Large US employers, particularly tech companies, have been vocal advocates of transgender rights and acceptance in recent years. Beyond public statements and activism, however, these organizations are also looking at ways to make their HR policies more inclusive of their transgender employees. Fast Company’s Lydia Dishman observed recently that major companies are doing making more of an effort to be trans-inclusive, particularly in terms of ensuring that their benefit plans cover gender-affirming health care:
The Human Rights Campaign, a leading advocacy group, announced last year that over 450 major U.S. employers now have policies to support employees through the transitioning process. Separate research from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP) found that these numbers are inching up throughout the U.S. workforce. Twenty-two percent of the nearly 600 HR professionals surveyed said their health plans cover gender confirmation procedures, up from 8% in 2016; a quarter provide mental-health counseling pre- and/or post-surgery, up from 11% two years ago; and 24% cover prescription drug therapy, up from 9% over the same period.
However, these benefits are more likely to be found at large employers like Intel, with workforces in the tens of thousands, than at smaller ones; IFEBP found that only 10% of companies with fewer than 50 employees offer trans-friendly health benefits, up from 4% in 2016.
By way of example, Dishman looks at Intel, which introduced coverage for all gender confirmation procedures, following standards set by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), in 2016, with no maximum lifetime benefit; and Amazon, which began offering unlimited coverage for trans medical care in 2015. Starbucks announced late last month that it had updated its health insurance policy, with help from WPATH, to cover a wider range of procedures that insurers often label cosmetic and refuse to cover but that trans people and their health providers consider essential to their transition process:
Starbucks health insurance plans include not only gender reassignment surgery (which had been covered since 2012), but now also a host of procedures for transgender partners in the U.S. that were previously considered cosmetic, and therefore not covered, such as breast reduction or augmentation surgery, facial feminization, hair transplants and more.
“The approach was driven not just by the company’s desire to provide truly inclusive coverage, and by powerful conversations with transgender partners about how those benefits would allow them to truly be who they are,” said Ron Crawford, vice president of benefits at Starbucks. “It makes trans people feel like they are people,” said Buhrmester, “like they matter and their health matters.”
For these companies, trans-inclusive policies are an expression of organizational values and part of a broader effort to cultivate inclusive cultures. Such efforts return value to the business by making it a more attractive place for trans employees, other members of the LGBT community, and progressive, values-focused Millennials to work.
Of course, making trans employees feel safe, welcome, and included in the workplace requires more than health insurance coverage. Even if they work at progressive companies and are not subjected to outright bullying or harassment, trans employees still encounter difficult daily interactions with managers and co-workers who misgender them, violate their privacy, or just don’t know how to be supportive. In its UK offices, Amazon recently issued new guidance to help employees and managers be more inclusive of their trans colleagues, touching on issues like bathroom access, dress codes, and how to communicate about an employee’s transition. According to the Financial Times, these guidelines are similar to policies the company launched in the US last year, which it also plans to adopt in other countries.