Amsterdam – Divers & Inclusive regularly speaks to experts in the field. This time, we spoke to Petra van Dijk: Amsterdam native, job coach and transgender activist. In her daily work, Petra counsels trans workers and job seekers.

Every employee drops out for short or long periods of time due to illness, pregnancy, informal care, overwork, burnout, you name it. In that respect, a transgender employee is not very special!

Can you tell us something about transgender employees? For example, how long does a transition process take and what does an employer need to consider?

A transition process can take from two to as long as five years. It depends on what the person himself wants, discovers during the process, whether or not he uses hormones or wants an operation. So as far as working is concerned, a transition does not have to mean that the employee drops out: it varies greatly from person to person and is also negotiable and accommodating. And well, every employee drops out for short or long periods because of illness, pregnancy, informal care, overwork, burnout, you name it. In that respect, a transgender employee is not very special!

You mentor transgender people at their (new) job. How does that work?

When a trans person works at a social enterprise, things often go well. Such a company is used to employing and supervising people with a distance to the labour market, people who need some extra attention because of more limited physical and/or psychological capabilities. Sometimes, however, even such a company knows nothing about transgender people. They have heard of them or may know someone, but do not have a trans employee (as far as they know). When employer and the prospective new employee get acquainted, being transgender does come up in the conversation and then it turns out that it need not mean a substantive problem for the work itself.

What is your role in such a journey or introduction?

As a job coach by experience, I have to prepare such a conversation well with my client. What helps is that as a trans woman and job coach myself, I support my clients and can thus build a bridge between both parties. If necessary, I sometimes talk about my own process and work at the time to break the ice. Recently, one of my clients started working for a company that has a lot of experience with people at a distance from the labour market. That went well! And recently, after years on welfare, a client found a nice volunteer job, which opened up new perspectives to look for paid work with the municipal customer manager. Those are trajectories I am most proud of. But I also have a client who does experience problems within a company that, let’s put it this way, is not very cooperative with the transition process. Indeed, sometimes an employer wants the trans person to take leave for the medical treatment(s). But unfortunately, hospital visits cannot always be scheduled in one’s own free time. This is where I have a mediating role.

Do you have any tips or advice for companies looking for transgender employees?

An employer, I think, should not specifically look for a transgender employee, but focus first on the job content and the match between employee and employer. The fact that the employee is trans is a side issue. What an employer does need to do is make sure that groups that are still underrepresented at the company feel welcome to apply. Indeed, by not making it explicitly clear that everyone is welcome, a company leaves labour potential untapped. One needs to pay close attention to a number of aspects here:

  • Check the appearance on the website: (gender-inclusive) texts, photos, etc.
  • Include a statement clearly stating that everyone is welcome at your company and invite specific groups to apply!
  • Provide an application process that puts diversity first.
  • Provide a diversity policy and have it assessed by independent experts. Actively promote this policy throughout the organisation and set a good example!
  • As management, support (the formation of) networks, e.g. of migrants, women, LGBT+ etc. Be present at the meetings of those networks.
  • Show in your policy what you do against bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination. Spread this info throughout the organisation and discuss it with new employees.
  • Talk to your employees, ask if and what is going on, what you can do to support them. Employees (and employers) are not robots, they bring their identities to work. Personal problems or worries also affect work. And happy employees perform better and are sick less often.

Amsterdam has a reputation for being an open and tolerant city when it comes to the position of LGBT+. How do you view this and what do we as a city still have to learn?

If you look at the number of violent incidents towards gay men and women, drag queens and transgender women, you know that Amsterdam, too, still has work to do. Fortunately, there are many good parties and (interest-based) organisations working on behalf of transgender people. People and companies can go there if they have questions. General interest organisations are Transvisie and Trans United. TransAmsterdam focuses specifically on Amsterdam.

Then there is Trans Werkt, an initiative of reintegration agency Coach Connect and recognised by UWV, Transgender Network Netherlands and Transvision. For specific support on (finding) work, people can contact Trans Werkt Nederland or Petra van Dijk, via her own website.

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