Shawn Lim
Jun 24, 2024

Do trans people in adland get the workplace support they need?

Coming out as a trans person can be scary for individuals who seek to live as themselves. We speak to two trans people at OMG about what a supportive office environment should look like, the importance of policy, and allyship from colleagues.

L-R: Nadya Rzeya and Fenn Aldred
L-R: Nadya Rzeya and Fenn Aldred

In Asia Pacific, the LGBTQIA+ community, especially transgender people, face discrimination that impacts nearly every facet of their lives, forcing them to conceal their identities and live in fear daily.  

Such discrimination hinders their access to education, professional training, healthcare, and social services. Stigmatising and inaccurate legal documents limit their freedom of movement. Cultural and religious factors, along with criminalisation, further contribute to the challenges they face. 

These challenges make it difficult for trans people to secure and retain meaningful employment, as they constantly face prejudice and the threat of violence.  

According to Ipsos’ LGBT+ Pride Report 2024, 71% of people in Thailand, 67% in Singapore, 69% in South Korea and 42% in Japan agree that trans people faced a great deal of discrimination. Meanwhile, 89% of people in Thailand, 82% in Australia, 73% in Singapore, 65% in Japan and 62% in South Korea want transgender people to be protected from discrimination in the workplace. 

So, how are agencies helping their staff who identify as trans or are transitioning? Campaign speaks to Fenn Aldred, a media assistant in the Diverse team at OMG Australia, and Nadya Rzeya, a junior accountant at OMG Singapore. 

Inclusive workplace policies

In Campaign’s Agency Report Cards 2023, we found that there were few initiatives or programmes designed for trans people in agencies. An exception was Omnicom Media Group, which developed a Gender Transition Toolkit in 2023, addressing the personal journey of gender transition.  

The toolkit ensures all team members feel valued, respected, and supported, and aids the agency’s HR leaders in implementing processes and protocols for people transitioning or having done so.  

OMG has also taken steps to address the more practical aspects of gender transition in the workplace, such as restroom facilities, by adopting Omnicom Group's gender transition process policies and tailoring them to the needs of markets like Australia and Singapore.  

In the Ipsos’ LGBT+ Pride Report 2024, most people believe trans people should be allowed to use single-sex facilities—these include 82% of people in Thailand, 53% in Singapore, and 51% in Australia. In South Korea and Japan, only 44% and 43%, respectively, agree. 

Aldred, who is in his third year of taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT), recalls he was able to access gender-affirming care leave to recover from his top surgery in December 2023. When he initially approached his managers about the possibility, no questions were asked and it was written into the policy almost overnight.  

He says coming out has been exciting, revealing more allies than initially expected, and fostering greater compassion among colleagues. Experiencing the privilege of being treated like a white man has been jarring at times for Aldred, but this has heightened awareness within the agency of the responsibility to uplift and create space for women, people of color, and other queer individuals. 

“My co-workers and all of the management have been incredibly supportive. They ask valuable questions where appropriate and are willing and open to learning more about my experiences and stories from my community,” says Aldred. 

“We have hosted two to three trans-related events in Melbourne and invited some incredible members of my community to talk and present information about trans 101s. I have felt immense support from everyone in the business, from people I work with directly to the co-CEOs of OMD.” 

Meanwhile, Rzeya says before transitioning, she was quiet, timid, and introverted. Now, she says she is confident and embraces the phrase ‘I am a woman; hear me roar’. 

“I am no longer afraid to face challenges head-on, voice my opinions on the work that I am handling, and correct peers on the misinformation they have on transgenderism and queerness issues,” explains Rezya, who adds that accurate knowledge is powerful. 

Rain Khoo, a trans man who transitioned during his time as design director at P&G Asia and now runs his consultancy, Dignité Brands, tells Campaign that OMG's policies and practices are consistent with best practices of trans inclusion, such as gender-affirming healthcare, confidentiality of dead names, an open culture, and management that is supportive of their staff’s chosen identities. 

“Some of the top tech companies competing for top talent, and that's not just LGBTQ+ talent, are covering gender-affirming healthcare, which includes surgical revisions as the results of a major surgery can have various complications,” says Khoo.   

“For persons undergoing major feminising bottom surgeries, while some companies have provided insurance coverage, many do not consider that the recovery period takes three to six months. A supportive work culture and appropriate policies are required. Many trans women have had to leave their jobs to undertake surgery and face further issues or even face discrimination when trying to re-enter the workplace.” 

Impact of inclusive representation on agency’s culture and clients

Inclusion is about recognising diversity and ensuring that every person gets to sit at the table as equals, even when it requires more time and effort to hold space and make space for such an experience.  

Being visibly trans in his workplace has allowed Aldred to have genuine interactions with others–from people coming out to him privately to having cisgender and straight coworkers telling him stories of their allyship after getting to know Aldred and understanding more of the community through him. 

“Trans representation is so significant. It gives a person a face to the topic of discussions around us,” explains Aldred. 

“For many people, it dispels plenty of misinformation about trans people because they can say, ‘Oh, I know Fenn. He’s trans, and he’s not a bad person!’ or ‘I know Fenn, he’s not scary like they’re making trans people out to be; he’s just a person like anyone else’.” 

Aldred continues: “It allows for conversations and internal thoughts about what gender even is. It benefits everyone to remove the ideals of gender norms and strict guidelines around who should be doing what because of their assigned gender.” 

Rzeya notes having visible trans representation within agencies would show clients and stakeholders that agencies have the queer community in mind when creating ads or campaigns that might represent the community, thus sending the message that agencies are inclusive. 

“In a way, we are also telling the queer community that we accept diverse talents and that they should not be afraid to come out and showcase their skills,” explains Rzeya. 

How agencies can elevate support for trans employees

Some ways agencies can offer their trans employees support is by asking questions respectfully to understand individual needs, including pronouns in emails to avoid forcing anyone to out themselves, and hosting trans speakers with the respect they deserve.  

It also means addressing inappropriate comments and behaviors, which can be daunting but is essential to prevent complicity in such actions. While being trans may appear brave, true bravery for allies lies in speaking up and standing by the sides of trans individuals unapologetically. 

Aldred emphasises that effort is key. Agencies that implement even the minimum measures demonstrate that trans people are not an afterthought, ensuring their safety and allowing them to exist and thrive. 

“Every trans person is different, but realistically, we just need acceptance and understanding. I can’t speak on the experiences of trans women, everyone who is non-binary, or even all trans men,” explains Aldred. “Our community is small but intersectional; you must converse with your employees and meet their needs.” 

Rzeya advises agencies to believe and listen to the challenges transgender individuals face, particularly two to three years into HRT when hormonal imbalances and mood swings are common. 

She also urges agency leaders not to make assumptions and encourage asking politely if unsure about the trans individual. 

“The trans individual is more often than not willing to share, provided it does not overstep boundaries,” says Rzeya. 

HOW AGENCIES CAN OFFER SUPPORT TO TRANS EMPLOYEES
 

• Ensuring that name and gender markers can be shown company-wide in their chosen name and the gender they identify with. You can have legal names for payroll purposes.  

• Allow people to choose the bathroom they feel comfortable using  

• Make sure that there are sanitary bins in the men’s rooms. Trans men still have functioning reproductive systems and still need access to the appropriate facilities without feeling like they are invading spaces for women/feeling dysphoric about using the women’s restrooms. 

• Be kind around medical leave. For example, early in Aldred’s transition, he had complications with an infection from his first shot, which is uncommon and was linked to the technique of the person doing the injection. He needed to attend multiple appointments to have this sorted out. For his top surgery, he had to attend multiple appointments with the surgeon, the GP, psychiatrists, and financial bodies to organise payments, and it was stressful. But what was most helpful for Aldred was knowing that his team had his back and understood what he was going through. 

• Allow space for mental health leave. Transitioning can be challenging, and the early journey is not always fun. Allow space for trans employees to take a mental health day when they are feeling dysphoric and give them space to rest so they can come back better tomorrow. 

• Do not ask about their deadname. If you know their old name, do not use it as it is no longer who they are; to use it is to dismiss who they are now and always have been. Don’t ask what they looked like previously. Don’t tell others you know they’re trans, regardless if they’re open or not. It is their identity to share with others, and unless they have specifically said you are allowed to, it’s not your place to share that piece of themselves with others as you do not know if they will feel safe. 

 

Source:
Campaign Asia

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