Over the years conversations on employment have run the gamut; from hiring trends to the wage gap between men and women. In recent years these discussions have included the LGBTQ community in a multitude of ways. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic changes the landscape of just about every facet of our lives, employment hasn’t escaped its reach. During the last two years, we’ve watched businesses close, rebound, break ground and restructure all in the interest of safety mandates and the fall out COVID-19 infection rates has produced. 

But what about marginalized communities?  As you might imagine, for those who have historically faced challenges and barriers in the employment sector, COVID-19 has once again altered the landscape. Sometimes this is a good thing and at other times, not so much. One thing is clear, for some folks, identity, not COVID, has seemingly been the greatest obstacle to finding gainful and rewarding employment. 

For the Transgender community, much of what many of us take for granted creates stressors that can often feel insurmountable. Imagine showing up for a job interview, filling out an application and feeling as though “you’ve got it in the bag” until the Human Resources department asks you to provide your identification. 

Most of us don’t give that process a second thought. Our sex and gender correspond and we don’t have to appeal to anyone at the Department of Vital Records or the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to change our sex or so that all our documents match and line up with our identities. For many of our Transgender friends, family and community members however, depending on where they are in their journey of transition, this can be daunting. 

In Charlotte, organizations like Transcend Charlotte and There’s Still Hope offer help to Trans jobseekers with the provision of such services as wig and personal undergarment fittings, resume writing, interviewing assistance and job leads. Clearly the outlook is improving, but there’s still so much work to be done and many barriers to address.

Thankfully, as we progress as a human race and evolve to keep up with ever changing technology, there are more options for employment than in years passed. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, ecommerce was already taking off quite nicely. Following the presence of COVID they have soared. According to DigitalCommerce360.com, online sales hit $791.70 billion in 2020, up 32.4 percent from $598.02 billion in the prior year – the highest annual online sales growth of any year for which data is available. 

Granted, Amazon purchases counted for more than half of all U.S. ecommerce but the other 50 percent wasn’t completed made up of local retail chains. This means small business and the employees that keep them running are part of the mix as well – offering opportunities for those who prefer to work remotely or from home. 

The COVID-19 crisis has spawned more work at home job opportunities than ever. Many brick and mortar companies now offer hybrid or full remote working opportunities. This can be a real blessing for anyone seeking to avoid the oppressive gazes and discriminatory behavior many Transgender people experience. Outside of companies that have only recently jumped on the “work from home bandwagon” other opportunities exist as well. Technology has allowed for growth in the entrepreneurial realm as well. For those looking for an open door – a recent article in Business News Daily offered a list of 22 internet-based startups that included occupations such as Social Media Consultant, Web Designer, Resume and Cover Letter Writer, Virtual Assistant, Remote Tech Support, Tutor, and Handmade Craft Seller, among others. 

For Transgender jobseekers still faced with some of the obstacles in-person interviews and employment present, there’s hopeful news regarding the handling of discrimination in the workplace. 

Attorney Connie Vetter is a practicing lawyer based in the Charlotte Metro area. Of the burdensome challenge the Trans community often faces in finding employment, Vetter said, “the Bostock vs. Clayton County Supreme Court decision was a game changer. In that decision, sexual orientation and gender identity are protected classes [applying to every employer with 15 or more employees]. It doesn’t mean that you won’t get fired, because people are still going to discriminate, unfortunately, but it means that there is legal recourse if it happens.  

“To have the Supreme Court uphold that is huge. It’s a statement like the marriage decision – in some respects it’s validity of who we are to exist as our true and authentic selves.”  

And exist authentically we must, though it is frequently easier said than done. Ideally, our employers would assist in affirming such authenticity, and sometimes they do. 

Gina Duncan is a self-employed trainer and consultant. She’s also an openly transgender advocate who has worked for others in the past. 

Duncan worked for Wells Fargo for 30 years in the field of Mortgage Banking. Seven years in, she made the transition to living as her authentic self. Easing the process was her place of employment. 

While sharing her journey with QNotes, she explained how it all began. “I went to my boss, the divisional manager, sat down with him over a martini, told him I was Trans and that I loved my job.” 

According to Duncan, her supervisor replied with exactly what he should have said:

 “I need to know more about this and will talk to H.R. but know two important things, you are a very valuable part of our management team and … we will support you in your journey.”  

And so, the journey began. 

Wells Fargo’s DEI Swat Team (aka the Diversity and Inclusion Transition Specialist Team) has the job of training, educating and communicating with staff on matters of Transgender transitioning. Duncan is enthusiastic about how supportive the team was during her transition. 

“Two days later [after breaking the news to her boss] a woman from the San Francisco Human Resources Department called to say ‘You will be the seventeenth person who has transitioned that we have supported.’ I thought I was something special but to Wells Fargo and the DEI Department I was chop liver [no big deal].”

In support of Duncan, Wells Fargo orchestrated a massive conference call which began with recalling and reaffirming the company’s mission of inclusion. 

While she recounted her experienced, Duncan recalled, “I remember feeling so free and unencumbered, such a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.” 

She also offered a few words of advice. 

“In today’s current corporate environment, transgender Americans can do research to truly understand the diversity and inclusion of a company,” Duncan explains. “Look at their non-discrimination policy: does it include gender identity and expression as a protected class? Do forms contain affirming language and expanded gender options?”

How diversity is shown on marketing materials offers a window into a company’s culture.  Peeking through those windows can offer us a glimpse into whether or not an environment is a welcoming, affirming safe space. That’s a definite necessity for those of us who just want to be ourselves!