By Christopher Cook
In one Ontario study, 18% of gender-diverse participants believed they had been passed over for a job, and 13% reported being fired, due to discrimination based on their gender expression (Bauer et al., 2011). Over half of the gender minority participants surveyed by Lombardi, Wilchins, Priesing, and Malouf (2002) experienced verbal harassment at work related to gender. Though gender-diverse individuals may seek career counselling for common career-related questions, the above study results illustrate that these individuals also face unique challenges in the workplace.
The term transgender is frequently used in career counselling literature as an umbrella term for individuals who identify as independent from, or move between, the traditional male-female gender categories. Gender queer, gender warrior, gender variant, and gender nonconforming are just some of the identities often grouped under the term transgender (Sangganjanavanich & Headley, 2013). In an effort to better capture the range and number of possible gender identities, this paper will employ the umbrella term gender-diverse (Winter, 2012). Before proceeding, a distinction must be made between gender identity, biological sex, and gender expression. Gender identity, the gender that individuals recognize and attribute to themselves, may or may not align with their biological sex (Carroll, Gilroy, & Ryan, 2002). Gender expression is the public presentation of a gender identity (O’Neil, McWhirter, & Cerezo 2008). A confident understanding of the above terms, and other language relating to gender diversity, is essential for career counsellors working with gender minorities (O’Neil et al., 2008).
Career Counselling and Gender Diversity: Unique Workplace Challenges
Gender-diverse discrimination in the workplace manifests in many ways, from whispers between coworkers, to company policies that ignore gender-diverse concerns, to actual physical violence (Sangganjanavanich & Cavazos, 2010). Researchers have suggested that discrimination may be related to high unemployment and underemployment rates experienced by gender minorities (Bauer et al., 2011). Those individuals who are employed may face a mixture of acceptance and prejudice within the same workplace (Budge, Tebbe, & Howard, 2010). Furthermore, some may experience increased levels of discrimination depending on other identities, for example, a gender-diverse individual who also identifies as an ethnic minority (Sangganjanavanich & Cavazos, 2010).
In an article exploring career challenges faced by gender minorities, Budge et al. (2010) define transitioning as “the process of identifying” as gender-diverse (p. 378), and Sangganjanavanich and Headley (2013) emphasizes the “unique challenges resulting from gender [expression] transition” at work (p. 356). Career counsellors should be aware of the realities of physically transitioning, including health care expenses and common treatment lengths, and consider how these realities may impact individuals’ lives and work (O’Neil et al., 2008). However, counsellors should not assume that gender expression transitioning involves physical changes for all clients (Budge et al., 2010). While some individuals identifying as gender-diverse may be interested in surgical and/or hormonal transitioning, others may desire name and pronoun changes only, and still others may not be interested in publicly expressing their gender identity at work. Career counsellors are advised to discover what transitioning means for each client individually (Budge et al., 2010).
Considering the above, discrimination and transitioning present clear work-related challenges for gender-diverse individuals. It is essential that future research explores career issues experienced by gender minorities throughout their lives (Burnes et al., 2010), and while continuing to investigate unique challenges, also considers strengths related to gender-diversity and careers.
Christopher Cook is a graduate student in the Counselling Psychology MA program at The University of British Columbia (UBC), interested exploring career counselling, gender diversity, and sexual diversity. Chris spent the greater part of the past ten years as an actor and playwright, and is eager to spend the next few years bridging his experience as a theatre artist with his education as a counsellor.
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