“When do I disclose my pronouns during a job search?:” Transgender and Non-binary folks discuss navigating the workforce

Unemployment in the United States reached a high of 14.7 percent this April, a greater increase than those seen during the Great Recession. Interestingly enough, April’s unemployment rate was lower than the unemployment rate for transgender and non-binary folk prior to the COVID-induced recession.

Transgender and non-binary people had an unemployment rate of 16 percent in 2017, three times greater than the national average at the time.

WMU alumni, Joan Conte, started a job search during the COVID-19 pandemic after moving to Portland, Oregan. Along with worrying about resumes and interviews, Conte  encountered some anxiety about how to disclose their preference for they/them pronouns in a job search.  

“I'm afraid to use my pronouns because what if they choose not to hire me, to discriminate against me? I don't want to cause any issues but I also want to be brave and stand up for the rights of more than myself. I'm so conflicted,” Conte said in a Facebook post on October 29.

Conte was caught between wanting to be their authentic self, and wanting to be accepted by an employer. They sought guidance by posing this question to their Facebook followers: “At what point in the employment process should I disclose my pronouns?” 

 

Joan Conte, they/them/theirs

Joan Conte they/them/theirs

 

Unemployment rates in every state reached highs this April greater than those seen during the Great Recession, according to the Congressional Research Service. At its highest, this was 14.7 percent country-wide. 

Nearly fifteen percent. This number reflects the pain and frustration of millions of US Americans losing their jobs. Interestingly enough, April’s unemployment rate was lower than the unemployment rate for transgender and non-binary folk prior to the COVID-induced recession. 

Transgender and non-binary people had an unemployment rate of 16 percent in 2017, three times greater than the national average at the time, according to CivicScience. 

As quarantine shut-downs continue, so does the job hunt for many unemployed adults. For those who identify as transgender or gender non-binary, this process has always included another element of anxiety not experienced by cis-gender folks. On top of worrying about having a clean resume and getting references in order, transgender and non-binary individuals need to consider how and when to disclose pronouns, expressing gender identity, and the inclusivity of a potential employer. In the face of all this, the COVID-19 pandemic just adds one more hurdle to the process.

Chris Mattix would rate their difficulty finding a job during the pandemic as an eight out of ten; one for each month they spent looking for a job while the pandemic was raging on. Mattix is a WMU alumni with a degree in history and minor in communication, and goes by they/them pronouns.  Mattix was working a part-time job at Biggby Coffee before the pandemic, but was let go in the first stages of quarantine.

 

Chris Mattix, they/them/theirs

Chris Mattix, they/them/theirs

 

Chris Mattix has tried disclosing pronouns in multiple ways, but now recommends being out as soon as possible. Previous to this year, Mattix’s pronouns were something that would come up after they were hired. This year, Mattix has gotten bolder by putting pronouns right on their resume and Linkedin.

“The shift came in the last couple years as my work has become more explicitly queer,” Mattix said. 

Mattix runs a page called the Queer Historian, where they educate their followers on LGBTQ+ history, often in their drag persona, Pam from HR.

“If that’s on my resume there is no point in not putting my pronouns,” Mattix said.

According to Nathan Nguyen, executive director of the WMU Office of LBGT Student Services, it's not always as simple as being bold like Mattix. Financial stability could play a factor in deciding whether or not to disclose pronouns. Transgender folks are disproportionately represented in areas of poverty. Nearly 30 percent of transgender folks live in poverty, according to the Williams Institute.

Nathan Nguyen, he/him/his

Nathan Nguyen, he/him/his

 

Some states may give transgender and non-binary folks more reason to hide their pronouns than others. Nguyen says that only 22 states so far have protections of sexual orientation and gender identity in both the public and private sector. Michigan is not one of them.

For transgender and non-binary people, sometimes the choice is between affording rent and disclosing pronouns/identity. Those with a financial safety-net have the freedom to be more selective about finding inclusive employers. Those without that security have to take what they can get. 

However, Nguyen says the decision to sacrifice being upfront about your identity for financial security can be hurtful long-term.

“It's a lot having to hide a part of yourself: Not being allowed to talk about your family life, or your partner, or have photos of your family in your cubicle,” Nguyen said. 

Along with pronouns, Mattix says navigating gender expression in the workplace is something to consider. Though everyone’s experience is different, Mattix says their time working in food service included making compromises on how to express themself. Though Mattix generally prefers to wear a full face of makeup, they were unable to do so while working in food service.

“In those places, I honestly just end up presenting male,” Mattix said.

Dealing with a high volume of people at work meant that Mattix was addressed with incorrect pronouns often. Considering the effort it would take to correct all those people, usually Mattix just chose to ignore it.

Even in that environment, Mattix found ways to feel like themself. Mattix would wear wacky earrings to work, and customers loved seeing what they would wear next.

Mattix’s experience is just one example. Gender expression is also something to think about when preparing for a job interview. It's difficult to anticipate how authentically ‘you’ to be when it is unclear how inclusive a potential employer is. To avoid giving job applicants added stress, Nguyen suggests a few ways for employers to show their support for transgender and non-binary identities in the workplace.

“Make sure that nondiscrimination policies include gender identity and expression and that the language is inclusive,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen says inclusive language means deleting outdated phrases that don’t leave any room for non-binary identities, like “he or she,” instead of “individuals.” This also includes making sure that gender norms aren’t enforced in the company dress code, by not attributing items like makeup, jewelry, or certain clothing items to one sex. 

Normalizing sharing pronouns is another important step to make. It is becoming more common to see pronouns in email signatures. The next step, says Nguyen, is to normalize pronouns on company name tags and business cards, and during in-person introductions. 

Making changes like those listed above could help decrease job search anxiety for transgender and nonbinary identities, Nguyen said.

“You don’t know who is listening,” Nguyen said. “When someone is listening and they hear that someone is introducing themselves with pronouns, or enforcing pronouns, this lets them know it’s a safe space.”