Straight Talk: Communicating Gender Transition in the Workplace

If I worked with Bruce Jenner on the job for a few years, I would have gotten to know quite a bit about him. I’d know he was married to a woman, how many children he had, how to spot him in a crowd at a company event, and that he typically wear khakis on casual Fridays.

I must admit that I’d be confused and cautious if he showed up all of a sudden with a new face, name, hairdo and outfit. Bruce has become Caitlyn. The same man I’ve gotten to know, respect and work closely with is now living life as woman and no one told me what to do or expect.

While many organizations put time and effort into developing a culture that supports gay and lesbian employees they often ignore the culture shift that takes place when an employee chooses to become transgender. A transgender employee is defined as someone whose gender identity, expression or assignment differs from the gender assumptions made about him or her at birth. There are workplace barriers and challenges facing transgender employees. Some transgender employees will undergo gender transition while within an organization – a process that may take months or even years. Others will have completed the transition before they were hired or have a history of a transition in their younger years.

How should organizations prepare to communicate this shift in ways that support transgender employees while sustaining the culture of the workplace environment?

transgender(1)_480_auto

Organizations should have a transition plan in place to set guidelines for safe and healthy development of transgender employees and to assist other employees in their adjustment to the shift. A gender transition plan should feature three parts: the organizational policy, a training component and a communication strategy. The communication strategy within the plan is critical and should be carefully thought out and executed. The strategy should also be supported by the organization’s non-discrimination policy used to manage a gender transition.

When tackling communication about the transition of a transgender employee, messages should be strategically scheduled and segmented. Start with gathering the employee’s immediate work team/group for an intimate meeting with discussion and training to ensure clarity and confidentiality. The employee can opt to make a statement at the meeting or prepare a personal letter to be distributed. From there, the messages must be gradually integrated with HR policies and directed from senior leadership to co-workers and key constituents who are in frequent workplace contact with the employee. Allowing the voice of a senior leader to set the tone of the announcement with supportive communication for the employee creates expectations for co-workers going forward. While the announcement may lessen the likelihood of confusion and lay a foundation for acceptance (relearning names, matching pronouns, etc.), an organization should allow the employee the liberty to choose when the announcement should be made, if/she wants to help craft the announcement and a chance to cancel or delay the announcement if needed.

A key point in the messaging about the use of restrooms should state that the transgender employee would use the restroom of the gender he/she presents for practical reasons. The safety of the employee should also be considered. Direct communication with the organization’s security team should occur specifically to be on alert about any harassment or bullying.

Enlist a senior leader, a licensed counselor, an employee who has undergone a gender transition, an HR professional and the employee’s supervisor to assemble a transition team. Identify a senior leader who can sponsor the employee as a supporter who is engaged throughout the process. The sponsor can be charged with helping a transgender employee manage his/her transition in the workplace and also help advise the transition team on inclusive messaging. This helps to minimize any disruption in the workplace and convey the message that everything is business as usual. Additionally, developing a resource group for LGBT employees creates a sense of community for the transgender employee as they transition.

gender-reassignment-surgeryWhen communicating with the transgender employee, inform him/her what to expect from the transition team and senior leadership in facilitating the transition. Have an open yet reassuring discussion with him/her about potential hostility or perceived discomfort with certain co-workers and that the organization is prepared to help them with transition as well. Explain the process of how the transition will be announced and steadily implement the tactics of the communication strategy soon after the employee notifies HR of the transition process. Explain what the procedure is for implementing any workplace and personnel changes such as name changes, business cards, and security badges. Work with HR to monitor the adjustment of the employee and his/her relationship with co-workers through a follow-up after the transition to be aware of gossip, mistreatment and offensive communication that can impact the overall workplace culture.

An employee’s gender transition can be a major shift for an organization but embracing a workplace culture where diversity and inclusion thrives can happen at any time. Combating potential issues and preventing misinformation can be addressed through educational diversity training specific to sexual orientation or gender identity issues. Without a communication strategy, the doors swing open for confusion, tension, miscommunication or even grievances and lawsuits.

While each employee is entitled to his or her own opinions and beliefs, no one should take the personal privilege to judge or dictate the rights of other employees within the workplace. When a gender transition is communicated properly and succinctly, the transgender employee can be met with a level of inclusiveness that translates how well your organization values diversity within the workplace culture.

Where Innovation and Funding Meet – Buzz from the 2015 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit

The Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit is always a great place for networking and an important moment to invigorate as an entrepreneur. This year’s event held in Atlanta was buzzing with topics, tips and tools for small business owners new and seasoned.

Here are a few highlights on my Storify story. http://sfy.co/f0bvK

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.35.28 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 3.35.15 PM

#BizChats: Excel as an Entrepreneur

I had fun participating in #Bizchats hosted by Mashable Business on yesterday. In observation of National Small Business Week, Mashable and several experts participated in a Twitter chat to discuss what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, I can tell you there’s no one path to success so I certainly enjoyed contributing to the chat and seeing what wisdom other entrepreneurs shared about their experiences.

Click below to hear the full discussion via Storify. I’m sure you’ll see my two cents in the mix!

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 11.10.01 AM
Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 11.11.54 AM

One Size Doesn’t Fit All: The Truth About Channel Planning

27 million pieces of content are shared everyday making it tough to cut through the noise (Meltwater). At duGard Ellis PR, we place heavy emphasis on channel planning to help clients cut through that noise and make their messages top of mind. We write content. We write a lot and we write well. In fact, quality writing is at the top of the list for our team. The reason we spend so much time on content engagement and channel planning is because client results hinge on our ability to get the word out in the most effective and efficient methods.

Teradata/Randall Nelson

Teradata/Randall Nelson

While in my fellowship at Johnson & Johnson, I worked with corporate communication director Patricia Jones. We talked about how content is re-purposed to reach specific audiences across J&J. I had the opportunity to assist with a great story about J&J’s CFO Dominic Caruso visiting the White House for an initiative that improves supplier diversity for small businesses. The content was placed within internal and external channels and re-purposed for additional messaging. I also worked with Patricia Crowley, senior manager in J&J’s Portal Center of Excellence who is responsible for an internal communication channel where a version of the story was placed.

When talking about content, the question of “where?” always comes up. Clients ask, “So do we need to be on Instagram? Should we put a blog on our external website or our intranet? What about YouTube? Pinterest? What should we post? Will the same messages fit on each profile?”

Planning where to place content means diversifying the channels and testing often for the right mix;

Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to fitting content into the right channels:

Size up your brand
Since the goal of content engagement is to communicate messages and tell stories that convey the value of your brand, you should ask what happens to be one of my favorite questions – “Why should they care?” Answering this question helps you affirm the value audiences place on your brand and the messages you communicate about it. Although your answer should be a no-brainer, it always helps to ask yourself that question to avoid communicating empty, redundant messages that audiences could potentially overlook or delete.

Size up your audience
Identify the target audience you are aiming for. Consider their location, age, level of influence, and areas of expertise or interest. This is important to know so that you may understand what information they look for and where they go to find it. Pull your current analytics to see which channels are already driving engagement for your specific target. Based on the demographics of your target, determine what channels they are attuned. If you’re drawn to Facebook but discovered your target is on Twitter, you may want seriously consider revisiting Facebook a little later and letting your strategy lead off with Twitter.

Size up the channels
Decide what the ideal channels for communicating content would be. Is your content more visual and interactive or is it informative and viral? You may find a great existing channel or you might even find the need to create your own online community. Your potential audience has to find a wow factor on a new channel intriguing and be instantly ready to join. Perhaps there’s an undiscovered appeal you can leverage using the current content channels. Consider how you will use the ideal channel. For example, are there ways this channel can provide more features than what you’re currently utilizing? Are there other features on one channel that another channel cannot provide? Can we distribute content across multiple channels for different reasons?

Size up the content structure
Now onto the fun stuff – building a structure for the content. Within the structure, you will focus on who the channel should speak to. Though it doesn’t have to be every member of your target audience, you should make sure the channel is appropriate for at least one targeted group in the audience – for instance, an internal channel might appeal to senior-level influencers but not as much to executive-level decision makers.

Pull all the ideas you have in mind to ensure you can create the type of content that is expected in this channel. Can we be consistent in producing videos if we go with YouTube? Are we able to manage and release daily original articles if we create new internal online community? How frequently will we add new content to Google+? Will subject matter experts contribute to content to any of our channels? How often will we respond to audience feedback? (I will post later about how to re-purpose content.)

These questions help when trying to prioritize which channels to invest your resources, and even with abundant resources you should not attempt to invest in every channel conceived. You certainly don’t want to start on a channel only to abandon it later. You have to know how the channel itself communicates value.
editorial calendar example
Size up the distribution
There’s one last step. Now that you have created your content structure, it’s time to try on the content for size to see how it fits your channels. Draft the plan and distribute it to your team. You will always overlook something and need other sets of eyes. Get their buy-in because many of them will help drive content to the channels. You don’t want to select and create great channels and have nothing to put in them. Good content engagement results are gained when the messages distributed are consistently strong and regularly updated. Make sure your watching the ways in which your audiences is engaging with the content you distribute so that you get the most of the channels utilized.

One piece of content doesn’t fit all channels. It can’t. It’s unfair to your brand and your audiences to think the “one size fits all” strategy will do the trick. In fact, the technology of the channels we use today won’t even allow us to try. They each come with varying features, functions and purposes. That’s we why use them and like them. If you are already sized up in content engagement, tightening up on channel planning will help you improve the use of old channels and explore new emerging channels.

Content vs. Channels

Growing up, my mother used to tell me, “It’scontent vs channels not what you say, it’s how you say it.” She was right. The “how” she was referring to is the tone of the message and the way it’s delivered to and perceived by the receiver. When you want to tell the world your story, you need to have a strategy to engage audiences and a plan to distribute your message in ways that get the response you desire.

During my educator fellowship at Johnson & Johnson, I discovered multiple internal communication channels with highly valuable content perfectly crafted for specific audiences. I had the chance to learn about how J&J places content into certain channels from long-time J&J employee and corporate communication director Melody Meade, who is responsible for developing creative and strategic messages for IT. We had a great conversation about leveraging content to get the best engagement from an audience. Companies large and small are facing an influx of messages to share and the decision of which channels to utilize that will make messages resonate and keep the interest of audiences.

What’s the best way to keep audiences engaged? Should we re-evaluate our content strategies or should we create new or improved channels? The answer is yes to both.

The best content engagement strategies are those that fully consider what and how, along with who, where, when, and why. The key to gaining greater engagement is to re-evaluate content regularly and assess the opportunity to create new channels that fit the uses of audiences. The perceived short attention span of our society is tempered by interesting content. If the content is great and meets the audience through a channel they value, your organization is poised to win.

 Here’s a short list of questions to ask when trying to plan or assess your content engagement strategy:

  •  What would we like audiences to know?
  • How should we tell them? What channels should we consider?
  • Who should we tell? Who are our target audiences for this specific message?
  • Where should we send the message to reach them best? How valuable is this method to our audiences? Does it allow them to share the message?
  • When should we tell them? How frequently?
  • Why should they care? How will we track and measure their responses/feedback?

Your content strategy defines your channel strategy. Many organizations craft content and place it in different channels without taking a real assessment of the type of content living in them. When content engagement drops or flattens, it’s time to rethink your channel strategy and determine what channels (web, social, email, etc.) are being used for distribution in order to re- purpose the content you have and set a new standard for what success looks like. (I will speak more about channel planning in a later post.

Content and channels shouldn’t be at war against themselves. In brand messaging, the content sits as king, while the channel is queen. They reign together and can’t be successful in the battle alone. Content makes magic in channels when planned and placed strategically. Crafting worthwhile content and keeping channel distribution diverse go hand-in-hand.

The more we evaluate our strategies, the more we discover that the best content sparks dialogue and strengthens relationships between organizations and their audiences.

(This post is part of a series written during a four-week project in corporate communication at Johnson & Johnson through the Plank Center Fellowship program.)

PowerShift Panel for Leadership Nashville

Leadership Nashville Panel Aerial Ellis Today I participated in the PowerShift panel today for the 2014 class of Leadership Nashville – a great group of highly influential executives and community leaders. We gathered at the First Amendment Center to talk about the move from influencing to creating a community of influencers and being in the conversation real time all the time.

Leadership Nashville provides a three-dimensional view of the city and becomes a bridge connecting people and the issues facing this community. The nine-month program is designed to assist local community leaders in their roles as decision-makers. The course, which begins in September, focuses on issues related to government, media, education, business, labor, diversity, quality of life, human services, health, arts, entertainment, and crime and criminal justice.

Our conversation was an important one, especially when we consider the relationship between government and media which was a topic of focus. My fellow panelists Alexia Poe from the TN Governor’s Office, Kasar Abdullah from Valor Collegiate Academy and Colby Sledge from McNeely, Piggott & Fox. Ronald Roberts, president and chief executive officer of DVL Public Relations & Advertising, served as moderator.

 

What Women in PR Need: Money, Power & Respect

Perri duGard Owens Aerial Ellis at Women In PR SummittThat’s right, we said it!  Perri and I presented a workshop at the 3rd annual WOMEN IN PR Summit, a conference designed to empower, educate and encourage women in the public relations industry  September 26-29, 2013, in Houston, TX at the Doubletree Galleria Hotel.

 

Our presentation, “Money, Power & Respect: What Women in PR Want” covered:

*Expanding Your Client Base for Greater Revenue (Money)
*Handling the Bravado: How to Maintain Gender Dynamics with Clients (Power)  
*How Partnerships Help Women in PR Overcoming Barriers Together (Respect)
There were nearly 100 women in attendance over the weekend. We were so pleased to share our knowledge with young women who are aspiring or making entry into the PR industry.