed, or else they can approach the HR department direct and bypass the manager until they are ready.  The Framework is very flexible we were told, although interestingly the all-important time off from work for surgeries was not mentioned.  

The responsibility of the manager

The real target for the Framework was not the ‘transitioning’ employee, but the manager, as the manager is the one who will be responsible for ensuring the trans employee’s safety from micro aggressions in the wider team. The manager will have to take five L&D units in the form of videos, accessible from on IBM’s global L&D portal.  

The videos are designed for managers to watch in preparation for the workshop and for colleagues to view afterward. The five videos are:

1. The Transgender Journey
2. Helping Those Who AreTransitioning
3. Issues
4. Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
5. Chance Encounters

Includes transgender IBMers telling their own personal stories set to engaging animated scenes.

An accompanying presentation is ready to support managers (partnered with an experienced LGBT+ global diversity leader) in educating colleagues and work teams.

From the ‘White Paper’ – big cringe for the ‘engaging animated scenes’

The first person many trans employee come out to is often their manager and the manager must not pass this information onto anyone without the express permission of the IBMer (including, presumably, seeking advice from HR, which seems an unfair burden on Bob or Sue who may have an imminent target to reach).

They/them told us IBM do comply with local laws across the globe, this was later to be contradicted by they/them’s push to get as many gender neutral loos in place as possible across the globe, which clashes at least with UK Equality Law. Gender neutral loos are now available in most places in Europe, but the US was proving more difficult.  IBM also operates in Saudi Arabia and the Russia Federation – wonder if the LGBT policies hold good there too? Curiously this thorny topic was never broached.

Preparation for the IBMer

On the other hand, the person ‘transitioning’ gets one-to-one advice on how to go about changing their name (does not need to be a legal name change), advice on how to communicate their news and access to the totally private slack channel within the company, communicating on which can give them as much time as they need to get used to their new identity and name in a safe space. The HR department can also match people up to a trans mentor to help them.

Interestingly, linguistically the manager was always ‘the manager’ and the trans employee was always ‘the IBMer’.

The responsibility of the team

After the manager is aware and the trans person is ready to be known more widely as ‘trans’, then the team can be told. It sounds like most chose to do this via an email informing their team of their new identity and preferred pronouns, with a brief message about it, but of course some chose to do face-to-face, or over the phone, or however. Apparently it’s up to them to choose the timing and the method.

After the employee makes this declaration, the team are subject to an immediate training session and are informed that they are to be ‘educated’ in response to the person’s declaration. They/them stressed the most important thing was that the trans person must lead this process and if they need to change their timeline at any moment then the company must accommodate that.

The team’s training is 45 minutes long and has four parts. They/them told us that they inform the team on the background and statistics for the trans community (part 1), and although this was ‘harrowing’, it was necessary and was in no way an attempt to undermine ‘trans joy’ (God forbid). The team are then educated on terminology (part 2) and micro aggressions/ do’s and don’ts (part 3) and then finally ‘open discussion and questions’ – rather negated by parts 1, 2 and 3.

The person ‘transitioning’ does not attend this training session with the team and nor did it sound like they have to undergo any separate mandatory training. So basically the policy is a recipe for cooking up longstanding grudges, where a single individual forces colleagues (perhaps a large team) into taking training they may not want nor need. That’s the kind of support you wouldn’t want from either perspective.

The importance of pronouns

Staff have received guidance from the CEO that people should include pronouns in their email signature, so not quite an instruction, but still an overreach in my opinion.

Staff can enter their pronouns on a database which filters down through to HR to be captured. Exciting stuff.


Trans and non-binary people were maligned in the media and therefore this presented a danger. There was too much focus on medical transition, and they/them wanted to make clear that a non-medical transition was every bit as valid. Her main concern that a team may shy away from a trans or non-binary team member and will continue to regularly check up on the person and the team to ensure that things are working well. The manager will be educated to spot micro aggressions (e.g. ‘I had to do a training session when I had a deadline’).

Question and Answer Session

What happens if a company doesn’t believe these policies are important because it doesn’t think there are any trans employees?

Well they’re obviously wrong because we’re everywhere! If they don’t have any policy in place it puts huge stress on the first person who comes out. Also, organisations hate bad press and the trans community can call them out of social media! (The eternal cry of the social justice warrior.)

People are much more productive when they are their authentic selves (which must mean working overtime to a tight deadline is therefore counterproductive).

Do you have a template email for ‘coming out’?

No, ‘coming out’ as trans is so deeply personal it would not be possible to produce such a template, however the recommendation was to keep it short and include name change and pronouns.

How can pressure be taken off the trans employee?

The HR person responsible for this area should be available for advise at all times and should act as an intermediary. Gendered Intelligence has some great resources.

How do busy managers/team find the time for the extra education?

They/them has never had an issue with this before. It is up to the manager to own the situation.

How has COVID and homeworking affected the situation?

Many people had come out over the past year, because of the opportunity for long reflection. It has also been easier for people to make the ‘transition’ to their new identity from the safety of Zoom calls.

Do you have specific advice on how to support non-binary staff?

Some non-binary colleagues had decided that they didn’t want their team to go through forced re-education and this prompted they/them to get the policy re-reviewed specifically by non-binary people. Very few changes were made.

They/them was itching to comment on ‘general rules about inclusive language at organisations’ and this meant people using the pronouns his or her. They/them will always message someone after a meeting if they/them has heard someone use his or her in a conversation, and say ‘hey, that’s not actually a very inclusive phrase, as not everyone uses his or her as pronouns, some people use they or zee, or any other pronouns’. I imagine everyone just hits delete without replying.

What is the age range of the colleagues coming out? I assume it is the Early Professional age range.

They/them pretended it was across the board, before admitting it was mainly the younger lot.

How do you get senior management buy in?

The LGBT network has a sponsor who can take issues direct to the board (this is the Stonewall model). They/them also noted that executives were typically competitive and they could be bribed into thinking they needed to partake. It was also good to draw direct comparisons to similar corporate entities and ‘outdo’ them.

In the UK did people view being trans or non-binary simply as a political stance?

Yes, they bloody well did! The last 3-4 years has been horrendous and it was all the fault of someone (i.e. Maria Miller) who shined a light on something she should have bloody well shut up about (strong paraphrasing from me here, but I’m sure this is what was meant).

They/them said that bring visibility to trans people can only be done if there is a similar level of support available, otherwise you are putting people in danger (not specified).

The webinar has been posted to youtube.

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One comment

  1. This is nothing short of the cult mental that has been seen before so many times. Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot and others used the same tactics to force education on others to destroy dissent. Disgusting brain washing .

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