Audi Brussels as a role model: “Trans* rights are human rights”
How colorful business can be: For German Pride Day on July 7, 2022, Audi is spotlighting its work on behalf of trans* people at the Brussels location. Here’s a talk with the two minds behind this – the diversity consultant Austen Lowe and the HR manager Jeroen Tondeleir.
When Leon starts going by Linda one day and comes into work dressed accordingly, it becomes clear whether or not openness and tolerance in the company are just lip service. As a “Prout Employer”, Audi advocates for LGBT*IQ diversity at the workplace and wants to raise awareness of the issues associated with it. It wants to promote a corporate culture in which all employees feel safe and free regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity – because only those who can be absolutely authentic are truly productive and can fulfill their personal potential.
Trans*: Equal opportunity in everyday work
A lot is happening these days. A recent draft bill holds out the prospect of new rights for transgender, nonbinary and intersexual people in Germany. The basic idea behind the concept is that everyone will be able to determine their own personal gender and first name in the future, and they’ll be able to change them through a simple procedure at the civil registry office. But more self-determination can be achieved through courageous programs within the company as well. Austen Lowe, a diversity consultant at Audi Brussels, introduced a model to support trans* people within the company during the international D&I Days. With his colleague Jeroen Tondeleir, an HR manager at Audi Brussels, he’s marking today’s Pride Day by talking about an exemplary project.
What’s the difference between gender and sex?
Austen Lowe: That’s a good question to start with. Misunderstandings frequently occur here – including among open and tolerant people. Gender and sex are often falsely used as synonyms. But sex only refers to biological characteristics. Official gender is generally applied at birth, and it traditionally describes affiliation with one of two mutually exclusive groups – namely, the group of men and the group of women. This disregards the needs of intersex people who don’t biologically correspond to the typical definitions of male or female bodies. Everyone can determine their own gender identity. This identity can, but doesn’t have to, correspond to the biological gender assigned at birth. For instance, nonbinary people can choose not to identify with either of the two genders.
What does the term “trans*” mean?
Austen Lowe: “Trans*” is a general term for people whose identity doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth. When gender and manifested gender match, we use the term “cisgender”, as opposed to “transgender”.
How is it that Audi Brussels is advancing this topic?
Jeroen Tondeleir: It’s naturally not a coincidence – after all, Belgium is among the countries taking a leading role in Europe when it comes to legislation for trans* people. According to the Trans Rights Map, Belgium has already achieved 21 of 30 possible points for indicators met, putting it significantly ahead of a lot of other countries. Back in 2017, the Belgian parliament passed a law for gender recognition that made it possible to change gender identifications and names through a simple administrative procedure at the civil registry office. And pretty soon, gender designations shoud be removed from Belgian IDs.
In such an open environment, is it even necessary to develop a process for trans* people in the company?
Austen Lowe: The answer is clear – yes! Because a lack of structure can sometimes lead to unconscious exclusion. When it comes to clearing up misunderstandings associated with trans* people and actively supporting them in order to ensure they’re included, employers can play an important role here. That’s why we’ve developed a holistic corporate process that covers communicative aspects, taking gender-sensitive changing facilities/bathrooms into account and the necessary administrative procedures such as changing name tags and e-mail addresses. On request, we’ll even provide an e-mail template that can help you come out to your team.
How did you develop and roll out this trans* process?
“We’re sending a clear signal that we welcome trans* people and that they can feel safe at the workplace without having to fear discrimination.”
Austen Lowe: We’ve spoken openly with the responsible departments about how to set up good support mechanisms. Trans* people can simply contact us diversity consultants directly and have a fully confidential, discreet conversation. Through this exchange, we can ensure that we take the necessary steps.
Jeroen Tondeleir: For us in HR, it’s important to offer this support. We’re sending a clear signal that we welcome trans* people and that they can feel safe at the workplace without having to fear discrimination. On a practical and administrative level, we’ve had some experiences with how difficult it can be to handle certain situations without having a clear process behind them. It’s more sustainable when employee changes are fully supported by processes.