When Cory Annett decided to make her gender transition public at Nova Scotia Power, she worried how her employer would react.
"The first concern is, if I come out, am I still going to have a job?" Annett said recently.
Annett had worked at Nova Scotia Power for nearly three years, but she was a contract employee.
"They could have decided that my contract was no longer viable, that I was no longer needed in my position and let me go," said Annett, "On the basis of being trans, but under the guise of something else."
Fortunately for Annett, that wasn't the case and Nova Scotia Power supported her transition.
Her experience of transitioning at work was relatively smooth, and it sparked a new sense of commitment in her.
"The fact that the company is willing to grow with me, not just in my career, but in my personal life… it totally makes me want to stay with the company for a long time."
The economic case for diversity
That employee loyalty can save companies a lot of money, says Shawn Cleary. He's an assistant professor of management at Mount Saint Vincent University's department of business administration.
"If you can reduce turnover and keep people in your organization, it's better for your bottom line," he said. "If you lose an employee at a junior level, it might cost you $2,000, $3,000 to replace that person."
Replacing a higher-level manager costs upwards of $10,000.
Cleary says smart businesses should not only accept a diversity of workers — it should seek them out.
He argues that people from different backgrounds and different communities have more heated, rich discussions that lead to better decisions and more innovative products. Plus, they come with unique connections.
"If you don't have a diverse workforce, you may miss the opportunity to sell to a larger market than you would have," said Cleary.
For Cleary, Nova Scotia Power's decision to support workers like Annett is a no-brainer.
"If you ignore the money that's sitting out there that you could be making by having a diverse workforce, by having diverse executives, then I guess you deserve to lose that kind of money," Cleary said.
'High level of risk' to coming out
But the financial risks for transgender workers transitioning in the workplace are still real.
"There's a high level of risk coming out with gender," said Aine Morse, co-chair of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project. Morse is part of a committee focused on transitioning in the workplace for trans people.
"A blanket HR policy doesn't capture what you need," said Morse. "[It] needs to be tailored to individual employees."
But there are some common challenges companies and employees can consider and prepare for, such as what the protocol is if an employee changes their name and their preferred pronoun.
"A lot of people think that we've made so much progress that these things don't happen anymore. I have trans friends and many trans community members here in Halifax that have lost their jobs from being trans," said Morse.
"It's very easy for employers to come up with different reasons why they might let somebody go. And the actual reason may be that they're transitioning in the workplace and they're not comfortable with that."