Transgender ‘curriculum’ launched to help tech firms with diversity pr

Building on an effort to increase the ranks of transgender workers in the technology industry, a legal organisation is partnering with a prominent tech firm to advise companies on hiring and retaining transgender employees.

The move marks the next phase of an initiative led by the Transgender Law Centre, dubbed Transform Tech. An April summit launching the initiative mingled trans people and tech industry representatives.

Now the legal advocacy nonprofit, with financial backing from messaging service Slack, will work to craft a curriculum that would help tech companies accommodate a range of gender identities.

The idea grew out of being repeatedly approached by companies “who really want to do the right thing by employees but don’t know how,” said Ace Portis, director of development for the Transgender Law Centre. Guidelines that will be shared with businesses could encompass topics like bathroom usage, insurance coverage of transitional care and safeguards against unwittingly outing applicants, she said, estimating that around 30 companies have expressed interest.

The move toward greater inclusion comes amid a darkening climate for transgender advocates.

The Department of Justice in February reversed an Obama-era guidance allowing public school students to use the lavatory matching their gender identities. President Trump set off a backlash last week – and caught military officials off guard – by declaring in a Twitter message that he would prohibit transgender people from serving in the military “in any capacity.”

Against that backdrop, Ms Portis said, Slack approached them with a message that said “especially given everything that’s been in the news, we want to help”.

Allegations of pervasive sexism have also roiled the technology industry in recent months, fuelling the resignations of former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and investor Dave McClure. 

“The same notion that women are the liability in the workplace are the same reasons folks give for not hiring trans and gender non-conforming folks,” Ms Porter said.

But despite describing those struggles with diversity as “one of the ways tech is failing,” Ms Porter suggested the industry could function as a safe haven. “We’ve talked to trans folks who found refuge in tech,” she said, “who didn’t have to worry about what they looked like or sounded like.”

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