In an ideal world, every person on the planet would be able to live their life fully, authentically, and equally. Unfortunately, some laws laid down by government and norms traditionally accepted by society make the world we live in a place where some individuals feel unable to live as their true, unedited selves. The fight to be treated equally is a battle the transgender community engages in daily, particularly in a political climate where some legislators attempt to strip away rights that directly affect them.
Here at Simple, we are keeping a close eye on the global discussion around transgender equality, and take a firm stance on how we believe transgender employees and customers deserve to be treated. In light of recent political events, we felt it was the right time to share how we’re working toward a more inclusive world for our employees and customers, while acknowledging how much work still needs to be done.
In Simple’s home state, The Oregon Equality Act (2008) protects against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. Specifically, individuals cannot be discriminated against on the basis of dress, appearance, manner, or speech, even if that expression differs from traditionally-held beliefs on an individual’s assigned sex at birth. When it comes to bathroom use, individuals must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their expressed gender.
Oregon, along with 14 other states such as California, New York, Illinois and Minnesota, is considered progressive in terms of laws that benefit the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. As for federal law, there is currently no legislation that federally protects against discrimination based on gender identity.
What’s in a name?
Gender transition is not just a physical process—there are a lot of logistical elements that go into becoming one’s true self. Institutions like Simple require individuals to provide documentation that supports their new name and gender, but can take into account that transitioning to a new name takes time.
Let’s say Simon W is a Simple customer. Simon W’s identity is verified during sign-up, including documentation that verifies Simon’s name. If Simon W transitions to become Sarah W, Sarah has to send documents to support this change. As this transition happens, Simple has the ability to accept checks under both names; much like when a person marries and changes their last name. There is, however, a reasonable expectation that all checks should be made out to the new name in time, and customers need to work towards checks being addressed correctly as promptly as possible.
At Simple, we try to find inclusivity opportunities beyond the regulatory requirements. One example of this can be seen in our chat and phone call interactions with our customers, where we endeavor to address them in a way that’s most comfortable for them. On the interface used by Simple agents, gender is not stipulated, and customers are encouraged to enter a preferred name on the interface they see to help agents know how to address them over the phone.
“It’s important that we offer this to customers because it lets both of us engage in a more human relationship,” says our Customer Relations Education Lead, Naps. “With a mission like ‘Helping people feel more confident with their money,’ the first step is helping people feel confident in us. If we can show customers that we value their identity, which is inherently tied to their story, we can make bigger steps toward positively affecting their lives. Language can have such a huge effect, and that preferred name field is a small thing we can do to make a big difference.”
Using the right voice
When a transgender individual calls an institution such as a bank, they often run into issues, such as accusations of fraud if the person receiving the call does not believe the voice they’re speaking to matches the name—or the recorded gender—on the account they’re viewing. Banks have even been sued for denying service to transgender customers who have been denied access to their accounts.
During the process of training staff who will answer chats and calls, the Customer Relations Education Team is taught to listen with care, particularly if the person on the phone doesn’t seem to match what we would expect. However, as with all matters of inclusivity, Naps says there is work to do in order to create a culture where all customers can feel respected by agents.
“Unfortunately, it has definitely happened that we’ve flagged an account when a customer’s voice didn’t match up with their name,” says Naps. “With the groups of new hires coming in this year, our training will be a lot more involved and in-depth. This time, we’ll go into detail about why respecting gender identity is so important to us culturally, and what we can try to do to step up.”
Prior to 2016, Simple had a benefit that allowed transgender individuals to be reimbursed up to $7500 each calendar year for medically necessary transition-related care. Unhappy with the limitations of this plan, Simple’s benefits team worked hard to extend the 2016 benefit package to include medical coverage for psychotherapy, ongoing hormone replacement therapy, laboratory testing, and a range of surgical procedures.
People Operations Analyst Lee says that this important benefit extension came out of the desire to serve the company’s transgender community better. “We believe that everyone who works here should be able to show up to work as who they are, and as a company, we want to give everyone access to the services they need in order to do this. We are working toward giving everyone the opportunity to be 100% authentic, and allowing access to these benefits is key.”
Operations Engineer Miah says that this extension of services is a big step for Simple, but she also hopes for a world in which other services are covered.
“Adding surgeries as a benefit this year has made me very happy, but if we take a look at other tech companies that deal with trans insurance, they have good coverage for other procedures—facial surgeries, voice surgeries, and others. Big companies like Facebook and Google cover a lot of provisions. We should look to expand in these areas.”
Gender neutral restrooms
Simple is moving to a new, purpose-built space in a little over a month, and part of the construction of this building has involved the construction of gender-neutral bathrooms.
The decision to install these single-use, gender-neutral bathrooms is just the first step—the new space’s shared bathrooms will have no urinals, only stalls. Chief People Officer Reini says that conversation grew out of a larger conversation about inclusivity in recruiting, which raised the questions—are we building an inclusive workplace? Where are our blind spots? And what can we do better?
“There were people who were uncomfortable with our current bathroom setup, and decision-making flowed from there,” says Reini. “We haven’t made a decision on what we’re doing with the stalls yet, but it was important that we decided upon this stall-only set up in the construction phase. This way, we get to choose how we evolve once we’re in the space.”
Reini also points out that the decision to move to a stall-only model with some single-use bathrooms was one that benefits the entire community. “It’s important that individuals be able to use a bathroom that matches their gender identity, but the new model also, for example, benefits women who might have their four-year-old son visiting the office. It’s a comfort measure that will benefit all of us.”
The ideal inclusive workplace
Data Engineer Allison is clear in her idea of what the perfect trans-inclusive workplace looks like. “For me, it would be a place where identity isn’t an issue; where no one has to worry if people are going to ask invasive questions, be they cisgender, transgender, or otherwise. This ideal place also has inclusive healthcare, which is not currently legally mandated.”
Allison has been fortunate enough to have employers who accept her for who she is, and is thankful for the welcoming atmosphere extended to her by not only Simple, but her previous employer, too.
“At the job I transitioned at, there were a couple of incidents, but overall my experience was really good. At Simple, I don’t think that I’ve been misgendered a single time. I also know that the People Team has been working for years on inclusive healthcare, and I can have whatever level of open discussion about being trans I feel comfortable with.”
Operations Engineer Miah agrees. “I think we’re doing pretty amazing. At my old job, as far as I was aware, I was the only transgender person. Here, as far as I’m aware, I’m one of about eight transgender employees, and we’re not even at 300 employees yet, so clearly we’re doing something in the right way to attract so many diverse people.“
On the road to full inclusivity at Simple, there is much work to be done—from large-scale diversity projects, to small gestures that make employees feel good, such as allowing custom profile fields on Slack, or ensuring all staff provide gender pronouns on the staff member website.
Miah says, “Creating a diversity program that is introduced during the first week new employees start at Simple would be a great addition. We’re already doing a good job of respecting our LGBT employees, but I think it’s important to teach new employees about LGBT diversity, and how to respect us.”
For Allison, the next steps Simple can take involve Simple customers, and the wider community.
“We need to ensure that we’re not just there for the celebratory events like Pride, which is an easy and expected time to show solidarity,” she says. “There are groups out there we could fundraise for and donate to, we can focus our recruiting efforts more on trans-inclusivity across all departments, and we can step up our efforts to do everything we can for our customers. We need to find ways to turn outwards, and help trans people who aren’t lucky enough to work here, or even bank here.”
And while this work is going on, both Allison and Miah point to another blind spot—one that affects the entire tech industry, and proves that the work to build an inclusive workplace is far from over.
Allison says, “We can also work to improve inclusivity on other axes, such as improving inclusivity for people of color.”
Chief People Officer Reini says, “We are always finding ways to understand each other and learn. As soon as we work hard to improve inclusivity on one angle, another one opens up that needs to be improved; and the better we do, the harder it gets. But this is what we’ve signed up for, because the work to improve inclusivity is never done.”