By Lauren Kramer
Creating a diverse, equal and inclusive culture in the workplace is something that many companies promise but few are able to fully deliver, particularly when it comes to the inclusion of members of the LGBTQ community. In the kitchen — as in many other environments and workplaces — there’s much room for improvement, and it can only truly be accomplished with education.
That’s the message from Vanessa Sheridan, a transgender consultant, speaker and author of “The Complete Guide to Transgender in the Workplace.” Sheridan has spent the past three decades consulting with organizations across the country and notes
that workplaces in general tend to fester with microaggressions toward people who are different. Cumulatively, these can have a devastating effect over time.
“Sometimes people are simply unaware of the need to be professional to those who are different,” Sheridan says, “while other times they’re ignorant of the harm they’re causing, and for some, it’s that they’re simply mean-spirited.”
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines microaggression as “a comment or action that
subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority).”
According to Sheridan, microaggressions can take a variety of forms, from calling someone the wrong name to using the wrong pronouns, using slurs or even withholding information that person needs to get the job done. “When this kind of behavior is done purposefully and continuously over time, it takes an emotional and psychological toll and creates a hostile environment,” she says. “That’s why training is so important, to teach organizations and their people to be respectful and professional. If everyone would just focus on that, it would eliminate a lot of problems.”
Calling a transgender individual “it” is simply dehumanizing, Sheridan says. “People don’t have a sexual choice, they have an orientation. And they don’t choose their gender identity, they simply recognize what it is and act on it.” The phrase “transgender lifestyle” is also erroneous. “There’s no discernable lifestyle that exists, just millions of transgender people living their lives.”
A diverse workplace is a flourishing environment where a wide variety of perspectives and worldviews come to the table, she adds. “The view from the margins is always more interesting than the view from the center. In a diverse, inclusive environment, the pool of breakthrough ideas widens, and it becomes easier to create fresh new products and services. That’s one of the reasons I encourage every organization to think about diversifying as much as possible.”
Sadly, the reality is that many transgender people deal with negativity and disparagement on a regular basis at work — and that’s if they can find work. “The unemployment rate for the transgender community is at least twice the national average, and it’s even more if you’re a trans person of color,” Sheridan says. “Unemployment and underemployment are major problems, and I think the foodservice industry needs to be aware of that.”
“Transgender people are certainly capable and able to provide excellent contributions if given the opportunity,” she reflects. “The problem is getting the opportunity, which starts with the hiring process. We need to educate hiring managers about the importance of looking into the trans community
as a potential source for employment and to create conduits between the business community and the trans community.”
Awareness that a problem exists is the first step to addressing that problem and creating a solution, which often involves staff training. “We need top management in an organization to simply say, ‘We don’t tolerate discrimination, harassment or bullying in our workplace, and if you’re found doing that, we’ll take steps to manage it, up to terminating the employment,’” Sheridan says.
This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of National Culinary Review. Click here to download the issue.