Trans inclusion in higher education workplaces

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2017 Higher Education Service Group Conference
8 November 2016

Conference welcomes the increasing numbers of trans members participating in UNISON’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) group and growing acceptance of trans equality as an issue that must be addressed in all workplaces.

However, Conference notes the recommendations of the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry into Transgender Equality, which found persistent and widespread discrimination and disadvantage. The Inquiry report, published early in 2016, singled out higher education, calling for all university staff to receive gender identity awareness training, for higher education institutions (HEIs) to take proactive steps to promote trans equality, including having a Transgender Champions scheme for their non-trans staff.

The report also judged the current protection provided by the Equality Act ‘outdated and confusing’ and called for the equality characteristic to be reframed from ‘gender reassignment’ to ‘gender identity’. This recommendation acknowledges that growing numbers of people identify with gender identities outside of or in addition to traditional concepts of the gender binary. Non-binary people are those who do not identify as either male or female, or who identify as both male and female, or who identify as something entirely different.

UNISON welcomes these recommendations. Conference endorses the call for HEIs to take proactive steps to promote trans equality and we call for workplace policies and procedures to be reviewed for unnecessary gendering and made gender neutral unless there is a good reason for them not to be.

Meanwhile, workplace discrimination remains all too common. The 2016 UNISON equality survey found that a quarter of the 4500 members responding had witnessed or experienced unfair discrimination in their workplace. Only a few more members reported this discrimination than the number who kept it to themselves. The reasons for not reporting were concern about being picked on or the issue not being taken seriously. A third of members had experienced a mental health issue triggered by work and a fifth had taken time off because of work related stress. For the trans only slice, a shocking two thirds of members had experienced or witnessed discrimination.

There were also some positive experiences reported. More than a quarter of all members responding said they are more likely to get involved with UNISON than a year ago. The figure for trans members was a very impressive 50%.

UNISON members’ experiences are backed up by Higher Education specific findings. In research published by the Equality Challenge Unit in 2009, 23% of trans staff reported that they had been denied a promotion due to their trans status.

Conference notes that Higher education workplace reps may not always feel confident addressing transphobia or supporting trans members. Conference therefore welcomes UNISON’s bargaining factsheet on trans workers equality and the separate guidance for reps supporting trans members, both of which are regularly updated.

Conference also notes that with increasing numbers of younger people identifying as trans and non-binary, numbers of trans students are likely to be higher than numbers of trans staff. The National Union of Students (NUS) and many students’ unions are developing good practice on trans inclusion and may be useful allies for UNISON branches.

Conference calls on the Higher Education Service Group executive to:

1. Promote UNISON’s trans workers rights guidance, urging branches to:

a) review agreements against the bargaining checklist;

b)check policies and procedures for unnecessary gendering; and

c)place these on the bargaining agenda;

2. Urge branches to take steps to brief all reps, using the UNISON guide for reps, so they are confident addressing trans equality;

3. Highlight to branches the activist resources available in UNISON’s regional LGBT groups and national trans network;

4. Support the call from the Women and Equalities Committee Inquiry for all higher education institutions to provide staff training, proactive steps to promote trans equality and a trans champions scheme, noting that student unions and the NUS are potential allies in this.