Supporting Transgender People

Transgender people and other gender minorities face particular challenges in STEMM workplaces. Transgender people often experience marginalisation in education and employment and high levels of social and economic disadvantage. They may also have significant career gaps because of time out for transition, and/or they may have difficulty presenting their full career history in the strongest manner possible, or obtaining referees from former positions, because of issues of confidentiality, privacy and/or discrimination arising from gender transitions.

Transgender people often experience silencing and marginalisation in employment contexts. They can also be subject to micro-aggressions such as inappropriate language and “jokes”, misgendering (being addressed by names or pronouns other than their preferred names or pronouns), direct discrimination and abuse. The cumulative affect of these experiences can have debilitating effects on mental health, well being and career progression.

What do we mean by transgender?
Transgender is an umbrella term incorporating a range of different identities and histories. Transgender people includes people who live fully as one gender, people who move between genders in different aspects of their lives, people who have undertaken medical gender transitions, including hormones and surgery, and people who have not. It includes people who identify as women, men, transgender women, transgender men, non-binary gender, gender fluid, and with a range of other gender identities and experiences. The term trans or trans* is often used as an adjective to include both transgender and transsexual people (people who have medically transitioned to a new gender).

Analysis of support for transgender people for the Athena SWAN Bronze Award

The Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional Award application asks institutions to review existing policies, practices and programs with the aim of laying a solid foundation for supporting transgender staff and students.

Attention to the needs of transgender staff and students in STEMM should be incorporated throughout the application, as well as being addressed in depth in Section 6 “Supporting Transgender People”. Specific issues facing gender minorities beyond transgender experience, including intersex experience, can be addressed further under intersectionality.

The application does not require quantitative data on transgender staff. If, following consultation with transgender staff, students and advocacy groups, the institution decides to collect data on transgender identity, robust consideration must be given to anonymity, confidentiality, data protection and secure storage. It should be noted that many people who have undertaken gender transition identify as women and men and do not wish for their histories of gender transition to be known or recorded. Even very inclusive, careful and robust data collection processes are therefore likely to undercount the number of people who have experienced gender transition.

Institutions are asked to consider in their submission:

  1. Current policy and practice
  2. Monitoring
  3. Further work

Current policy and practice

The Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional application asks institutions to review whether existing gender equity policies support transgender staff.

Section 6(i) “Provide details of the policies and practices in place to ensure that staff are not discriminated against on the basis of being transgender, including tackling inappropriate and/or negative attitudes.”
Institutional policies and practices

Institutions should consider how existing policies and practices support transgender staff and prevent discrimination. Areas to consider might include:

  • How existing anti-discrimination, anti-harassment and bullying policies address the needs of transgender staff
  • Incorporating transgender awareness and gender diversity training into gender equity training strategies, including for institutional leaders, line managers and staff members in general
  • Presentations and facilitated discussions fostering transgender awareness and inclusive practices
  • Specific policies and awareness-raising addressing inappropriate language, including deliberate misgendering  of transgender staff (being addressed by names or pronouns other than their preferred name/pronouns)
  • Adopting gender-inclusive language in policies, programs and documentation, for example using phrases such as “all genders” rather than “men and women”; using gender inclusive pronouns such as “they” rather than “he/she”
  • Examining whether existing policies, programs and practices may inadvertently disadvantage transgender people in STEMM, such as expectations within promotions policies and practices around linear career progression or lack of flexibility around unaccounted for gaps in CVs or documents
Policies on record-keeping

Specific consideration could be given to how institutional records on gender, gender history, names and other identifying features are collected, altered and retained. Best practice in this area gives staff members and students control over how their data is recorded and stored, and allows for excising of previous identifying data from all systems.

Institutions could consider:

  • Introducing streamlined processes for changing gender on documents and records without requiring elaborate or intrusive forms of ‘proof’
  • Options for not recording gender and for non-binary genders to be recorded on the records of current and former staff and students
  • Strict processes for maintaining confidentiality such as:
    • complete removal of all old records and record histories that contain outdated name and gender information
    • policies supporting a single point of contact who is the only person aware of the change of name, gender and/or other identifying records
Tips for collection of gender-related data on surveys and forms

The manner in which gender-related data is collected in institutions is not only important for accuracy of records, but can also send important messages around inclusion and awareness of transgender staff and students, as well as other gender minorities.

  • While it is often necessary to collect data on gender, including for gender equity purposes, institutions should give careful consideration in reviewing their policies, programs and practices, to whether and when it is important to collect gender related data, when it is not, and if it is, to how this is best done
  • This includes both data collection for institutional activities and in an institution’s research activities

Where data on gender is collected, careful attention should be given to the inclusiveness of this process, in particular:

  • Surveys and other data collection processes that specify only options for “male” or “female” are exclusive of people who do not identify within these gender categories
  • Forms that specify only options for “male”, “female” or “other” can marginalise those who do not fit the first two categories and do not wish to identify as “other”; in many cases this may also reduce accuracy, as cisgender people who do not wish to have their gender specified may choose the third category
  • There are a wide range of gender identities and labels in common currency; because of this many transgender groups encourage freeform options for people to write in their gender identity. This can work particularly well for data-sets where manual or semi-automated coding is a viable option
  • Where the decision is made that data collection processes on gender will involve menu lists, it is more useful, accurate and inclusive to include a wider range of choices
  • Common options include “woman”, “man”, “trans woman”, “trans man”, “gender fluid”, “gender queer”, “bigender”, “multigender”, “non-binary gender”, “agender”, “a gender not listed here”, “prefer not to say”; however, appropriate terms should be developed in consultation with staff, students and/or internal and external support groups
  • Consideration should be given to established distinctions whereby the terms “male”, “female” and “intersex” are generally associated with biological sex, while “man”, “woman”, “gender fluid” and other similar terms are associated with gender and gender identity
  • Data collection should be sensitive to the fact that many people who have undergone gender transition identify as woman or man and do not wish to have their transgender histories known or recorded
  • Using phrases such as “What gender do you identify as?” can send a positive message to all respondents that they are being asked to respond according to their own gender identity, and not feel pressure to respond according to perceived externally judged criteria that are not their own


The Athena SWAN Bronze Institutional application requires the development of methods that an institution will use to measure and enhance the experiences of transgender staff.

Section 6(ii) “Provide details of how the institution monitors the positive and/or negative impact of these policies and procedures, and acts on any findings.”
Consultation strategies

Consider how the institution will develop appropriate consultation strategies for evaluation and monitoring of policies and programs. This includes, wherever possible, consulting with transgender staff and students, networks, and/or with representative groups internally and externally who can offer expert advice. These groups may include

  • Transgender support and awareness organisations and networks
  • Gender diversity organisations and networks
  • LGBTQIA  organisations and networks
  • Ally organisations and networks

Further work

Athena SWAN requires an evaluation of how institutions will create an inclusive culture for transgender staff and students.

Section 6(iii) “Provide details of further initiatives that have been identified as necessary to ensure transgender people do not experience unfair treatment at the institution.”
Building an inclusive culture

Institutions could consider strategies to build a more inclusive culture, such as:

  • Inclusive messages in recruitment materials and institutional publicity
  • Giving prominence and recognition to the contributions of transgender people in STEMM
  • Institutional celebration of transgender events such as transgender awareness week
  • How transgender role models and symbols are incorporated in physical structures, websites, promotional material and other sites
  • Intersections with other aspects of identity, including ethnic and racial diversity and Indigeneity
Fostering careers of transgender staff and students

Consideration could be given here to how the institution intends to support the careers of transgender staff and students and foster their opportunities for advancement and leadership. This could include:

  • Initiatives designed to actively fostering transgender staff and students in STEMM, such as careful attention to mentoring, leadership training and career development of transgender staff and students
  • How transgender staff are valued and promoted in speaking and media opportunities, awards, publicity and other honours
  • Fostering and resourcing networks and organisations for transgender staff and allies
  • Representation of transgender staff on senior committees and in leadership roles
Support for staff and students undertaking gender transition

Consideration should be given to how the institution will support staff and students wishing to undertake social or medical gender transition.

Institutions could consider developing and promoting comprehensive policies outlining their support. Policies could consider:

  • Promotion of available leave arrangements for time out to undergo gender transition, and for extension of grants, funding, programs of study, periods of review and other time-sensitive practices to account for any career break required
  • Specific leave measures to support those requiring time out for gender transition
  • Consideration of appropriate handling of staff and student records regarding gender, name and other identity, and the need to maintain dignity and confidentiality
  • Promotion of extra support services available, such as counselling and mental health services if needed
  • How institutional contact will be arranged:
    • Consider how the institution will support staff to liaise with liaise with relevant areas of the institution, including with line managers, HR or student management areas and record-keeping areas.
    • Research in this area suggests the value of a single institutional point of contact before, during and after transition to reduce the stress arising from complex institutional processes and the need for the person undertaking transition to re-explain their situation to many people.
  • How communication with colleagues and work/study areas will be handled in consultation with the staff member or student concerned, including:
    • the timing, manner and language of communication with other staff regarding their transition, new name (if any) and gender pronouns
    • how they wish to be re-incorporated, for example with public acknowledgement or quietly
  • The institution may also wish to consider broader support around gender transition, including leave and/or counselling support for family members of people undertaking transition


Australian studies
International studies