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What We Can Learn From the California Transgender Workplace Project


What We Can Learn From the California Transgender Workplace Project

National Public Radio’s Morning Addition aired a story on Oct. 19 about the nation’s first jobs program for transgender people.

The story begins with a chain of El Pollo Loco chicken restaurants owned by transgender entrepreneur Michaela Mendelsohn.

When Mendelsohn hired her first transgender employee in 2012, that employee told her how hard it was to find a job as a transgender person. In fact, the unemployment rate for transgender people is roughly twice that of the American average. This is due in large part to a pattern of discrimination against transgender people throughout the country.

As a transgender person herself, Mendelsohn, who wanted to make a difference, started the California Transgender Workplace Project.

This is a great example of inclusive leadership and a good opportunity to highlight how two of the six traits of inclusive leaders — courage and commitment — play out in real life.

According to Mendelson, the response from customers to the transgender worker program has been overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating some of the tangential benefits to an inclusive workplace policy in general. However, there are of course some reservations among observers, as discussed in the NPR segment:

“’You know, I still think that there’s a majority of people out there that might have a problem with being served by somebody that’s transgender,’ says (restaurant patron) Grant Theim.”

“That concern initially worried Mendelsohn, too. But she was surprised – in the years she’s had restaurants staffed with trans people, customers have been overwhelmingly supportive.”

“And when they aren’t, she says bosses should be prepared to stand up for their employees.”

“’You know, you always hear the thing. ‘The customer’s always right,’’ she says. ‘In my restaurants, the customer’s always right unless they attack you personally.’”


That statement by Mendelsohn demonstrates a type of courage in support of diversity. Yes, it’s possible that you may alienate some customers with inclusive policies. Hopefully that is an increasingly small segment in a world that has been progressively embracing diversity generally; however, it’s still a segment. It takes courage to understand the potential consequences of diversity — in this case, lost revenue — and stick with your convictions. And it takes commitment — Mendelsohn has been working hard to give employment opportunities to transgender people for years — to see the effort through.

Are your workplace practices really inclusive?

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