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How to build a trans-inclusive workplace with Avanade

The tech company has just launched a gender transition leave.

Allie Nawrat

trans flags
Credit: Ted Eytan via Twenty20.

Unleash Your PeopleWhat motivated this decision? How does it fit in with the company’s wider strategy?

Pride month provides an opportunity for employers to show their staff (and potential talent pool) that they are inclusive of everyone, no matter their gender or sexual orientation.

But in the same way that dogs aren’t just for Christmas, commitments to inclusive workplaces can’t just be during Pride month.

 It is essential that employers actually make long-term, genuine commitments to listening to and supporting the needs of their LGBTQ+ workforce, who are still, tragically, commonly discriminated against and feel psychologically unsafe at work.

Avanade and gender transition leave

One example of an employer going above and beyond the norm to support its non-binary and transgender employees is Avanade.

Avanade is a professional services firm, which was created in 2000 as a joint venture by Microsoft and Accenture, and in the aftermath of Pride month back in June, it decided to launch a new gender transition-related leave policy across Europe and Australia.

“This is a paid leave policy, which will be on a case-by-case basis because everybody’s situation will be different,” explains Avanade HR director for the UK and Ireland Nathalie Cousseau.

Nathalie Cousseau, HR director for the UK and Ireland at Avanade.

The decision adds to employees’ existing leave entitlements.

The company decided to not set a specific time period for the gender transition leave – as many employers have done with similar additional entitlements like miscarriage bereavement leave – after consulting with experts and LGBTQ+ organizations, according to Cousseau.

“They said best practice is to make sure you don’t tie them into something; we wanted to ensure our policy was one where the individual feels like an individual” – and their unique needs, whether these are mental, emotional or physical, are taken into account.

As well as offering the practical solution of time off to recover from the invasive procedure and the emotional aftermath, Cousseau is clear that this policy also sends a clear message that Avanade is a safe environment to discuss gender, and gender transition, without fear of discrimination.

“We want people to be able to bring their authentic selves to work; to do that, we have to be very open and visible about what’s important in our culture,” notes Cousseau.

In addition to creating a safe environment, Avanade is also committed to addressing other issues LGBTQ+ employees face daily.

For example, it has changed rules around dress code, gendered bathrooms, and encouraged the use of correct pronouns in the workplace, as noted by Cousseau and a Pride blog written by two trans employees.

What motivated the policy?  

Cousseau explains that the decision to introduce this progressive leave policy was linked with one of Avanade’s global networks Prism. This network is not made up of HR staff telling employees what to do, but of LGBTQ+ employees sharing their perspectives on how the company can do better by that demographic.

Avanade listened to the voices of the community about the need for this leave, and then decided to implement it.

Cousseau is clear that any future changes to the company’s inclusion strategy will come through a similar route of employee listening and engagement.

While the gender transition leave is currently only available in Europe and Australia, Cousseau notes that the long-term aim is to continue to expand it to more of Avanade’s markets.

This is currently top of the agenda for the company’s new global chief inclusion and diversity officer, Hallam Sargeant.

Spotlight on Avanade’s wider HR strategy  

Avanade Europe president Anna Di Silverio is clear that “our new pan-Europe gender transition leave policy is just one example of how we are taking positive action” – for the LGBTQ+ community specifically, as well as all employees.

Di Silverio continued: “We want to ensure our employees feel cared for, and through initiatives like this we can help drive real change in the tech industry, making it a more inclusive environment for all.”

So what are the core pillars of Avanade’s HR strategy?

First and foremost, linked closely to gender transition leave, Avanade is keen on employee wellbeing.

Cousseau explains: “We have a huge network of mental health allies in the UK who are safe individuals and have been trained through our partnership with Mind [the UK-based mental health charity].”

She emphasizes that these individuals are not counselors, but they are “safe, confidential places” for any employee to go to and get help. She believes it is vital that visible individuals outside of people’s managers and HR are available, all qualified to deal with questions and provide support.

Cousseau also thinks that “inclusion and diversity is absolutely central to everything we do.”

“We still need to work on making sure we have a completely balanced pyramid,” she adds. Avanade is therefore focusing on “how [to] build diversity in every single layer of our business”.

To help with this it has launched self-ID, which helps Avanade to use data to properly understand where it may have gaps and what policies need to be implemented to change this.

Another core element is growth culture. “We are a growing business, and our HR people strategy sits behind that. We need to make sure that our individuals, our leaders are trained to be inclusive, [but also] to have that growth mindset,” notes Cousseau. She observes the need for the business to closely consider “succession planning”.

However, linked to this, it is also important that teams stay connected with one another, so they can perform best for their clients, she adds.

Another element is how to create a future-ready workforce. For the tech company, this involves prioritizing its “employee value proposition” and giving its employee “a distinctive experience” where they have “career growth, exciting projects to work on and opportunities to develop their skills”, according to Cousseau.

The final element is the future of work. Currently, Avanade is “doing a lot of thinking about hybrid working”.

Cousseau says the tech company wants to set guidelines that help employees “make the right decision about where they think they need to do the best work for our clients”.

HR tech has a role to play

Avanade’s HR strategy is, of course, supported by HR tech. In terms of communication and collaboration, the tech company relies on Microsoft Teams and all of its various functions.

Cousseau notes that Avanade’s employees are nudged in their inbox everyday about all their actions for the day, how many hours they have free from meetings that day, as well as promoting them to take breaks around meetings.

The company has also been relying on virtual tools to bring its culture online, “and create a sense of belonging and community” – particularly for newer employees who started during the pandemic.

“We have a lot of dials, lunch and learns; people can choose the ones they think are interesting, but we record them all them all so people can back in their own time to watch,” notes Cousseau.

And, last but not least, technology has boosted provision of data and analytics about “where our people are spending time, and the problems they are facing”.

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