My husband sent me this text about our daughter while I was attending a luncheon at Davos 2019 on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) inclusion, sponsored by LGBTI advocacy organization GLAAD and the Ariadne Getty Foundation.
I had opened the luncheon by sharing my family’s journey parenting a 13-year-old transgender daughter, and our commitment to create a world where she is safe and accepted. On the same day, that daughter Jordyn was starting at a new school - a small, private one, because the anti-LGBTI culture in her public middle school had threatened her mental health.
My heart was melting as I thought about her getting on that school bus. I desperately wanted to text her words of support. But I knew a mother’s “you can do it” text would be met with scepticism. Fortunately, I had an ace up my sleeve.
One of Jordyn’s icons, social media superstar and transgender woman Gigi Gorgeous, was sitting a few seats away from me at the Davos luncheon. I asked Gigi to text my daughter while she was still on the bus. A few minutes later, instead of a disdainful response to a mother’s platitudes, Jordyn texted me “Omg omg omg, do I text her back?!” The magic of Davos in bringing global leaders together meant my daughter was off to a good start on her first day of school.
March 31 is International Day of Transgender Visibility, held annually to celebrate transgender people and call attention to the discrimination they face around the globe. This year, the day brings to mind the image of my daughter, waiting for her bus, fearful but determined. The image stayed with me as the luncheon in Davos continued. As the CEOs of Dow Chemical Company and Novartis were making the powerful case that any workforce of the future depended on supporting LGBTI employees, I thought of my two daughters.
Jordyn has known for a long time that she is a girl, though she was assigned the male sex when she was born. She has been validated as a girl by doctors, therapists, school officials and our family. My other 15-year-old daughter’s identity is gender expansive, meaning she defies cultural norms for gender, and she defines her sexuality as bi. These young women are the workforce of our future. They are brave, smart, and resilient.
They deserve schools where they can thrive, and workplaces where they can excel. Any organization would be lucky to have them, as they add immense value precisely because of who they are and the experiences they have had. But when my children join the workforce in a few years, it won't be ready for them - unless global business steps up for LGBTI people.
The global business community needs to move LGBTI inclusion forward faster
Last year, when I wrote What Davos taught me about supporting my transgender child, I felt positive about the future of LGBTI inclusion. Since then, I’ve developed a new mantra. It’s time for Davos - and the entire global business community - to step up and deserve this new generation of workers. We must move faster. The costs of delay are just too great.
In some ways, LGBTI programming at Davos 2019 was a "rainbow wave". The Forum’s Partnership for Global LGBTI Equality launched, making it on to the list of this year’s top ways Davos made an impact on the world. The Partnership was launched by seven strategic partners of the Forum as a "global call to operationalize the UN Standards of Conduct to tackle LGBTI discrimination in the workplace by 2020".
There’s a lot of ground to cover. LGBTI people are not legally protected from workforce discrimination in at least 28 states in the US. Being LGBTI is still criminalized in at least 70 countries. When LGBTI students enter the workforce, 47% of them stay closeted, according to a 2018 HRC study. We already know the cost of the closet to businesses: a reduction in employee engagement and productivity of about 30%, and an estimated global cost of $100 billion annually.
The cost of exclusion is also high for individuals
We recently took Jordyn out of a public middle school because of its anti-LGBTI environment, which resulted in anxiety and depression. She regularly heard kids say things like “that’s disgusting” if an LGBTI topic came up. Dealing with her emotional state began to take up all her energy; she had nothing left for academic work.
Jordyn is not alone in her discomfort. Almost 2% of high schoolers - around 300,000 students - in the US are transgender, and 27% of them feel unsafe at school, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Unsafe” does not begin to capture how these trans kids are feeling. More than a third of them have attempted suicide in the past 12 months. We’d all like to think that things get better after high school, but much evidence hints that the emotional pain experienced by students can continue when they enter the workforce, manifesting as depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
The good news is that support for my daughter and other LGBTI persons experiencing distress can be found at organizations such as the 24/7 Crisis Text Line and The Trevor Project, which provide crisis and suicide prevention services to LGBTI youth.
The LGBTI workforce of the future has superpowers
My daughters only have a few years to go before college applications loom. In less than a decade, they will likely be seeking work. What will their generation bring to the workforce?
Gen-Zers will not just be digital natives; through their ability to bridge the physical and digital world seamlessly, they will be digital collaborators. Gen Z is also the most diverse generation: 48% are racial or ethnic minorities, compared with 39% of Gen Y. So Gen-Zers will not only be able to cooperate virtually, but also with diverse team members.
They will be gender inclusive. A recent Pew Research Center report found that 35% of Gen-Zers know someone personally who uses gender-neutral pronouns (e.g.“they”) and 59% said that online forms or profiles that ask about a person’s gender should include options other than “male” or “female”.
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They will have high social-emotional skills. A 2018 Microsoft-McKinsey joint report estimated that 30-40% of future jobs will explicitly require social-emotional skills, and that these skills “provide students with the perspective and flexibility to function at a high level, even when faced with uncertainty, change, pressure, stress, and other work and life changes”.
The battles that my daughter and LGBTI youth have had to fight have already given them the resilience needed to excel in the workforce. The Gen-Z LGBTI workforce of the future will be digital collaborators, gender inclusive and have high social-emotional skills. These are their superpowers.
Corporations can lead the way
I recently counselled a dedicated, smart younger colleague, who happens to be a transgender man. He expressed concerns about heading back into the job market for the first time after transitioning, and wondered at what point in the process he should bring it up. I encouraged my colleague to find a company that would not only support him, but that embraces LBGTI inclusion. My colleague’s effort is one of the reasons I remain confident that my children will likely enter a workforce with their identities intact.
Eleven million adults in the US identify as LGBT today, estimated a recent Gallup poll, and that number will certainly grow with Gen-Z. If global corporations want access to the best workforce of the future, they need to be fearless and outspoken advocates for human rights - and LGBTI rights. Otherwise, they will not succeed in an inclusive global economy. And they certainly won’t deserve the help of my colleague or my children to enable their success.