Public works introduces government’s 1st transgender workplace guide

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One of the largest federal government departments has become the first federal institution in Canada to draft a guide to accommodating transgender employees.

Public Services and Procurement Canada was to unveil the guide today at a gathering of employees in Gatineau, Que., across the river from the Parliament buildings, during an event carried live on Facebook.

CBC News obtained a document outlining the new Support for Trans Employees: A Guide for Employees and Managers, through an Access to Information request.

The guide is a resource for managers that is a “one-stop place where we can provide everything you needed to know with bit of direction,” Donna Achimov, assistant deputy minister of the human resources branch, said in an interview with CBC News.

The guide describes pratices designed to assist employees who have transitioned or are in the process of doing so.

It also touches on how much information employees should share after they’ve completed the transition and are ready to return to work.

Setting out roles and responsibilities

Such an approach would have helped Kate Hart, a transgender woman who helped the department develop the guide, in large part by sharing her personal story and the challenges she faced working for another arm of government back in 2008, Passport Canada.

Hart, with the help of her union, used what she calls a “top-down” approach in which the union contacted the Passport Canada’s CEO, who then worked with lower-level managers to make her return to work as smooth as possible.

“We spent six months figuring out how we were going to do this because there was nothing in the human resources guidelines,” she said in an interview with CBC News, recalling the length of time it took to devise a strategy.

Kate Hart

Kate Hart remembers being ‘scared shitless’ during her transition as a frontline worker and hopes the guide she helped develop will help others. (Submitted/Facebook)

Now it sets out the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved, ranging from bosses who must “nurture diversity and an inclusive and respectful workplace” and are expected to “communicate openly and respectfully” in a workplace free from “harassment, discrimination and violence.”

A welcome development

This was the kind of policy that Eliot Waddingham also wishes was in place during a university internship with Public Works, which later become Public Services and Procurement Canada.

Waddingham, who identifies as non-binary transgender, which means identifying as neither male nor female, remembers trying to alter key bits of personal information such as an email address, and being unable to do so. “It did not feel good, but I understood where [the managers] were coming from.”

Waddingham, who is now the education coordinator for the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, says the guide’s language about the formal steps to take in order to formalize the change in name and gender is a welcome development.

For instance, changing an email address in the department takes a few steps: “Go to the front page of the Source and type your name in ‘Find an employee’… Follow the instructions to make a change request to change your email address and submit it.”

A signal to new recruits

Although Public Services and Procurement Canada is the first federal department or agency to institute such a guide, the department hopes others will follow.

“It wasn’t so much the rush to be first,” said Achimov. “We put a lot of effort in this department in terms of diversity and inclusion…and hopefully, it will be a signal to new recruits that people will want to come and work here because we do have a very open and inclusive workplace.”

Hart was hoping for this kind of signal. She remembers being “scared shitless” working as a frontline officer issuing new passports. But she “never had a negative reaction at the counter.”

Service Canada has taken over the passport office. Hart said she’d like to see her department adopt a similar policy and plans to take it to her human resources department.

The Canadian Armed Forces implemented a policy for dealing with trans members in 2011. In an emailed statement to CBC News, senior communications adviser Jessica Lamirande said that policy is “under review in order to update terminology” and to “assist supervisors in providing support to transgender members.”

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Public works introduces government’s 1st transgender workplace guide

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