Workplaces around Aotearoa are addressing the need to support their gender-diverse staff by introducing special leave and new guidelines.
One of the latest to show solidarity is supermarket chain Foodstuffs, which has introduced policies offering extra leave, up to $1000 for legal expenses for a formal name or gender change and $500 towards clothing or cosmetics.
Lorena Talagi, Rainbow Tick Kāhui Tū Kaha acting programme director, said they had seen an increase in organisations registering for accreditation, with growth across a range of sectors.
About 95 workplaces in New Zealand have Rainbow Tick certification, which involves organisations having trans-affirmative policies in place.
Christchurch resident Kashmiri Devi Sharma said supportive workplaces made a huge difference for gender-diverse people.
Sharma, who is planning to study film next year, used to work in retail and said transitioning while in a customer service role had been a challenge.
“Mostly with customers because they can be abusive and depending on which manager is on duty you are treated better or ignored,” she said. “The retail store did not have a policy per se, I just had a good manager.”
However the most recent job Sharma had was at social housing service Emerge Aotearoa in Hamilton, which she described as a supportive environment where she did not feel “pressured” to hide who she was.
“They had policies in place, and although I had transitioned physically my dead name was still showing on official documents.
“[But] my colleagues at Emerge never used that name. They used Kashmiri. It made a huge difference. I felt accepted.
“Because at the retail store, my pay slip showed my dead name, which was very hard to see.”
Sharma said having a supportive employer meant a lot.
“When you are transitioning you need to take leave to go to voice therapy, to get your hormones, and even after you have transitioned, you need support because it can be hard on your mental wellbeing.”
A policy to support
Foodstuffs NZ is one major employer in New Zealand increasingly focused on providing a safe and inclusive workplace for all of its more than 39,000 staff.
Head of public relations Emma Wooster said the supermarket co-ops in both the North and South islands had gender-affirming policies for their support centre and supply chain employees - “we are a really diverse workforce”.
“We want everyone in our Foodies whānau to feel included and have the right level of support for them to be their best and true selves at work.”
“New World, Pak’nSave and Four Square stores are owner-operated, and each store is provided with guidelines to support a diverse and inclusive workplace and culture in their stores, including for team members reaffirming their gender.”
Foodstuffs North Island got its Rainbow Tick in May and in September put policy in place to support employees going through a gender transition.
The package included four weeks of special leave and two weeks of unpaid leave, a one-off voucher of $500 to go towards wardrobe or cosmetic expenses, up to $1000 for legal expenses regarding a formal name or gender change and counselling via Clearhead for up to two years.
Foodstuffs South Island was working towards becoming Rainbow Tick accredited in 2023 and also supported employees transitioning or reaffirming their gender, Wooster said.
“Acknowledging this process is a deeply personal one and every experience is different, the co-op works with the individual to provide the support that suits their needs.
“Special leave is one of the options that may be offered to support team members through their transition.”
The supermarket giant is among a growing number of companies offering support for transgender staff.
In May, Countdown announced two weeks of paid leave for any employee affirming their gender.
In total, employees could take four weeks of extra leave to affirm their gender - two weeks paid and two unpaid - on top of normal leave.
Last month New Zealand Media and Entertainment, which publishes the Herald, introduced a gender identity and transition policy for staff.
It involved regular training across the business to improve understanding around gender identity, and guidelines for staff transitioning themselves - including leave allowances and ongoing support available from NZME, as well as counselling services.
NZME Diversity Committee Rainbow Pou leader Patrick Halpin-Witt said the company believed a diverse workforce was essential to deliver its strategic objectives and to meet its responsibilities to its people, audiences, communities, customers and shareholders.
“A key part of this is supporting gender equity and diversity throughout our business.
“We want people who have transitioned genders or who express their identity in non-traditional ways to find NZME a welcoming place to be where they can freely be themselves as they go about their work.
“We’ve introduced a new policy to ensure our entire NZME team recognises the need to treat all gender identities and expressions with respect and inclusivity and provided further guidelines on gender identity and transition in our workplace.”
‘I found acceptance’
After facing a lack of support in her home country and being turned down for multiple jobs, Air New Zealand flight attendant Ashley Gracez told the Herald she had finally found a workplace that treated her as “an equal”.
That positive experience had boosted her performance and landed her a promotion.
Gracez left Fiji because of difficulties with her family, she said.
“I came here [to New Zealand] in 2019 from a broken family in Fiji. I had no support there.
“I moved and began my transitioning journey. It was difficult in the beginning but soon I found acceptance.”
After working in customer service for more than seven years, Gracez became interested in a career as a flight attendant.
“Whenever I flew with Air New Zealand, the flight attendants greeted me with a smile. It made me want to work for an airline.”
Gracez applied for roles at six airlines, but each time her application would be declined at the interview stage.
“I felt there might have been discrimination because of my gender identity, because why else would I not qualify? I have many years of experience in customer service.”
Gracez said she felt accepted at Air NZ and would be joining the airline’s long-haul team next year.
“I started there in February and I am treated the same as everyone else. My managers are there for me when I need them.
“I am very grateful I have been given this opportunity within just months of working there.
“I want to be a role model for my community and show others that they can also achieve their goals.”
Air New Zealand chief people officer Nikki Dines said customers and staff being themselves was a priority for the airline.
“We strive to have an organisation that is representative of Aotearoa’s culture and diversity, and we have a mission to tautoko [support] employees and customers who are part of the Rainbow community.
“We have also introduced several tools to help raise awareness around inclusivity, including a best-practice guide for serving non-binary, transgender or gender-transitioning customers, and guidelines to support transgender and gender-transitioning employees, to help our people and customers feel safe and welcome.”
‘A huge step for the community’
In early October, Fletcher Building introduced 10 days of paid Gender Affirmation Leave and Transitioning at Work Guidelines to support its employees.
Jacob Hassan, customer service representative at Dimond Roofing, which is part of the Fletcher Steel group, told the Herald he was amazed when he heard about the new leave and guidelines at his work.
“I think it is a huge step for the community.”
He said it was great to have an option separate from medical and annual leave should he need time off in terms of transitioning, such as for regular medical appointments which were sometimes scheduled during work hours.
“It is a good backup option if I need leave for anything to do with transitioning.”
His previous workplaces didn’t have such policies, he said.
“Never heard of LGBTIQ+ initiatives like this before.
“It is really great to see it there when you apply for any leave, you can see that option available. It shows everyone this is a supportive workplace.”
Hassan said workplaces could also support staff by having “gender-neutral bathrooms and uniforms”.
“It makes it a lot less stressful for someone who is in the early phase of transition - it can be hard and scary to pick which bathroom to use or to change bathrooms.
“There could also be either one uniform for all or no restriction on who can wear which uniform items.”
Open to change
The willingness to change comes after a 2018 Counting Ourselves survey report revealed up to 74 per cent of trans and non-binary people did not feel comfortable revealing their identity at work.
Almost three-quarters of the survey participants had hidden that they were trans or non-binary because they feared discrimination.
“This is understandable, as many participants reported negative experiences when co-workers were aware of their gender,” the report said.
“For over a quarter of participants, employers or co-workers had inappropriately shared personal information. Almost one in five quit a job because of how they were treated as a trans or non-binary person.”
Kahukura Consultancy provides policy review, competency and literacy training to support businesses that want to do better for their LGBTQ+ staff members and clients.
Director Scout Barbour-Evans said they were noticing a willingness from employers to address the needs of gender-diverse staff.
“They are understanding that while they can do one training course, it is actually important to be culturally competent and to show cultural humility as a lifelong thing.
“We have people come to us who provide great support to their trans, non-binary or rainbow-identifying staff but there was still more to learn and develop on.”
Barbour-Evans said trans and non-binary populations experienced a high level of discrimination.
“There are a lot of workplaces where trans and non-binary people do not feel that they can even disclose their identity without being asked difficult questions.
“And for these employers, the first step is to be able to hear someone disclose something about their identity without jumping in and making it all about them or asking a lot of invasive questions.”
One of the key things that the training Kahukura provided was going back to basics.
“How you respond to someone sharing that information, how you go out and find knowledge about that information without the labour and stress being put on trans and non-binary individuals disclosing it. That’s the first step.”
Barbour-Evans said they wanted to see further progress in the next Counting Ourselves survey report due next year.
“I definitely think there has been some improvement and we hope we will see that.”