James Barnes, The Trans Coach
James Barnes, who’s known as “The Trans Coach,” trains employers on creating an inclusive workplace.
Barnes works with real-estate agents and companies, including Comcast and Zendesk.
He said healthcare, open dialogues, and company policies are the keys to transgender inclusion.
This article is part of Talent Insider, a series containing expert advice to help small business owners tackle a range of hiring challenges.
James Barnes and his wife were looking for a new home five years ago when he realized the lack of LGBTQ representation in the real-estate industry.
As they toured homes and met sellers, Barnes questioned whether he should come out as transgender, if he would be discriminated against, or if he had to disclose that he’d previously changed his name. That uncertainty sparked a business idea for Barnes.
“I had a goal that, within the year, I’d train 10 local Realtors,” he said, adding that he wanted to create an education program on best practices for working with and among trans coworkers and clients. Thirteen months later, he offered his first training, and 30 people showed up.
Today, he still works with Realtors but has expanded his services into DEI training to larger companies, including Comcast and Zendesk — and has adopted the moniker of “The Trans Coach” on social media. Since initially launching his business as a side hustle in May 2021, he’s taken the venture full time and booked almost $30,000 in sales. But part of that success stems from recent adversity: As of this year, 28 states have introduced anti-LGTBQ bills that would affect trans peoples’ professional lives, such as where they can use the bathroom.
His training workshops cover everything from empathetic language to equitable healthcare. He tells stories of his time working at a call-center job, saying, “Everybody had known me as the person I was before, I didn’t know what bathroom I could use, and everything felt awkward.” And they include information on inclusive benefits so employees don’t have to fight as hard as he did to gain access to top surgery and other necessary healthcare options.
Insider spoke with Barnes about the importance of addressing these issues, his training techniques, and how entrepreneurs can build an inclusive workplace.
Comprehensive healthcare is a necessary step toward inclusion
One of the most pressing issues is the lack of healthcare diversity, including insurance-covered top or bottom surgery, necessary hormones, and post-surgery recovery time, Barnes said. He advises companies to offer healthcare plans that address each of those needs — by providing the highest level healthcare plan they can afford to offer — and discussing details with both insurers and employees.
Once a robust healthcare plan is established, companies should create clear resource pages for employees to fully understand their options. Explicit answers and guidelines may ensure that employees don’t have to ask any private questions or engage in conversations they aren’t comfortable having publicly, he said.
Mental health is another major factor in the well-being of trans people: Therapists, counselors, and other mental-health professionals should be of easy access through employee policies. But if a small business lacks the financial resources to provide healthcare plans, founders should still create transition-related support policies.
For example, the company should establish an easy, step-by-step plan to adjust pronouns and change names on badges and in email signatures. Providing quick updates to professional settings would allow employees to feel safe in their identity, Barnes said.
Barnes speaking at a corporate training session.
courtesy of Barnes
Build workplace relationships on open dialogue
The hiring process can be isolating for many trans people because of a fear of discrimination, misunderstanding, or being forced to explain their sensitive history, Barnes said. This makes interviews and onboarding the perfect time to establish a supportive rapport.
Founders and hiring managers should start every interview by sharing their names and pronouns with the interviewee.
Even if you’re a cis-gendered founder — which means you identify as the gender you were assigned at birth — sharing your pronouns invites supportive discussions and can help non-cisgender or nonbinary interviewees feel comfortable sharing their own identities.
Community and workplace guidelines should also clearly state that misgendering, deadnaming — using a person’s name from before their transition — or other forms of intolerance are against company policy. Having a written statement addressing these issues helps members of the LGBTQ community and allies feel empowered to speak up against discriminatory behavior, he said.
Invest in inclusion year-round
It’s important that companies invest in inclusive policies for LGBTQ and other marginalized employees year-round, he said.
When employers hire Barnes to speak for Pride Month, it can seem like an extracurricular activity as opposed to a genuine push for inclusion, he added. Diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting sessions outside of months of celebration and remembrance make for a much more meaningful and long-lasting conversation, Barnes said.
“Awareness about the topic is not a Pride event,” he said, adding that in order for diversity and inclusion to be part of the fabric of the company, founders need to invest in speakers, coaching, and improvements year-round.