Career Development of Transgender and Gender Diverse People

17/01/2022

Robin C Ladwig (They/Them) is a PhD Candidate at the University of Canberra. Robin's research looks at the work experiences and career development of trans and gender diverse individuals concerning organisational structure and workplace culture in Australia. Robin is keen to combine their academic research interest with practical change to increase inclusivity and equity aspects of diversity management.

Career coaching an individual of a marginalised group is a balancing act between specific considerations for the group and individual as well as the avoidance of othering through alienation. I am researching the work experiences and career development of transgender and gender diverse (TGD) individuals in Australia. The bottom line is that most TGD individuals want to contribute to society, be included in an engaging workplace, and thrive in a profession or occupation that speaks to their skills, interests, and passions. Unfortunately, social norms like cis-normative gender binarism and systemic or organisational structures hinder TGD people from pursuing their career aspirations or even gaining employment.

In this blog post, I explain what transgender and gender diversity mean. As well as cis-normative gender binarism and how it leads to barriers for TGD individuals’ career development, and what you as a career practitioner might be able to implement to empower TGD individuals along their journey.

TGD individuals represent a heterogeneous group of various gender identities. A birth certificate states a person's assigned sex at birth – female, male, or intersex1. If a person identifies with the gender that aligns with their sex assigned at birth then they are characterised as cisgender. When a person identifies as the opposite gender to their assigned sex at birth, with more than one gender, either including the gender binary of woman/man or beyond, such as non-binary or with no gender at all, they might be described as transgender or a gender diverse person.

Some gender diverse or gender non-conforming folks reject the label transgender for themselves which is why it is important not to jump to conclusions about ones’ gender identity. Likewise, trans women and trans men are not always keen to share their transgender experiences by outing themselves as a trans person, especially when they conform with gender-normative representations – commonly known as passing. Passing is a sociological term for interactional strategies to hide stigmatised characteristics or identities from others. It is sometimes necessary for TGD people to resort to these strategies, especially considering that TGD individuals experience a high level of discrimination, prejudice, exclusion, and violence.


Gender Identity Pride Flags indicate a (non-exhaustive) range of gender identities currently in use. Source: https://georgianpapers.com/2018/02/05/gender-georgian-papers/ 

Discrimination, stigmatisation, and exclusion against TGD individuals can be found in the occupational and organisational context, having a tremendous impact on career development. The unemployment rates for trans women, trans men, and non-binary people are twice as high compared to cisgender women or men. Many TGD people are underemployed as they might be unable to apply for qualified jobs due to documentation issues or they have been overlooked for promotion while employed.

These forms of discrimination and exclusion are based on cis-normative gender binarism. Cis-normativity describes the assumption that people’s gender identity corresponds with their sex assigned at birth, and gender binarism entails the prediction of seemingly stable oppositions of female and male. Both social norms deny the existence of TGD identities or discriminate against TGD individuals on basis of stigmatisation and prejudice.

One common stigma concerns mental health, as it is assumed the majority of TGD individuals struggle with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and suicide. While the number of mental health problems is significantly higher within the TGD community, it should be stressed that their gender-diverse identities are not the primary cause. These high numbers are due to the consequences and implications of cis-normative gender binarism on the lived experiences of TGD people, such as being denied employment.

For the occupational and professional contexts, it could include - barriers of occupational segregation and stereotypes, double standards of behaviour and achievements, oppressive workplace climate, discriminatory evaluation practices, lack of mentors or exclusion from professional networks, burdensome shadow jobs, inequality of distribution of resources, educational discrimination, as well as violence and harassment.

Interestingly, one reason for TGD individuals to change their occupation or profession after gender affirmation is not only to decrease the risk of discrimination but due to growing awareness of their interests and personal values. For their career development, this means a possible career change on their resume or picking up education in another field of interest. Therefore, it becomes vital to explore TGD persons’ interests and values to seek the right occupation and organisation for them.

This important alignment of personal values and interests is supported by career development theories such as Holland’s (1959,1997) personality theory of career and the work adjustment theory by Dawis and Lofquist (1984). The formation of a TGD persons’ vocational self-concept is influenced by their integration and awareness of gender identity, including the level of social acceptance in the occupational environment. Consequently, career development support could analyse interpersonal conditions, intrapersonal factors, organisational and systemic issues, as well as logistics and planning. It could also include constructive discussions about career decision-making self-efficacy.

The engagement with a career development practitioner is versatile, but in all instances, an awareness of transgender and gender diversity can improve the relationship between the professional and the TGD person. One of the biggest enablers for TGD individuals is social support, which increases resilience and the prospect of pursuing their career aspiration. Education about TGD matters is one of the first steps to increase positive social support.

A prominent issue exists around documentation and data collection. If TGD individuals have taken legal gender affirmation steps, such as changing their name, their deadname often appears on certificates and previous documentation. They could be hesitant to provide references as they are known with their deadname at the previous work. Hence, TGD people might hold back this information or be unwilling to share it with upcoming job opportunities to avoid a forced outing of their TGD identity. This could be especially crucial for trans women and trans men who pass with their gender expression according to cis-normative gender binary norms.

While there are many more specific enablers and barriers for TGD individuals to pursue their career development, I would like to leave you with some general recommendations about allyship that are more timeless as aspects of transgender and gender diversity fluctuate:

Be kind

  • Be kind to the people but also yourself
  • It is ok to make mistakes - apologise, correct yourself and move on
  • We can all learn together

Be reflective

  • Reflect on your own assumptions, beliefs, and even identity
  • Consider the inclusivity of your language, methods, or systems
  • You don’t know what you don’t know

Be proactive

  • Find a medium that suits you to learn more about transgender and gender diversity
  • Be a visible ally by presenting trans or rainbow flags, stickers, buttons, pins, backgrounds, or include pronouns, etc.
  • Exercise and apply what you learned such as the use of gender-diverse pronouns or gender-inclusive language

1. Intersex people have innate sex characteristics that don’t fit medical and social norms for female or male bodies, and that create risks or experiences of stigma, discrimination and harm. Definition and further information can be accessed at Intersex Human Rights Australia (https://ihra.org.au/18106/what-is-intersex/

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