Transgender individuals continue to face huge challenges in our society. These challenges often arise in their attempt to find and maintain a job. According to Trans Pulse, among transpersons in Ontario:
- 13% had been fired for being trans (another 15% were fired, and believed it might be because they were trans).
- Because they were trans, 18% were turned down for a job; another 32% suspected this was why they were turned down.
- Additionally, 17% declined a job they had applied for and were actually offered, because of the lack of a trans-positive and safe work environment.
Numerous studies have also shown that an alarmingly high percentage of trans individuals – particularly trans people of colour – experience various forms of discrimination and violence at work. Given these challenges, how can training enable individuals within an organization to collectively create an inclusive space for trans employees? I tried to answer this question for my practicum in Adult Training and Development at Schulich School of Management.
For this project, I wanted to explore how I can take a more human-centred approach to instructional design. This is an important area to explore, especially for the subject matter, because it shifts the strategy from being task-oriented to human-oriented. Emotions play a vital role in influencing behaviours. Without careful consideration of emotions, any design solution would fail to address the complexity of human interactions.
There is some debate on whether diversity and inclusion training works. Based on my analysis, I believe that in a trans inclusion context, training can play a key role if people lack the psychological capability and motivation to act effectively as allies. For instance, if a person doesn’t know the right language to use, they may make a poor decision to avoid experiencing psychological discomfort at the expense of another person’s sense of dignity. However, education and training alone cannot ‘fix’ organizational cultures or even change deep-rooted mindsets. It can only provide the foundational knowledge and skill and tools to build new ones. Change does not happen overnight; new behaviours are reinforced over time through action and shared goals.
This design project is aimed primarily at people who identify as cisgender (people whose gender corresponds to their sex assigned at birth). But since the design will have a direct impact on people who identify as trans, I treated them as a secondary audience. A program designed primarily for transgender people would require a different strategy since they have very specific needs. As I progressed in the project, communication – namely, the empathetic use of informed language – became a strong theme that runs throughout.
Below is a brief overview of my process.
I started this project by doing some preliminary research and gathering existing resources developed by reputable LGBTQ organizations. These resources provided data and insights that are representative of the diverse voices within the wider trans community. Next, I partnered with a trans rights organization that would support this project by providing the subject matter expertise to validate the concept. Biko Beauttah was generous enough to provide her knowledge and experience on trans issues at work.
Since cisgender individuals are the target group for this project, I had conversations with cisgender people to gain a better understanding of their perspectives and attitudes on this topic. Online communities provided rich insights on the many views held by both cis and trans individuals.
Sources include the following:
- 519 Creating Authentic Spaces (primary resource)
- Online communities on Reddit
- New York Times – Transgender Today
- Books: Amateur by Thomas Page McBee, Tomorrow Will Be Different by Sarah McBride
- Biko Beauttah of Trans Workforce, subject matter expert
- Cisgender people within my network
At this second stage, I initiated the pre-defined instructional design process. Drawing on the insights I had gathered, I performed the following:
- Set the context: Drew on real-world examples to create a fictitious scenario that will provide context for the design concept. Some contextual information the scenario provides includes organizational structure, culture, and demographics.
- Conduct goal analysis: Defined goals of the training for primary audience (cisgender employees) and secondary audience (trans employees).
- Define priority tasks for training: Prioritized tasks and categorized them as education components (knowledge-based) or training components (skill-based).
- Clarify constraint and learner profile: Created personas (cisgender individuals of different attitudes plus a trans man, trans woman, and non-binary person). Identified project constraints.
- Conduct task analysis: Identified all tasks and types of tasks. Defined all steps, stages or guidelines. Identified any hidden skills and knowledge required to perform these tasks.
- Define learning objectives and evaluation
- Application-level objectives
- Use trans-inclusive language promptly in various work-related interactions
- Act appropriately with an awareness of trans rights in various day-to-day work situations
- Build a unique plan for an employee who will undergo a transition on the job with the help of available resources (for managers only)
- Support an employee undergoing a transition in the workplace
- Create a more trans-inclusive environment, collectively
- Comprehension-level objectives
- Define trans-related terms
- Identify behaviour that supports or conflicts with company policy and the Human Rights Code
- Identify the numerous challenges trans people face in today’s society
- Explain how discrimination of trans people – and any other minority group – erodes the work culture
- Identify where and who employees can turn to for support in the workplace
- Application-level objectives
After defining the learning outcomes, I began by generating ideas for the training program: how can each component be delivered in an engaging, accessible way that will also meet the learning objectives? Then, I organized the ideas into a rough outline for the program. The outline helped me build a map of the learning journey.
The key tasks for this stage include the following:
- Select delivery channel(s): Chose appropriate method and technology based on user preferences.
- Create outline: Designed the overall program or learning journey plus the outline and script for one interactive scenario.
I divided the program into three parts:
- Education: Building foundation knowledge.
- Training: Developing skills with practice and feedback.
- Sustainment: Integrating knowledge and skills into the organizational culture.
At this stage, I chose to design a key component of the program: one of the three interactive scenarios. The scenario allows learners to practice their communication skills when engaging with a trans person within a specific context. Learners can take it before and/or after the skill-based modules – the former option allows learners to identify their existing biases and skill gaps, while the latter option allows them to assess their ability to apply what they’ve learned.
The scenario has the following learning objectives:
- Respond to a colleague coming out as trans in a respectful manner
- Choose the right actions to support a trans colleague in difficult situations
- Realize how our actions and attitudes towards trans people can affect the overall work environment
Prototyping involved the following tasks:
- Develop instructor learning materials: Designed a script for a branching scenario and created a prototype in Figma.
- Validate design and materials: Conducted user testing on a small sample of people who identify as either cisgender or trans. Collected feedback through online surveys, written communication, and verbal conversations.
Outcome and Reflection
As a queer, cisgender male, I actually came into this project with limited knowledge of what it’s like being trans. And while I’ve gained greater understanding through this project, I am still not an expert. My first exposure to transgender identities was through the film Boys Don’t Cry. As a teenager facing my own identity issues, it was one of the most powerful films I had seen, but it was also one of the most disturbing. What disturbed me most was how dangerous it can be for some individuals to live as their authentic selves in this world.
Years later, I’ve gained a bit more insight into the plight of those who are marginalized in society. Sadly, beneath the veil, much remains unchanged in the world. The identities we assume can be a great source of joy, but it can also bring about great suffering. Some people, like myself, can easily conceal our non-normative identities if we so choose to make our lives “easier.” Others, however, don’t have that privilege.
People ask me why I chose this topic, and I found that couldn’t provide a satisfying answer. Sometimes, I feel it chose me. But perhaps there is also some deeper, psychological need that it helped fulfill on a personal level.
I’ll end with an assessment of my work.
- Feedback from cisgender users was generally positive. Test users acknowledged that the scenario introduced new concepts to them, and actually helped them in their engagement with transgender people in real life after the exercise.
- Feedback from users who identify as trans were mixed. Some raised concerns about limited representation and how the exercise may be repurposed by people who are non-supporters.
- The concept demonstrated a possible approach to trans inclusion training that could serve as a prototype for a more refined, tailored solution for individual organizations.
- Program design drew from insights gathered by recognized organizations within the LGBTQ community.
- The design revealed the opportunities and limits of training to help create a trans-inclusive workplace.
Opportunities for improvement
- Greater participation throughout the design process by a committee of cisgender and trans stakeholders would have provided more in-depth feedback.
- During the initial research, I would have liked to have gotten into deeper conversations with more cisgender individuals on how they believe they would interact with a trans person in different situations. Gaining more insights through conversation would allow me to identify more ability blockers.
- When seeking feedback, provide some greater context for test users by showing them how the prototype of the interactive scenario fits within the overall program. Doing so would address some of their immediate concerns.
- When prototyping the scenario, start with a text-based branching tool to fine-tune the script to read more naturally.
- Training alone isn’t enough to create a trans-inclusive organization. It may be beneficial to identify specific areas that the organization can address through other channels.
- In a real-world scenario, it would be necessary to devise a marketing plan to roll out this training program.