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How A North Side Group Is Urging Chicago Businesses To Adopt Trans-Inclusive Hiring Practices

The Chicago Therapy Collective is looking to recruit 250 more businesses to commit to inclusive workplace practices.

HireTransNow provides businesses with free trainings and consultations after they sign onto the campaign.
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ANDERSONVILLE — The Chicago Therapy Collective is ramping up efforts to get more businesses to hire transgender people, with a goal to bring dozens more companies on board.

The group launched its HireTransNow initiative in 2019 and has recruited 60 businesses to adopt policies to recruit more trans employees and promote inclusive workplace practices. 

Now, the organization wants to enlist 250 additional businesses to the campaign, five in each of the 50 wards.

The initiative grew out of nationwide trends indicating transgender people faced unique barriers in the job market, HireTransNow coordinator Silas Leslie said. Nearly half of transgender people surveyed reported facing discrimination in the workplace due to their gender or sexual identity, according to 2021 study by the Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA Law.

“We live where 40-plus hours a week are spent in our job,” Leslie said. “So having a job where you don’t feel safe and welcome, or where you’re facing harassment or discrimination, or you can’t find a job and don’t have access to mental health care — that is a huge issue.”

After signing onto HireTransNow, businesses must enact at least three of nine items from the organization’s hiring checklist. This list includes guidelines for the recruitment, application and interview process:

Recruitment

  1. Attend, host or co-host trans outreach events.
  2. Distribute job postings to trans-specific networks.
  3. Add a diversity and inclusion statement to job postings.

Application

  1. Remove legal United States or state ID questions, including legal name.
  2. If sex markers are requested, make options inclusive and ask about pronouns.
  3. If references are requested, sensitively ask about other names and pronouns.

Interview

  1. Ensure and note trans-inclusive bathroom option for interviewees.
  2. Add diversity-based questions and scoring criteria.
  3. Involve well-practiced trans or LGB staff throughout the interview process.

Most items are easy to incorporate, like including pronouns on job applications, but the changes go a long way toward signaling to trans people they are welcome in a workplace, Leslie said.

Employers also get support along the way from HireTransNow, with free consultations, quarterly training sessions and access to the organization’s job board for transgender job applicants, Leslie said. Services are provided on a sliding-scale basis, but most are free for the small, local businesses that have joined the initiative, Leslie said.

With collaborative events and free marketing for its partners, supporting small businesses has been a key goal of the campaign, Leslie said. The collective’s downstairs neighbor, Women & Children First bookstore, was one of the first to sign onto the campaign.

“We want to make sure [the businesses] know that we are a call away, especially our small businesses that are really trying to make steps even if they don’t have that infrastructure,” Leslie said. “Sometimes the owner is the manager and HR and the janitor. We want to see these businesses thrive and grow because if the businesses aren’t succeeding, there’s no one to hire trans people.”

The Andersonville Chamber of Commerce was also an early member of the campaign and has helped promote the initiative to its 400 members, chamber Executive Director Laura Austin said.

“We thought it was very important for us to sign onto this initiative as a leader so that we could help educate our business community about the lack of support, awareness and hiring for folks who are part of the trans community,” Austin said.

Since joining HireTransNow, the chamber of commerce has held three workshops on transgender education and awareness, with a particular focus on hiring practices, Austin said. Writing more inclusive job applications and employee handbooks and promoting gender-inclusive restrooms have been priorities, she said.

The chamber invited other local chambers to these workshops, hoping to promote the initiative to its neighbors, Austin said. The chamber plans to partner with the Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce to connect businesses that have signed onto HireTransNow, she said.

The collective has really valued the chamber’s support, Leslie said — but organizers also recognize not all people live in the “queer Mecca that is Andersonville” and have similar institutional support.

Though it’s made significant inroads in Andersonville, Leslie said HireTransNow is hoping to reach transgender people across Chicago with its new citywide push. 

“Simply put, not every trans person lives in a gay neighborhood,” Leslie said. “How do we make sure that a trans person anywhere in the city is able to get a safe job in their community?” 

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City Council passed a resolution last month in support of the campaign’s goal to recruit 250 businesses citywide. The goal honors Elise Malary, a founding member of the Chicago Therapy Collective pictured here.

Leslie said the group was inspired to set its 250-business goal in memory of Elise Malary, one of Chicago Therapy Collective’s founding members, who died in March. Malary was instrumental to launching HireTransNow, recruiting many of the early businesses that joined the campaign, Leslie said.

In recognition of Transgender Day of Resilience and Malary’s work, the City Council passed a resolution in November to support HireTransNow in its goal to recruit businesses citywide. The city’s 2023 budget also allotted $75,600 to evaluate hiring practices to include more transgender people in the Mayor’s Office — with part of this funding providing opportunities for small businesses to join HireTransNow, according to a statement from the Mayor’s Office.

Malary would have been “very proud” of the resolution, Iggy Ladden, Chicago Therapy Collective director, said in the statement.

“Elise wanted allies in positions of power to take action, to use their privilege to disrupt systemic injustice and prioritize the economic health and wellbeing of the Trans community,” Ladden said. “We heard the highest levels of city government respond to her call and set an example for Trans-inclusion across Chicago by embracing HireTransNow.”

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