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Hostile territory: employers’ unwillingness to accommodate transgender employees

Joel Rudin (Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, USA)
Sinead Ruane (Department of Management, Western New England University, Springfield, MA, USA)
Linda Ross (Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, USA)
Andrea Farro (Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, USA)
Tejinder Billing (Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 17 November 2014




The purpose of this paper is to enhance the understanding of employers’ responses to the restroom requests of transgender employees, and to assess the ability as educators to reduce transphobia in the students.


Subjects were 194 undergraduate business students at a medium-sized public university in the northeastern USA who were enrolled in an undergraduate course in organizational behavior. During class, they read a brief case which asked the students to play the role of a CEO in Little Rock, Arkansas, receiving a complaint from a female employee about using the same restroom as a coworker who is transitioning from male to female.


The most inclusive response was also the rarest, with only 27 percent of students recommending unisex bathrooms. Hostile actions, forcing the transitioning employee to use the men's restroom, were recommended by 38 percent of those who correctly realized that an employee would be unprotected by sexual orientation discrimination law in this case and by 30 percent of those who thought that she could sue for that type of discrimination in that jurisdiction.

Research limitations/implications

It would be interesting to replicate this with non-student samples such as human resource managers and executives. The use of a US sample and of a text-based case can also be viewed as weaknesses. Because gender identity is embodied, self-constructed, and socially constructed, no single research study can capture the totality of work life for transgender employees.

Practical implications

Transphobia is so powerful that a substantial percentage of the students recommended courses of action that they believed to be illegal even though the study was designed to discourage a hostile response. Employers that are concerned about transgender rights will need to do a lot more than just grafting the word “transgender” onto their extant set of policies.

Social implications

Since today's business students are tomorrow's business leaders, the authors could eventually make the business world more tolerant if the authors could identify a message that resonates with the students and causes them to re-evaluate their homophobia and transphobia.


Empirical studies of transgender issues have been dominated by the qualitative approach, so there is a need for more quantitative research on this topic. The hostile responses usually indicated greater acceptance of transgender employees who have completed gender reassignment surgery. This seems difficult to reconcile with a conception of transphobia as a generalized distaste towards all those who transgress gender norms.



The authors gratefully acknowledge Rose Corey and Deborah Deissroth for administering this exercise in their sections of the organizational behavior class. Christen Otter did excellent work on the manuscript preparation. The authors give special thanks to Kathleen Pereles for suggesting that a case involving restroom access for the transgenders would be a useful method of assessing organizational behavior students’ understanding of diversity.


Rudin, J., Ruane, S., Ross, L., Farro, A. and Billing, T. (2014), "Hostile territory: employers’ unwillingness to accommodate transgender employees", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 33 No. 8, pp. 721-734.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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