- James Barnes, known as “The Trans Coach”, trains employers on creating an inclusive workplace.
- Barnes works with real estate agents and businesses, including Comcast and Zendesk.
- He said health care, open dialogues and company policies are keys to transgender inclusion.
James Barnes and his wife were looking for a new home five years ago when he realized there was a lack of LGBTQ representation in the real estate industry.
As they toured homes and met with sellers, Barnes wondered if he should come out as transgender, if he would be discriminated against, or if he should reveal that he had already changed his name. This uncertainty sparked a business idea for Barnes.
“My goal was to train 10 local real estate agents within a year,” he said, adding that he wanted to create an educational program on best practices for working with and among trans colleagues and clients. Thirteen months later, he offered his first training and 30 people showed up.
Today, he still works with real estate agents, but has expanded his services into DEI training with major companies, including Comcast and Zendesk, and has adopted the nickname “The Trans Coach” on social media. Since initially launching his business as a side hustle in May 2021, he’s gone full-time and logged nearly $30,000 in sales. But part of that success stems from recent adversity: As of this year, 28 states have introduced anti-LGTBQ bills that would affect trans people’s working lives, like where they can use the bathroom.
His training workshops cover everything from empathetic language to equitable health care. He tells stories of his time working in a call centre, saying: “Everyone knew me as the person I was before, I didn’t know which bathroom I could use and everything felt awkward. .” And they include inclusive benefits information so employees don’t have to fight as hard as he does for access to the best surgery and other necessary healthcare options.
Insider spoke with Barnes about the importance of addressing these issues, his training techniques, and how entrepreneurs can create an inclusive workplace.
Comprehensive health care is a necessary step towards inclusion
One of the most pressing issues is the lack of diversity in health care, including insurance-covered upper or lower surgery, necessary hormones and post-operative recovery time, Barnes said. He advises companies to offer health care plans that meet each of these needs – providing the highest health care plan they can afford – and to discuss details with insurers. and employees.
Once a solid healthcare plan is established, companies should create clear resource pages for employees to fully understand their options. Explicit answers and guidelines can ensure employees don’t have to ask private questions or engage in conversations they’re not comfortable having in public, he said. .
Mental health is another major factor in the well-being of trans people: therapists, counselors and other mental health professionals should be easily accessible through employee policies. But if a small business doesn’t have the financial resources to provide healthcare plans, founders still need to create supportive policies related to the transition.
For example, the company should establish a simple, step-by-step plan for adjusting pronouns and changing names on badges and in email signatures. Providing timely updates to work settings would allow employees to feel secure in their identity, Barnes said.
Build working relationships on open dialogue
The hiring process can isolate many trans people due to fear of discrimination, misunderstanding, or the need to explain their sensitive story, Barnes said. This makes interviews and onboarding the perfect time to establish a supportive relationship.
Founders and hiring managers should start each interview by sharing their names and pronouns with the interviewee.
Even if you’re a cisgender founder — meaning you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth — sharing your pronouns invites supportive discussions and can help non-cisgender or non-binary interviewees feel connected. comfortable sharing their own identity.
Community and workplace guidelines should also make it clear that gender errors, dead names – using someone’s pre-transitioned name – or other forms of intolerance are against the company policy. Having a written statement addressing these issues helps members of the LGBTQ community and their allies feel empowered to speak out against discriminatory behavior, he said.
Investing in inclusion all year round
It’s important for companies to invest in inclusive policies for LGBTQ and other marginalized employees throughout the year, he said.
When employers hire Barnes to speak during Pride Month, it may seem like an extracurricular activity as opposed to a real push for inclusion, he added. Consultation sessions on diversity, equity and inclusion outside of celebration and commemoration months allow for a much more meaningful and lasting conversation, Barnes said.
“Awareness about the subject is not a Pride event,” he said, adding that to make diversity and inclusion part of the fabric of the company, founders need to invest in speakers, coaching and improvements throughout the year.